BC's Faith-Based Groups Offer Students Religious Alternatives
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
At orientation, freshmen are strongly encouraged to attend Mass. This Mass ends up being a lot more Christianity-related than informational. After attending, many students begin to question whether non-Christian religious groups have a strong, if any, presence on campus.
The Student Involvement Fair in early September erased any doubts in my mind and assured me that Boston College was host to an eclectic variety of religious groups. Tables varied from the well-known Episcopal Eagles to the St. Thomas More Society. Student-led religious organizations extended beyond common faiths and even branched off into sects such as the Asian Baptist Student Koinonia (ABSK) and the Multi-Cultural Christian Fellowship. All of these clubs have unique factors to them—ABSK, for example, offers “the perfect combination of spiritual and physical food,” according to the official BC website, offering home-cooked meals for anyone who attends Bible Study. Episcopal Eagles, on the other hand, organizes annual pilgrimages, including day trips and retreats in the Boston area.
Yet, religious groups on campus aren’t limited to those representing branches of Christianity, but also includes those representing other religions. Such groups include the Buddhism Club and the Muslim Student Association (MSA), organizations which represent the religious beliefs of a slim number of BC students.
Jonathan Makransky, president of the Buddhism Club at BC and A&S ’14, said the Buddhism Club is unique because it is “more experience-based.” Instead of reviewing scripture, attendees “spend a good part of the time meditating and using practical mindfulness that can be used in daily life.” Meetings, which are held every Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Interfaith Chapel, include a brief, philosophical, non-secular, and basic reading followed by a 20-minute meditation and then reflection. Newcomers and non-Buddhists are welcome (Makransky is one of the few members of the club who is actually Buddhist). Students are encouraged to come regardless of their faith, simply to practice mindfulness—a custom that research shows is directly correlated with physical and mental well-being. “We do meditations that cultivate compassion and connection with other people,” Makransky said. With guest speakers, a goal to “reach out to the BC community at large,” and an emphasis on meditation, Makransky encourages “anyone of any faith or no faith to come discover who [they] are in [their] full humanity.”
For the approximately 2 percent of the BC student population that is Muslim, or the other 98 percent who may or may be interested in learning more about Islam or other faiths in general, the MSA offers many opportunities. After the MSA faded out many years ago, after facing challenges with dining hall times during Ramadan, current president Salman Rangrez, CSOM ’14 was asked to revive it as a freshman. In a matter of three years, Rangrez took a dead club and created a successful organization and a family. Every two to three weeks, general meetings are held at 6 p.m. for students and faculty of any faith. These meetings include “a lot of scholarly debate among different topics.” Discussions at MSA, Rangrez said, are always interesting because “at BC, a lot of students want to challenge stereotypes and see the truth for themselves.” Every Friday at 1 p.m., too, MSA hosts Friday Juma Prayers for Muslims in the Multifaith Center on Lower Campus. When asked if non-Muslims are welcome to the Friday prayers, Rangrez surprised me when he answered that, in addition to those who are simply curious, “a lot of theology teachers come to observe.” Other than discussions and prayer, however, MSA also hosts successful dinners that are open to the public in recognition of Islamic holidays such as Eid (about 30 people typically attend). MSA also hosts annual weekend retreats in which “discussions about Islamic topics and religious aspects in general” are held. Such retreats include approximately 25 people of various faiths—“A third of the people that went last year weren’t even Muslim,” Rangrez said.