RELIGION REVISITED

Why U of C Students are Visiting Calgary’s Sacred Spaces

It’s not so much ‘many paths up the mountain,’ as it is there might not even be a mountain, or a path,” says Adriana Tulisi, manager of the Faith and Spirituality Centre at the University of Calgary. She’s referring to the unique diversity of different religions, a topic the Kaleidoscope Project is exploring.

The program, aptly named “Kaleidoscope” to symbolize the many lenses on life that different religions offer, is running for its second year.  Syd Erais, the project coordinator, says they were blown away by the success of the program last year. “It was far more than what we hoped. There was a very real sense of community among the students that happened very organically.”

Last year, sixteen students went through the pre-program modules, followed by seven days of total immersion. The group spent their February Reading Week staying at the FCJ center, visiting sacred spaces, eating culturally relevant meals, wrestling with case studies, and reflecting on their experiences.

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“The visits are hosted by a representative from the sacred space we’re visiting,” explains Adriana. Religions explored included: Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. “In one day, we might visit a Coptic Orthodox church, a Latter Day Saints Temple, and an Evangelical Church. Students are often surprised that those all fall under the banner of Christianity,” says Adriana.

Syd adds, “There’s a wide spectrum of people’s beliefs, their values, and how they practice their religion.” Both Syd and Adriana, who have academic backgrounds in religious studies, started the program in part because they found that their university religious studies classes did not address the big questions of “So what?” and “Why does religion matter to those who practice it?” 

“When I graduated, I thought I knew what practicing a certain religion looked like. But then I would meet a Muslim who didn’t pray five times a day and that didn’t fit my understanding of what it means to be a practicing Muslim. There’s a complexity and nuance to religion that is missing from most academic settings,” says Adriana.

The program emphasizes the benefit of religious literacy for students no matter what their area of study or plans for the future. “No matter where students end up, they’re going to come across people with different religious views. Religion can be a taboo topic in Canada.  It’s seen as something private. We hope that this program can bump stereotypes that come from a lack of understanding.”

When asked what type of students they typically see in the program, both Adriana and Syd replied, “All kinds!” “We were surprised by the diversity of students,” says Syd. “The group was made up of students ranging from first year to graduate students, with almost every academic department represented – from nursing to engineering to astrophysics. As for religious backgrounds, students named their religions as Hindu, Christian, and Muslim, as well as non-religious or spiritually seeking.

It is Adriana and Syd’s hope that the success of the Kaleidoscope Project will lead to the program eventually being amalgamated with a university degree. For more information on the program, or to learn more about the Faith and Spirituality Center, visit http://www.ucalgary.ca/fsc/programs-services/kaleidoscope-project.

 

 

 

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