Religion and Faith on Kenyon's Campus

**Disclaimer: These are the opinions of specific Her Campus Kenyon writers, and they are not indicative of the beliefs of the organization as a whole. Additionally, while Ari and Jenna identify with a particular religious background, they can not speak to the religious organizations as a whole, only of their own experiences.**

 

Religion and personal beliefs are not always a popular topic on college campuses, yet the majority of college students identify themselves as religious. Often times, young adults are raised within a religious tradition, but with the newfound freedom of college, those practices become less habitual. So, what is it like practicing a religion at Kenyon? Jenna and Ari are here to give you their insights.

What is your religious upbringing and current practice?

Ari: I was raised Jewish in the reform community. This basically meant that I went to a Jewish preschool, and in addition to my secular education, I went to religious school on Sundays until I had my bat mitzvah. I also have been going to the same Jewish sleepaway camp for 12 years, and was involved in my temple’s youth group in high school. While I didn’t attend synagogue every week for Shabbat, I went for the big Jewish holidays, and have observed a Kosher diet for my entire life. When I went to college, my parents talked to me and the deal was that because I was essentially becoming an adult, I could choose how I wanted to continue my religious practice (i.e., could stop keeping Passover, going to temple, etc.). I do still keep Kosher and celebrate all the main holidays, and will be going back to my sleepaway camp this summer!

Jenna: I was actually raised Catholic, but I switched to a Christian church (United Church of Christ) when I was in 8th grade. I went to youth group and church services regularly each week, and I was very involved with the youth ministries throughout high school. Interestingly, I am actually the only member of my family who goes to my church. My dad is atheist and my mom is Catholic, so they gave my siblings and me the choice of what we wanted to do pretty early on. I did a lot of service work with my church as well, and my youth group volunteered with a home repair non-profit, Appalachia Service Project, every summer. I still do a lot of work with ASP now, and you can read some of my other articles about it if you’re interested! Currently, I don’t have what I would call a “home church” at Kenyon, and while I am in close contact with my church back home, I often feel less involved here on campus.

 

How has coming to college changed that?

Ari: I knew that coming to a small liberal arts school in the middle of rural Ohio would be a huge difference from my very liberal, Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles. I went to a high school that had a huge active Jewish community, and was constantly surrounded by my Jewish family and friends from camp and temple. While Kenyon does have a large Jewish population, they aren’t many practicing Jews, which is frustrating. It has definitely made me homesick around the big holidays.

Jenna: When I first got to Kenyon, my religion just wasn’t at the forefront at all. The end of my senior year of high school had been rough, and I had just spent a lot less time at church. In addition, I come from a very liberal background, and the church that I grew up in was very open and accepting, which is not always the case within other sects of Christianity. I was definitely really afraid that I would end up with a bunch of people who would try to tell me that homosexuality is a sin and I should be a virgin and my role in the household is to be a wife. I didn’t want that, especially when I was just getting on my feet in a new place. It really took until my work with ASP this summer for me to get back in touch with my faith, and when I got back, I was craving to be more involved, so I ended up finding groups of people who shared similar beliefs.

How does religion affect your daily life?

Ari: I think religion affects me in little ways. Like when I’ll walk into Peirce and every station besides vegetarian is serving something that isn’t Kosher, I’ll miss home where I’ve never had an issue with accidentally eating pork. Or I’ll see a funny tweet that relates to Judaism, or will be humming a tune from a camp song, and feel like I can’t explain to my friends. I think because Kenyon doesn’t have an incredibly active Jewish life, I have to make ways to remind myself of the religious part of my identity. I think it’s also taught me to have a filter. Back home, when the majority of my friends are Jewish, I can be incredibly candid. I’ll use words such as JAP (Jewish American Princess), or make jokes that may make non-religious people uncomfortable. Like Jenna mentioned, I have to be conscious to never come off as pushy or overbearing. Some people have incredibly negative relationships with religion, and I need to be conscious of that.

Jenna: I agree with Ari, I think that in many ways, my religion affects my daily life, but not in any way that other people would notice and be able to point out. As a Christian, I choose to live a life of reckless and selfless love, so I think that generally speaking, I just live my life differently because of my faith. More than that though, sometimes I do like to turn on my favorite Christian music when I’m by myself, but it’s definitely not something that I would play out loud or for other people. I’m very conscious of how people may be affected by my religious practices, and I don’t want anyone to see me as that “pushy Christian.”

 

What resources have you found on campus?

Ari: Obviously I made sure that Kenyon had a Hillel before applying. While it definitely doesn’t compare to my experiences back home, I think it’s an important resource on campus. I’ve tried to make use of it in fun ways, like a Jewish cooking club I started with some other girls, or going to light the candles for Chanukah. And honestly, the best thing that I’ve done was seek out other Jewish people, or people who are willing to learn about religion.

Jenna: There are definitely a lot of different Christian groups on campus, and they all cater to different pockets of Christians, which I think is really cool. I’ve really fallen in love with Canterbury, and their Monday night dinners are just so wonderful. I have also been going to a study group that has been reading the novel Jesus Feminist, which has been a wonderful experience as well.

 

Have you interacted with other students of the same faith?

Ari: I have! I think it’s funny how everyone has a way of finding kindred spirits on campus. I’ve met several Jews who have had a similar upbringing (youth groups, sleepaway camp, etc), and that’s really helped me maintain my religious identity. I’ve also met Jews who don’t keep Kosher, don’t go to Hillel for Jewish holidays, and just kind of stopped practicing the religion after their bar/bat mitzvah. That’s totally fine, it’s just wildly different from my experience with the religion.

Jenna: One of the crazy things about the Christian faith is that there are like a million different ways to be a Christian. Basically, what that means is that you always get a diverse group of people with different faith backgrounds, but it can also make it harder to find someone who has had similar experiences to your own. This year, in particular, has been more challenging because although I have gotten involved with more Christian life on campus, I came back in the fall after spending a summer immersed in my faith with ASP, and it was really hard to come back from all of those experiences and have no one here who understood what I did and why it was so important to me.

 

Have you interacted with students of other faiths?

Ari: Yes, which is one of my favorite things to do. My roommate, and fellow HCK writer, is Catholic. We’ve talked a lot about how religion shaped our upbringing and values in life. Her parents invited me to Easter dinner while I was observing Passover, which ended up in this really amazing situation where I was at a table full of non-Jews who were eager to learn about the holiday of Passover. I really like learning about other people’s experiences with religion, because it’s always different. I try to keep an open-mind when talking to people of other faith because I want people to do the same with me. Because Jews have such a bad history with intolerance, it’s incredibly important for me to be mindful and respectful of other people’s beliefs, even if they contrast with mine. Also, the more that I talk to other students of faith, the more I question and attempt to understand my own relationship with Judaism, which is awesome!

Jenna: All the time! I know that religion is one of those things that it’s taboo to talk about, but you can really learn so much about a person when you delve into their faith and their beliefs. One of my favorite questions to ask a person is “what do you think your purpose on earth is?” Obnoxious? Maybe. But, it really leads to some fascinating conversations about what people believe.

 

Do you talk about religion with your friends?

Ari: I try to...probably more than they would like! I think that there’s a huge stigma around religion with people my age, and I’m not exactly sure why. I think that in the age of science, religion is seen as silly. Often times, people also focus on very radical sections of a religion, and don’t realize that you can be religious and also have other components to your life. But I think that the more I talk about Judaism, the more that my non religious friends can dissociate with this stigma that religious people are “weird.” I can be Jewish and still go to parties and watch movies and have rational conversations about politics and other things that my religion may contradict. While I’m definitely not the representative for every Jew, I think that I do a good job of teaching people how the religion looks in everyday practice.

Jenna: While I do refer to my faith and my religious practices more this year than I did previously, it is still something that I keep more to myself. Of course my faith is important to me, and it obviously plays a big role in my life, but I don’t feel as though I need to talk about it all of the time. Instead, I try to live a life that follows my faith and that I can be proud of, and I hope to lead by example. Of course I love to talk about religion when prompted, but I try not to bring it up without warning.

 

How do you think other students and professors perceive your religious identity?

Ari: I’ve definitely had some interesting experiences with professors not knowing how to handle certain circumstances. Like when I get excused absences to fast for Yom Kippur, they always take it really seriously, even though it’s not a huge deal. Again, I think it’s this same sort of stigma or discomfort. I don’t care if you practice my religion, or believe in something that contradicts my religion! But that’s just my personal belief that there needs to be more conversation about religion.

Jenna: I think there is a general impression that Christians are crazy conservative people, which is just not true. Like I said previously, I don’t go out of my way to talk about my faith, but I’ve felt judged by a professor because of my faith. I do think that some students have negative opinions of Christians, but it’s not something that I will avoid if brought up.

 

How do you feel as though your religion is represented on campus? Do you agree with that representation?

Ari: I talked a little about this in the other question, but I think that Judaism is represented in a very interesting way on campus. I’ve met some Jews who thought that they were “quintessential Jews” and then talked to me and called me a “Super Jew.” I definitely think that Judaism is represented in a very laidback way; most people don’t attend Hillel events unless they’re for major holidays, and even then the numbers are low. I wish that wasn’t the case...I think that there’s a resistance to observe a religion you were “forced to” practice when you were younger. Like you’re in college, maybe you don’t want to sit through Shabbat services every Friday night when you could be watching Netflix, which I totally get. However, I think that there are alternative ways to practice a religion that many college students don’t necessarily understand. Also I think that there is this misunderstanding that to identify with a religion, you have to agree with every aspect of the religion. You can be Jewish and not read the Torah, or practice Shabbat every week, or keep Kosher, or even believe in God! That’s the awesome thing about religion, it’s totally a personal experience. I wish more people understood that.

Jenna: Again, the conservative Christian rhetoric continues to live on at Kenyon, but I’ve found that none of the Christians that I have interacted with actually fit into that mold. We have a thriving group of Christian activists here at Kenyon, but it’s not something you would notice unless you went looking for it. There are people who have told me that practicing my faith is dumb and I do think that I’m perceived differently because of my faith, but it doesn’t affect me.

 

How do you feel as though your religion is represented in society? Do you agree with that representation?

Ari: Again, like I’ve said before, I think that people have a tendency to judge a religion based on its most extreme sects. I’m a Reform Jew, so I don’t practice Judaism the same way that Orthodox Jews do, or even Conservative Jews. Not all Jews have the same beliefs and values. That’s also an issue I have with the way that Judaism is represented in society in regards to the conflicts in the Middle East. I feel as though many people think that just because I’m Jewish that I’ll have a particular stance on the Israel/Palestine conflict, or that I’ll have hostility towards groups of people, which isn’t the case. However, I think that there are some awesome representations of Judaism in society, like Broad City and actors like Seth Rogen and Andy Samberg.

Jenna: Ahh yes, exactly what Ari said. Religions have so many different iterations that is hard to put anybody into a category based upon their faith, yet people try every day. Our society needs to stop making sweeping generalizations about entire religions.

 

What are aspects of your religion back home that you miss (traditions, practices, holidays, etc.)?

Ari: Oh boy, I miss a lot of things. One of the big things is the food, which I know I’ve brought up a lot but it’s a big thing. Back home, even when restaurants weren’t Kosher, Los Angeles is so accommodating for a variety of diets that I always found something that I could eat. Usually I just eat vegetarian at Kenyon because they often serve pork, shellfish, or meat with dairy on it. It’s a little daily reminder that I’m not home, that I’m in a place where I constantly have to explain myself. I also think a big thing about Judaism is the community, so I miss my family a lot, and the way that we always joke together. I’m really lucky to have incredibly open-minded friends who are either Jewish or interested in hearing about my religious experience. But I’ve found new ways to appreciate Judaism, like through religious studies classes, interacting with the chaplains and other Jewish students, and making an effort to continue to celebrate the holidays and stay attached to this part of my identity.

Jenna: The thing that I miss the most is my church family. I was blessed growing up to have a whole group of people who supported me in my faith, and I often miss that comforting space. My church also had a women’s youth program called ‘Ladies and Lemonade’ where we would talk about being a Christian woman and boys, and it was always such an empowering space. I think that I miss having my religion just be a part of my life. Now, I have to seek it out in order to put it in.

Have you taken religious studies classes at Kenyon? Thoughts?

Ari: I’m a religious studies minor, so yes! I registered for a Judaic studies class my first semester at Kenyon without a second thought, and I’ve loved every class I’ve taken here. Learning about religion in an academic setting is really interesting because every professor takes an incredibly different approach. Some professors are very candid, and allow us to explain our cultural connections to religion, while other professors look at religion from a very theoretical perspective. If anything, I think that studying religion academically has helped me to understand the argument for freedom to practice any religion.

Jenna: Yes! My first religious studies course was on the Hebrew Scriptures, which I have grown up calling the Old Testament. The class approached the text with more of a Jewish lense, and it was fascinating to see how one text can be used in different religious traditions. I love how secular the religious studies classes are because it gives students a way to look more objectively at religion.

How can Kenyon be better with tolerance regarding diversity and religion?

Ari: DIALOGUE! I know it sounds redundant and obvious, but dialogue is so important. I push myself to be super loud and vocal because when I have important issues, I want people to know about them. There is such a negative connotation surrounding religion, and speaking on behalf of Jenna and myself, we want to correct these misunderstandings. A big issue I have is people imposing their own personal beliefs onto their judgement of a religion. For example, a lot of people on this campus are anti-Israel without fully understanding the issue, which is incredibly frustrating, because Zionism does not equal Judaism. But I digress. Ultimately, we need to have more open-minded, healthy communication because the worst thing is when someone makes incorrect assumptions about a religion. I’m incredibly enthusiastic about educating about Judaism and learning about other religions if all parties are willing to keep an open, non-judgemental mind.

Jenna: People just need to be more open to talk. People at Kenyon are often too quick to make judgements without actually sitting down and taking the time to hear the opinions of others. I think that we need to work towards having more respectful conversations. We focus so much on being right that we don’t take the time to understand why someone else thinks the way that they do. I just think that Kenyon needs to foster a more loving and open environment.

 

Kenyon’s religious culture is unique, and it’s something that needs to be added to conversation more often. Although we can share our own experiences, we can’t speak to every individual’s experiences, and we would love to hear from you. If you have other thoughts on religions on campus, contact us! Let’s start a conversation.

 

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3, 4