WORDS Katy Edward
We look at the many different student groups on campus that focus on you and your spiritual journey through university.
University and religion can seem like completely separate worlds, irrelevant to one another and never interacting. However, with over 20 student groups falling under the category of religion and spirituality, it is apparent that a large part of the student body is devoted to bringing campus life and spirituality together. At the same time, for many, university is a time of soul searching, and making your own decisions about religion.
MacFest was a great opportunity to talk to the friendly representatives from the host of religious and spiritual societies that are on campus. I wanted to find out why religion is so important to these students and how it can be tied to university life.
Many students mention identity and life values as reasons why their religion is so important to them. While family or cultural tradition is often a first introduction to religion, university is a time of being open to new ideas and knowledge, and forming your own opinions. Alongside this is also the desire among students to come to their faith on their own terms and with their own understanding. The Secretary of the Sikh Student Association, Andrew Toor, commented that while his family’s history and culture is embedded in the religious tradition, he found that its foundations and values were very modern; something that he would want to keep with him for life.
[quote] I’m not sure why I don’t associate myself with religion, but I suppose I just find solace in having my own expectations and boundaries, as opposed to those set by the church[/quote]
For others, university is a time to distance themselves from their family’s beliefs. For some, this leads to a different take on religion altogether. One student, Ben, found that, “As I grew up, I felt as though I was drifting further and further away from Catholicism… To this day I’m not sure why I don’t associate myself with religion, but I suppose I just find solace in having my own expectations and boundaries, as opposed to those set by the church.”
This distance from family can lead to a newfound, or renewed, faith. Someone who chose their religion based purely on research and personal connection with the beliefs is Filip Sekulic, a member of MacBuddhi. With an interest in meditation, he researched all the different religions and found that Buddhism made the most sense to him.
From the Christian student group, Navigators, the assistant to the non-denominational chaplain Luke Midena recounted a similar story. During his university years he found that upon looking more deeply into his religion, it made sense in a way that it never had before.
To these students, being committed to a religion isn’t just about being involved on occasion. From vegetarian lifestyles in the Sikh tradition, to five daily prayers in Islam, to feeling God’s constant presence and support in the Christian faith, religion is a part if their everyday life. As the MUMSA (Macquarie University Muslim Students Association) Secretary Rawand Al-Hinti explained, her religious tradition is the base and purpose of her life. It’s what drives her to get up in the morning, and motivates her to be the best possible version of herself, since every action should be a form of worship.
Being humble also plays a role in daily life. Living within your means and without extravagance is significant in maintaining self-control and acknowledging that everything comes from God and everything returns to God.
FOCUS (Fellowship of Overseas Christian University Students) representative Daniel Patten echoed this sentiment. He said that members of the group aim to use their lives to serve God and be of use to other people. But this doesn’t just mean praying for them. It means being practical in their actions and actively aware of how they interact with other people. Claude Matthieu LaBlanche, president of CASS (Catholic Asian Students Society), explained that he and other religious students see other people, even strangers, as brothers and sisters in Christ. They are a family who support one another through the difficulties of studying, and growing as people, during their time at university.
Indeed, an emphasis on community was a common theme. Brendon says that “sharing your faith journey with people your own age really makes a difference”. For him, joining a youth group “really helped to become more like Christ by challenging me to live up to His teachings”. For Hillsong members, like Meriba-May Igara, it is about speaking the language of the youth without compromising the message of the church. They focus on bringing the church out to the students in order to bring the students into the church.
For international students, finding groups with which they have something in common can be the difference between being overwhelmed by a new country and language, and loving uni life. Through societies dedicated to helping international students feel welcome, such as FOCUS and CASS, students can be confident and involved in what goes on around campus, particularly with regular events such as group English lessons and social outings. The presence of the Sikh Student Association, MacBuddhi and MUMSA is also important for international students due to their religious traditions originating overseas. As the Rawand Al-Hinti (Secretary of MUMSA) pointed out, having a group to depend on around campus creates a positive and safe environment in a foreign place.
Creating community and networks of support is not only important for religious students. The Atheist League is also important for campus life, and the cultivation of solidarity amongst students, as with religious societies. President Reidar Lystad stated that providing common ground and support was the primary concern of the group.
[quote]My entire life religion was drummed into me as something I didn’t necessarily have a choice in, but something I was born into … I can’t really say that it has changed the person I am or the choices that I make[/quote]
For some religious students university life can be a chance to come closer to their religion and find faith for themselves. For others it is a time to step away from religion and explore other facets of life, personal identity and values, and perhaps even explore spirituality as separate from religious contexts. Manisha says that “My entire life religion was drummed into me as something I didn’t necessarily have a choice in, but something I was born into … I can’t really say that it has changed the person I am or the choices that I make.” She says “I believe that I should want to do/or not do things because they’re true to my own values and not the values of someone else that have been thrust upon me … It’s a journey where I don’t know I’ll ever find a destination that I’m comfortable with.” For many this is spiritual journey is a tumultuous time, and having the support of a community is invaluable.