Dec

14

From the December Blue and White

Written by


The December issue of
The Blue and White — our Denominational Domination issue — will be on stands (and online) later this week. In the meantime, here’s something to read besides your old class notes. 

“O Ye of Little Faiths” by Alexandra Muhler

While Columbia is an institution regularly accused of godlessness, our Student Governing Board (SGB) allocates considerable funding to faith-oriented student groups. The three largest religions on campus have robust memberships and budgets, though there’s no correlation. According to SGB data, here’s the breakdown: Hillel (2,000 members, $35,100 budget); the Muslim Students Association (700, $19,500); Columbia Catholic Undergrads (354, $10,800). The Bhakti Club, despite associations with the off-the-beaten-path Hare Krishna sect, claims 170 members, making it the fourth largest campus club of its kind.

Then there are the true minorities. This year, the Jehovah’s Witnesses just managed to claim its 14 members, the bare minimum for SGB recognition, and declined a request to participate in this article. Other small groups present on campus include the Seventh Day Adventists (20 members, $500 budget) and the Baha’i (39, $2,485), who didn’t respond to interview requests. The Unitarian Universalists have a campus chaplain but no club. There is no Scientology club; most individuals who practice the religion stay closeted.

Below, meet a few the loneliest practitioners in Morningside.

Lutherans

There are nearly 11 million Lutherans in the United States. At Columbia, there are 14—that is, officially. Blake Arnold, SEAS ’11, the president of Columbia Lutherans, says he just has trouble getting them to show up. Arnold, who runs track, says two of his teammates promise every week that they will attend Sunday night services. They never do. It’s almost Monday morning, and they are busy with work.

Nationwide, the Lutherans are growing less devout, and in that sense, Columbia is no exception. It’s a quaint sort of group. The once-groundbreaking doctrine of faith before works has long been a commonplace belief of Protestantism, and Columbia Lutherans casually co-sponsor study breaks with the more numerous Episcopalians. Arnold says that most of its members are Michiganders, homesick for church potlucks and networks of Lutheran cousins. Earlier this year, the group planned a country retreat to the Catskills. The plan fell through, but Arnold is working to make it happen next semester.

Despite their size, they are not without institutional support. Much of their $400 budget goes to pay a pianist at their Sunday services, which are directed by Reverend Nicole Schwalbe, an employee of the Office of the University Chaplain who also directs their weeknight Bible studies. During her services in St. Paul’s Chapel, the eight-odd congregants truly congregate; sitting in the first row of chairs and interrupting the sermon with comments and questions. “It feels more intimate,” said Arnold.

Indeed, in small, surprising ways, Columbia has proved a fertile ground for this struggling faith. Arnold admits that before he took Contemporary Civilization, he had never read the works of Martin Luther.

Buddhists

“To be a Buddhist can be quite lonely,” says Mike Wong, TC ’09, president of the Buddhist Meditation Group, which was founded this October at Teacher’s College and is organized through the Interschool Governing Board.

Students from most every school at Columbia have responded enthusiastically—at least at first. The group’s listserv has 60 subscribers, but many only stop by once, their curiosity sated or their stress busted.

Wong acknowledged that the group accommodates people who have “the mentality of picking and choosing what they find beneficial from Buddhism.” The Columbia group is not, after all, associated with any specific temple or teacher. To accommodate the nature of the demand, Wong plans on offering a more eclectic curriculum—possibly even yoga—next semester.

He estimates that there are two or three committed Buddhists in the club, and between five and ten more who attend meetings every week. Several of these members went on a retreat together, during which they meditated five or six times a day. It wasn’t easy for some of the newer meditators. “Some people come in thinking it’s a sort of easy, nice feeling,” explained Wong. “It’s really not in the case, at least not in the beginning. It’s really tough on your knees.”

That said, Wong was not born to meditate, either. Though his mother kept a Chinese Buddhist shrine in their Bronx apartment, he did not attend temple until high school, when he grew frustrated by SATs and girl trouble and became intrigued by mentions of the religion in his world history class. He continues to try to integrate his faith and his education, but for now Columbia’s Buddhist population lacks religious discipline, so Wong worships at a temple in Flushing.

Sikhs

About 20 people receive general body emails from the Sikh Student Association, and about five or six of them are Sikhs, estimates the group’s president, Rajkaran Sachdej, CC ’11. Many subscribe out of curiosity, and Sachdej gladly sends out educational notes on gurus’ birthdays. The group’s secretary, Ravi Singh, CC ’09, who was raised mostly attending his mother’s Hindu temple, is still investigating the religion. But that’s okay—a “Sikh” is, by etymology, a “learner.” The religion has a vast and flexible definition of God and relatively relaxed code of behavior.

The SSA lay dormant between 2002 and spring 2008, at which point it was reactivated “with really, really, like, really, really small expectations,” according to Sachdej. The club’s funds are currently frozen because the small executive board always had scheduling conflicts that prevented them from attending SGB meetings. The club does not meet regularly, though it recently co-sponsored a vigil for the terrorist victims in Mumbai.

Though the finance trouble makes co-sponsoring difficult, communication with other South Asian cultural groups is fairly simple. Sachdej works on the executive board of Club Zamana and dances with CU Bhangra. On the way home from Bhangra practice last year, the SSA’s former president cornered him in an elevator and, quite without consulting him, tagged him as the new president.

Nevertheless, for Sachdej, this is the largest Sikh community he’s ever encountered. He was born and raised in Guam, where his extended family constituted the entire Sikh population. Determined to expand his group, Sachdej keeps a weather eye out for anyone wearing a turban or iron bangle.

Mormons  

The Mormons on campus use other signs to identify their fellow worshippers. Evan Johnson, GSAS ’09, encountered his first Columbia Mormon when a friend recognized he was LDS because he used the word “freakin” to avoid the more profane alternative.

But of all the small religious groups on campus, the Latter Day Saints Students Association is certainly the most visible. The club president, Alex Cheung, CC ’10, and Jane Wilson, Law ’11, often staff a Meet the Mormons table on the Lerner ramps.

They are open to debate and friendly to questions, but also wired to convert. While this reporter was chatting at the table, Cheung slowly and without explanation pushed his laptop toward me. On screen was a man speaking.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“That’s a member of the Church. He’s giving his testimony,” he replied.

Perhaps it’s only habit. Most young Mormons serve a two-year mission, during which they study scripture for three hours a day and proselytize nine hours a day, often in a language they picked up in two to three months of training.

The LDSSA gathers every Tuesday—religiously—for Institute, their scripture study. While only seven people attended one meeting The Blue and White visited, it must be among the most racially diverse on campus. The Columbia student population is small, supplemented by missionaries doing their service in New York as well as recently converted neighborhood folk. But however disparate their origins, the Mormons are remarkably uniform in presentation; clean and perky, and they all read aloud with confidence, a skill cultivated in years of group religious study. Sharlieka Williams, who is planning on being baptized this month, stumbled while she read and bit her fingernails down to the quick. Still, it is the comfort of this kind of group that has brought her to the church. “They talk and greet you and love you,” she explained in an e-mail.

Evidently, the open-arms strategy has been successful. “We’ve had baptisms every few weeks, every other week lately,” said Sister Johanson. When Mormons are on mission, they are referred to as either “Sister,” “Brother,” or “Elder.”

Chris Haueter, SEAS’12, insists that Columbia and New York are not inhospitable to his faith. “It’s not hostile. I’ve never, ever felt any opposition to my belief,” he said. Nevertheless, it must be difficult to stand in opposition to so many of the school’s and the city’s cultural norms. Work—including homework—is not allowed on Sundays. The precept called the Word of Wisdom forbids the consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine.

One of the potential converts, Karen, who asked that her last name not be printed, had a question about the Word of Wisdom. “I thought it extended to not being able to eat chili peppers,” she said. The Mormons were happy to clear the matter up—it did not.

“The LDS Church and the Jewish religion have one thing in common. We believe that the more educated you are, the more devout you become,” explained Cheung, paraphrasing a lecture by a Harvard professor who addressed his mission group. But the textual discussion in Institute falls short of exegesis.

“It inspires me to know that Joseph Smith was so young and so uneducated when he saw his vision,” said Cheung. Sister Diray concurred, and affirmed with a smile, “I’m so blessed.”

“I had been to so many churches before,” said Karen. “Why didn’t I come to the Church earlier?” It’s a difficult question to answer, but Wilson immediately knew where to turn. “First Nephi, 11:17.”

It turned out that Karen had a fairly clear idea of why she had come to Institute. “I saw a special on TV about Mormons and I thought, I think I’m going to join that church,” she recounted.

“That’s awesome,” replied Cheung, who admits he was so touched by the same PBS documentary that he bawled in front of the television.

The meeting was only scheduled to last an hour, but Haueter and Cheung stayed late to answer Karen’s and my questions. For their faith, they are happy to give their time. Haueter explained it best: “In every single sense, in every single way, my actions are influenced by the eternal truth.” 

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70 Comments

  1. Sprjnkles

    Ummmm, as a Jew, I would like to know the reasoning behind that bit about how Jews believe the more educated you become, the less devout you are. Because from what I've experienced, that couldn't be further from the truth. In Judaism, you study incessantly so that you can know more and more about what you believe. I'd rather people who didn't know much about my religion stayed away from making broad generalisations.

    • huh  

      "'The LDS Church and the Jewish religion have one thing in common. We believe that the more educated you are, the more devout you become,' explained Cheung, paraphrasing a lecture by a Harvard professor who addressed his mission group."

    • what?  

      "The LDS Church and the Jewish religion have one thing in common. We believe that the more educated you are, the more devout you become,"

      ---they seem to be agreeing with you. Everybody knows that the most serious Jews study their asses off, it's just the less serious ones (like myself) who become wisecracking slackers.

  2. I think that  

    RAJ IS THE MANNNN

  3. Raj  

    Thank you "I think that..."!

    Edit: I didn't pay for the candles in the end....credit goes to Ahimsa, i believe....

  4. Dddddd  

    like the article, nice reporting

  5. WOWZA  

    OMG RAJKARANNNNNNN

    MY BABY!!

  6. SGB Watch  

    Let’s Look at Which Religions Are Racking in the Cash From the SGB Coffers.....

    The Baha'i
    (39, $2,485),
    $63.72 / student

    Columbia Catholic Undergrads
    (354, $10,800).
    $30.51 / student

    Muslim Students Association
    (700, $19,500);
    $27.86 / student

    Seventh Day Adventists
    (20 members, $500 budget)
    $25.00 / student

    Hillel
    (2,000 members, $35,100 budget);
    $17.50 / student

    Ahimsa, the Jain student group (915, $3,050);
    $3.33 / student


    SGB, most of these groups have institutional supports of large temples, churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. on a local and national level. Why are you draining our money to them at the expense of the activist, political, LGBT, environmental, and other groups that ACTUALLY need the money.

    GET REAL. You guys suck at your jobs!

    • Well,  

      1) Economies of scale? When you buy for several hundred people, sometimes the cost per person is less than when you buy for a couple dozen.

      2) Money is probably more activity-based. The more programming that includes the Columbia/Barnard community, the more money you would probably get.

      3) These are allocations. Bigger groups probably get additional funding from larger, nation or region-wide organizations, and therefore demonstrate a lesser need to rely on Columbia's cash.

      Mind you, these are all speculations. Incompetence on the part of Columbia bureaucracy still stands a good chance for being responsible for a sizable portion of the disparity.

    • uhh  

      care to explain where you got those membership numbers from, and who you are? Those numbers sound really whack.

      Not sure why you have it out for the SGB. They have been very good about funding/budget increases this year - and I'm in a political & activist group.

      The fact that you would name yourself "SGB sucks" suggests you have a student government agenda and aren't really interested in those groups.

    • Btw  

      The chair of SGB was Amnesty's treasurer. The vice-chair and secretary are members of the Dems. So that's 3 out of the top 4 members in political/activist groups.

      Last year's chair was on the Dems, Vice-Chair on SEEJ, and Treasurer from Amnesty. Again, 3 out of the top 4 members on Political/Activist groups.

      So I highly doubt they would perpetuate a pro-Religion agenda, especially if those groups had outside funding. Do you have any proof that they get institutional support, or did you just make that up?

  7. hmm  

    why are ahimsa getting totally screwed at $3/student while while the baha'i ( a tiny group) are getting a godless sum of 63/student.

  8. ...  

    i'm not part of sgb or anything, but the above way of comparing allocations doesn't make sense for sgb groups (or any other student group for that matter). i love ahimsa, but there are NOT 915 active members in the organization, meaning that the $3.33/person number is bogus. it is next to impossible to compare these things.

    look, so long as sgb is applying uniform standards to all of its groups in determining allocations, then that's the best you can ask for, right?

  9. cc'10  

    if only people with the most money used it for good deeds instead of ...

  10. question  

    how do you get involved with the Unitarian Universalists on campus?

  11. KCCC  

    no coverage of the insane bitches @ the korean campus crusadde for christ?

  12. hello? bwog?  

    Hindu Students Organization?

  13. Ahimsa  

    I REALLY DOUBT THERE ARE OVER 900 JAIN STUDENTS AT COLUMBIA. AHIMSA IS OBVIOUSLY PRESENTING AN EXAGGERATED NUMBER TO SGB TO GET MORE FUNDING.

  14. Ahimsa  

    doesn't do jackshit. btw, i love raj!

  15. ugh...  

    the blue and white was a lot better when it didn't take itself so seriously. i hate these themed issues.

  16. stop hating on jains  

    900 is representative of how many people are in their mailing list. what's with the disproportionate allocations?

  17. not in HSO  

    ...but i am curious as to how active/not/what they are...

  18. WTF

    Why in the world is there so much hate on Ahimsa???? This is really sad, some people really don't belong at Columbia...

  19. agreed  

    they do have an attractive board.they also happen to all be really nice too.

  20. not on HSO..  

    ..but they put on more/bigger events than Ahimsa and are certainly funded through SGB as a religious group. They're general body is also bigger and their board more organized.

  21. Also,  

    Ahimsa doesn't make their mailing list private when emailing out. It has 286 members. I just counted. I could forward the entire list to Bwog.

  22. get a life

    If you're that concerned about the allocations process, do something more than sitting around, posting bullshit numbers that come from nowhere, and basically complaining about things you have NO idea about.

  23. Guy who knows things

    Only Hillel gets serious institutional support in terms of funding. Many of the Christian groups have institutions that support their campus ministers (who are NOT employees of the University) but do no support student group funding. The MSA receives no institutional support from any outside body with the exception of liability coverage for their campus minister (who is a volunteer).

    Political and activist groups receive significantly more funding from external sources (see Kulawik's GOP) and in kind donations (see every visit the Office of Government Affairs has ever helped the Dems get) than religious groups.

    Also, Bhakthi Club only has that many "members" because it serves free vegan food every week in its cooking class, its major program. Ahimsa's #, as reported to SGB, is exaggerated too, which is why their per head allocation is so low.

  24. Hooray  

    For Columbia Catholic Undergrads!! Woohoo!!!!

  25. funny...  

    it seems like the groups that were interviewed had less comments about money and more about turnout at events/services

    ...yet most of the comments are about money

  26. ufff  

    regardless of how good looking or not good looking people are, I think something should be said about the 900 people. As someone previously commented, allocations are based on how active your organization is. Even if only 10 people were apart of the club, the allocation would come to about the same because the organization puts out a lot of events that have a draw of an upwards of 400 people. it is primarily based on your clubs activity and not how many people are in your organization.

  27. this  

    is a good study break lol.

  28. activity  

    yeah, this is a bit ridiculous.

    1) everyone needs to stop being so shallow. be mature. if you don't know how religious organizations work on campus, chill out. you can't be commenting if you don't know the system.

    2) SGB doesn't dole out money because of the number of students in a group. Like ufff said, activity dominates allocations. Some of the "smaller" faiths highlighted in this article are not really active. Why should they be receiving funds? What events does the SSA put on? Do they have elections? If so, how the former president corner the new president?

    Point is - regularity and structure is what the SGB looks for, not just numbers. Plus, numbers reported in terms of general body size are usually inaccurate, as highlighted above.


    Alexandra Muhler -- shame on you for not reviewing your method of analysis. One would only hope that students writing such articles would ensure a proper analysis before writing up such claims. Clearly this individual has failed at doing so.

  29. stop hating

    on bhakti. who are you to analyze their reasons for success? they're obviously very dedicated (they have one or two weekly events don't they?) and they clearly put in the time to accomplish their mission. so you clearly aren't the guy who knows anything worth knowing.

  30. Congratulations.  

    Columbia University students: a paragon of maturity and level-mindedness.

  31. Parinitha

    Ms. Muhler,

    Here are some Questions/Comments that I have.

    (1) Do you have to practice the religion of every club that you join? Or to even put your name on their list-serv? To assume that Ahimsa's "large" list serv implies that all those people are Jain is absurd considering half of Ahimsa's executive board doesn't even practice Jainism. Some people join Ahimsa's list-serv because they enjoy our events.

    (2) That number, 915 means nothing. I'm the treasurer of Ahimsa, and having filled out a million budget-related forms, I know I have never once used that number for applications. When we ask for budget allocations/co-sponsorships, we write that our group has about 50-80 people, which is entirely reasonable. More importantly, we discuss the size/expenses of our events.

    (3) Ahimsa is does not have one of the top 4 highest allocations. No more on that subject is necessary, because that fact is just wrong.

    (4) As previously mentioned, Ahimsa's president Sonia actually bought ALL THE CANDLES for the mumbai vigil, in addition to spearheading the entire event.

    So, I hope that this clears up some of this ignorance.

    And please, Ms. Muhler, before writing an article which discusses Ahimsa's budget, please contact me.

    Regards.

    • Rajkaran  

      Yes. Just to clarify again: The credit to buying candles goes to Ahimsa and their wonderful board! :) At the time of the interview, the candle-buying situation for the Mumbai Vigil was not really clear. But in the end, Ahimsa gladly stepped up and made everything easier for the groups involved, including SSA.

      Happy Studying,
      Rajkaran

    • umm  

      Sonia certainly did NOT spearhead the entire vigil. Do you know how many groups were involved in planning and publicity? You might need to get your facts straight, Parinitha.

  32. Anonymous  

    Do the Mormons on campus divert University funds for their various nasty political efforts, like getting Prop. 8 passed in California? MEET THE MORMONS? No thanks, I will definitely pass on that one.

  33. back to reality  

    YEA RAJ!!!!!!!!!!

  34. Daler Mehndi  

    I'm part of SSA... It's LEGIT.

  35. Parinitha

    You're right, and after posting that comment I felt really bad. The vigil was a result of the cooperation between many groups. I'm very sorry.

    • she deserves credit  

      I disagree; she did spearhead the event. She was running the whole thing, and she deserves the credit. Just because groups co-sponsor and email their list-servs, that doesn't mean they are spending time and energy for a cause.

  36. anyone?  

    head and shaft............

  37. interestingly...  

    i dont think sonia is even jain. i think she's sikh. isnt that funny?

  38. we've all just been  

    shafted

  39. no thats not funny

    and i don't think its relevant whether or not she spearheaded it. everyone participated; that's what matters. the attacks were a disaster that everyone is just as much a part of, and the vigil is something nobody can claim ownership over. sonia brought up the idea to hold a vigil not only as an ahimsa member, but more so as someone affected by the attacks. props to her for going the extra mile though, buying candles and all.

  40. Rajkaran  

    Thank You Very Much Bwog for deleting the prior comments. I'm pretty sure I speak on behalf of a lot of people when I say that those comments were completely uncalled for. I am not afraid to say that the person who posted them should be ashamed.

    I wish EVERYONE Happy Studying...

  41. Alum08

    This is absolutely depressing. Maybe it's because people are so stressed out about finals, maybe it's because some people have an agenda, but there is NO right in bashing an organization dedicated to non-violence.

    There are some soulless, horrible people that go to my beloved school.

  42. Weird  

    I always assumed religious groups didnt' have the intra-group nastiness everyone else has. Guess that was wrong.

  43. rfs2110  

    this issue should be discussed in student-organized initiatives like the newly formed Interfaith Collective.

  44. Anonymous

    Every religion has their own beliefs and perspectives in which making everything messy. Achieving the country goal is not easy. Sometimes, there is conflict of interest among the people, government and economy. All of us want to have peaceful and organized society in which the community is task-focused and well-behaved. The government itself directs and leads the nation towards prosperity. We are in a topsy-turvy world. Due to races differences, cultures of every country and economic condition we can not achieve total world peace. There are some people who are making disturbance and terrorism for their own interests. Katie Holmes 30th birthday recently, and in those three decades she has done quite a bit. However, his adherence to Scientology and his behavior have caused quite the stir. Films she has been in have won Golden Globes and Oscars, as well as a few flops. You can't deny her work ethic though. She has quite the resume for a 30 year old, and the couple has been celebrating all week. To find out more about Katie’s career and which film may have left the producer in need of a personal loan, check out this payday loan article.

  45. Anonymous

    Every religion has their own beliefs and perspectives in which making everything messy. Achieving the country goal is not easy. Sometimes, there is conflict of interest among the people, government and economy. All of us want to have peaceful and organized society in which the community is task-focused and well-behaved. The government itself directs and leads the nation towards prosperity. We are in a topsy-turvy world. Due to races differences, cultures of every country and economic condition we can not achieve total world peace. There are some people who are making disturbance and terrorism for their own interests. Katie Holmes 30th birthday recently, and in those three decades she has done quite a bit. However, his adherence to Scientology and his behavior have caused quite the stir. Films she has been in have won Golden Globes and Oscars, as well as a few flops. You can't deny her work ethic though. She has quite the resume for a 30 year old, and the couple has been celebrating all week. To find out more about Katie’s career and which film may have left the producer in need of a personal loan, check out this http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2008/12/17/cruise-doesnt-need-a-personal-loan-to-celebrate-with-holmes/

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