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State of the University allows students to hold dialogue on faith

In light of spirituality development month here at Carnegie Mellon University, the State of the University held a discussion on interfaith and reason in today’s society. This event occurred Thursday, Nov, 17 at 4:30 p.m. in Doherty Hall A302. Five student speakers began the discussion, but audience members and a variety of other student speakers joined the conversation as the event progressed.

The event began with a discussion about the crucial question of how religion at college is different than back home. Many speakers claimed that college is about defining your own religion and deciding what you truly want to believe in without the guidance of your family. There are no longer strict parameters or regiments like those that surrounded you as you grew up, but rather an opportunity to define our own religious identity.

David White, a sophomore statistics major and member of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, noted that college is a lonely place where we’re among our own solitude. Back home, we’re provided with support from our friends and family members who we have grown up with and who can provide us with emotional stability. He believes that at Carnegie Mellon, we’re sometimes relieved to find comfort in our religion or faith, knowing that there is someone there, someone in the bigger picture, who is guiding us through times of adversity and frustration.

Many students mentioned that since Carnegie Mellon is an intensely academic school, we may tend to find ourselves at a crossroads between religion and education.

A physics major in the audience supported this view, noting that while he was studying Higgs Boson, a fundamental field to the first particle physics theory, he was forced to rethink the existence of God. If there are solidified facts that the existence of Earth was created through scientific realms, where does the idea that God molded earth and humans come into play?

Meanwhile, another audience member suggested that religion and science coexist. They claimed that without religion and ethics, biology itself is incomplete. As the world is changing and we seek to understand our lives and the past, religion serves as a supplement and anchor. Both science and religion are seeking to understand the universe and collaborate to explain what the other cannot.

The open conversation touched upon what exactly religion is. In our lives, we seek to live by standards, to follow regiments, and make ourselves accountable. The panelists claim that religion is a system of accountability. No matter what it may be — Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. — the ultimate purpose of religion is to better humanity. They also claimed that, as human beings, we are not objective, and that as humans attempt to create this baseline set of standards, we often feel in touch with religion, where our morals and senses align.

The discussion also focused on religion as it connects specifically to Carnegie Mellon. Many questions were raised, such as: How is Carnegie Mellon as a university in terms of religion? Is it secular? Is it welcoming to accepting a variety of faiths? What is faith itself?

“At Carnegie Mellon, you don’t just simply choose to believe” said Andy Norman, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and director of Carnegie Mellon’s Humanism Initiative. He believes that there is a disconnect between skepticism, rationality, and faith. When is faith used to defend certain things? What is the distinct line between religion and faith?

The conversation moved towards the suggestion that faith and religion are an application to self. Faith is not necessarily tied to a religion. As religion provides us with parameters and a way of life, faith is what we decide to believe in. While you may believe that Jesus died and rose, providing that it is written in our history, to believe that his death and resurrection was a payment for our sins, takes faith. According to Reverend Eric Andrae of the First Trinity Lutheran Church, our university is not secular in that God touches upon every aspect of life. While Carnegie Mellon is not bound by religious affiliation, he believes that we are still blessed by God.

To further the discussion on Interfaith, the Jewish Student Association, Muslim Student Association, and InterVarsity Fellowship hosted the Carnegie Mellon Interfaith Thanksgiving Table on Sunday to bring together students of different spirituality backgrounds to connect through faith, values, and food. Also, in an attempt to promote a welcoming environment on the discussion of religion, Carnegie Mellon is hosting Ask Me Anything (AMA) Day, where individuals across campus will wear buttons to encourage others to ask them about spirituality, faith, and religion.