A week ago, I attended an Iftar hosted by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Nuh Aydin, an Iftar being the feast held at the end of a day of fasting during the month of Ramadan. Gathered in the Parish House, I was surrounded by people of all faiths. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic-we were all there to honor the beautiful tradition being observed that evening. After a presentation on the significance of fasting and an entrancingly melodic call to prayer, we shared a delicious meal accompanied by conversation about all manner of things, secular and sacred alike. Why do I bring this up? Because this event perfectly illustrates my view of religious life at Kenyon.

When I came here as a first year, I initially felt alienated because of my Southern Baptist upbringing. Moving into a hall with primarily atheist and agnostic midwesterners and New Englanders, I was out of my element, both geographically and spiritually. The wonderful thing about Kenyon's religious scene is that this difference was not just tolerated-it was affirmed and accepted. Though my friends held different views, religious and philosophical conversations were frequent in our hall. I found that this was true in classes as well. No matter their faiths, my peers and I were met with tolerance. In recent years, though, I've noticed that the subject of religion has become increasingly taboo, not due to discrimination, but to sheer ignorance of the matter in question.

In spite of Kenyon's wonderful tolerance, it is my fear that a vast majority of students-through no fault of their own-possess a large degree of religious illiteracy. Maybe a test is in order. Can you name all five books of the Torah? How about all four Gospels? Can you list more than half of the Ten Commandments? Okay, so a few of you out there are probably feeling pretty good about this, and that's great. Now name the four noble truths of Buddhism. Can you list the five pillars of Islam? Of what faith is the Bhagavad-Gita a sacred text? Who wrote the Tao Te Ching?

Don't feel too bad if any of these questions stumped you. I had to go back to my religious studies textbook to answer some of them. Still, if you had trouble with three or more, can you honestly say you've had a complete liberal arts education? As a religious studies major, I have taken courses to expand my knowledge of religions, but is mere knowledge enough?

Beneath the surface here at Kenyon lurks a beautiful multifaceted spiritual community that many students never explore. I wish I could give you a specific reason for this-fear of being stigmatized as a fanatic, maybe? The best thing I can do, though, is to offer a suggestion: don't let religion become taboo. Even if it's just as a secular observer, strike up a conversation with someone. Taking a religious studies class is a good start, but there's no replacement for a good discussion with your friends. Don't fear stigmatization. Sit down with a friend sometime soon, and just listen to how he or she views the world.

By Thomas Lewis

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