First annual Interfaith Week spurs conversations about religion

GVL / Archive

GVL / Archive

Shiloh Reynolds

For the first time ever, Grand Valley State University’s Campus Interfaith Resources department hosted Campus Interfaith Week. The week’s intent was to allow students to explore different religions and talk about their own beliefs in a respectful manner.

Based on a 2015 report, 63 percent of GVSU students identified as Christian. Nine percent of students identified as agnostic, seven percent as atheist, one percent each as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist and less than one percent as Hindu.

These numbers are consistent with data from the Pew Research Center that suggest approximately 70 percent of adults in Michigan describe themselves as Christian.

However, based on indicators such as fertility rate trends and youth participation in religion, Pew Research Center predicts that by 2050, the percent of Christians in the United States will decrease, while the number of Muslims will increase to surpass the number of Jewish in the country.

With the country becoming more religiously diverse, Campus Interfaith Resources Campus Engagement Manager Kevin McIntosh said that he believes it is important for students to learn about traditions different than their own.

“The country is growing more religiously diverse everyday,” McIntosh said. “I think that learning about other traditions makes GVSU students better global citizens. It could be that they just recognize that when they order pizza for an event, they should make sure to get a few without pork but it could also be that they recognize other religious holidays or customs that their future coworkers, neighbors and friends practice.”

McIntosh worked with Graduate Assistant Lauryn Nett to implement many of the activities during the week. 

“All of our events are LIB 100 approved, so we get many students who attend for that,” McIntosh said. “We also get students who want a chance to talk about different religions, spiritualities and worldviews. So often it’s considered taboo to talk about these things when a healthy interfaith dialogue can be so rewarding.”

Events during the week included a Student Experience Panel, Speedfaithing, a Sikh Langar meal and a Holi event to celebrate the Hindu festival of colors. The Holi event took place outside of the Kirkhof Center. 

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Abhi Ghosh opened the celebration with a brief overview of Holi. He explained to the crowd of approximately 30 participants that Holi celebrates not only the springtime, but also family and unity. 

Holi is considered a national holiday in India, and people there traditionally decorate themselves and others with colored powders made from crushed flower petals. After the introduction, participants were encouraged to scoop up cornstarch-based powers and make themselves, as well as others, more colorful. Soon, most people’s shirts and faces were streaked with vibrant shades of blue, purple, red, orange and green.

Local second-grader Willow West came to the celebration with her family after learning about Holi at school.

“One of my classmates actually celebrates it, so that’s how we knew about it,” West said. “It’s a festival of colors and I learned that people throw around colored powder and water.”

West said she was “very happy” to attend the event.

GVSU student Megan White came to the event with her friend Meda Kulbaclauskalte.

“My friend is in LIB 100 and when she mentioned it, it sounded fun,” White said. “I had never heard about Holi before this.”

Ghosh, who grew up in India, said that he thought it was important for everyone to learn about and appreciate cultural traditions, regardless if they represent your own beliefs or religion.

“In India, we have Hindus celebrating Christmas and Christians celebrating Eid,” Ghosh said. “Holi is a festival in India where everyone celebrates it. It’s a cultural and a religious holiday. At Grand Valley, this event was a fun way to learn about other cultures and feel happy together.”