Letter: Religious perspectives deserve equal weight

Students attend university to achieve higher learning. In my experience, this learning goes beyond pure academics and extends to lessons about life and people, especially our own selves. Because of how important these things are, I don’t think religion or spirituality should be excluded from the university environment.

The words ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ get thrown around a lot, and just by talking with different people around campus, I’m reminded that they can mean very different things on an individual basis. So with the help of Merriam-Webster I pinpointed what I understand by these terms: ‘Religion’ is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor [zeal or loyalty] and faith.”  ‘Spirituality’ is the state of being “concerned with religious values” or “relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit; the incorporeal.” 

Basically, these offer information and perspectives on life that aren’t found in our public and secular post-secondary education institutions.  But, if not even more because of that, they merit curiosity and investigation.

I myself am an evangelical Christian, and honestly I’ve grown more and more thankful for the perspective my identity gives me since entering university. On campus, there is a lot of negativity and brokenness if you pay attention, with high stress levels and rates of depression and anxiety, and poor mental health generally.  This malignant environment is compounded by everything I learn about the world in my studies in global law and social justice. I’ve found that all the good provided by the world isn’t truly enough to satisfy and save and hold humankind—so I look to the hope and perfect goodness I could only find in Christ. This is where I get real healing and real life.

Other students who find themselves in the same place of dissatisfaction or longing may also turn to religion or spirituality, as they understand it, in their own search for a sense of purpose. In light of this need, and its relation to the health and development of the students as people, universities shouldn’t restrict access to possible avenues of exploration, whether that’s through clubs, societies, or chaplaincies. 

I started with the role of religion and spirituality in private life because everything presented in the public domain is poured in from this sphere. For example, there are non-religious or spiritual mental health services available to students who would feel uncomfortable otherwise, while chaplaincies are providing counseling to students who seek their support from their religion or spirituality. Both public services are born from someone’s own conceptions and beliefs, and accordingly, both present their own merits.

Following this logic, religious perspectives should also be respected in the classroom. A person’s core beliefs or value system defines everything about them: how they treat themselves and others, how they handle situations and draw conclusions. I’ve seen in class that when these are applied by students and professors openly and informedly, it builds up the learning experience and people’s own knowledge and awareness of what surrounds them.

And even, from a more legalistic angle, just as monotheistic, pantheistic, and deist frameworks constitute outlooks on life, so do agnosticism and atheism.  Therefore, each of these persuasions and their adherents should be treated equally, according to the realities of the students.  University today may be a secular institution, but realize secularism too is a worldview that was chosen, with its own implications. 

A pluralistic institution has to ensure sufficient space for other people’s perspectives.  This way people can challenge each other and understand not only others, but themselves, and what they believe, more soundly.