The Spirit of Georgetown: Talking About Religious Diversity and Finding Meaning, Belonging and Purpose on the Hilltop

An image of a historical document. The proposal for Georgetown University written by John Carroll

“Proposals for Establishing an Academy, at George-Town, Patowmack River, Maryland.” John Carroll’s 1787 proposal to establish what is now Georgetown University.

In her final semester at Georgetown, Shana Shin (MSB ‘22) explored what it meant to be Buddhist at Georgetown and shared a first-person essay based on a conversation she had with other students about their religious journey on the Hilltop. Shana continued that conversation x with Fr. Greg Schenden SJ, director of Campus Ministry. Among the many topics discussed were John Carroll’s foundational proposal, the Spirit of Georgetown, religious diversity, and finding meaning, belonging, and purpose on the Hilltop. Below, is an excerpt of that conversation.

Shana Shin: As the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution in the United States, why is it important for Georgetown to welcome students from various religious traditions, and how does this diversity bring value to the school?

Fr. Greg Schenden, SJ: You bring up a very good point here, in terms of Georgetown being the oldest Catholic Jesuit university in the United States. A lot of people ask this and want to know how this squares with our Catholic identity.

Religious diversity isn’t something we just dreamt up in the past 20 or 30 years in order to be relevant. John Carroll included it in his original proposal — written in 1787 — for this academy. There is a line that states students of all religious traditions will be admitted to the academy and encouraged to live out the faith traditions of their families. 

Shana: Why would John Carroll, a Catholic and Jesuit priest say that? 

Fr. Greg: John Carroll wanted to establish an academy open to all students regardless of religious affiliation because he grew up in Maryland at a time when there was an element of religious persecution against Catholics. In order for him to receive an education, he had to go to Europe and so, this in part served as his motivation for including this sentence in the proposal. When people ask why Georgetown has an Imam, a Rabbi, or a Protestant minister, I explain it’s because it’s our foundation.

Shana: How does having a religiously diverse campus benefit students and the Georgetown community?

Fr. Greg: That’s the most amazing thing about being here and being the Director of Campus Ministry. Imam Hendi, the director for Muslim Life, is not just an Imam to Muslim students, he’s an Imam to all of us. Similarly, Brahmachari is not just a spiritual leader to students from Dharmic traditions, he is here for everyone in the community. Georgetown is not better or worse than other universities, but in terms of the breadth of what Campus Ministry represents here, it is really unique. 

Do you remember When you were a first-year, at NSO [New Student Orientation] for the Jesuit values panel in McDonough Arena,?

Shana: Yes, yes. Kind of.

Fr Greg: Well, there was a lot going on during NSO! All of Campus Ministry’s chaplains were on stage in McDonough talking about Jesuit Values from the depth of their unique traditions. That’s powerful. 

These Jesuit values we talk about are not uniquely Catholic or Jesuit values. When we talk about Cura Personalis, care of the whole person, that’s a humanist value. But what’s unique about Georgetown and about a Jesuit education is that these values and their faith-based foundations are integral to the whole process that is Georgetown.

Shana: When talking with people from different religious backgrounds, how do you manage potentially conflicting perspectives?

Fr. Greg: I think, it goes back to relationships. You can talk about different aspects of different faith traditions on a theoretical and academic level. You can also talk about them on a relational level. 

I can have a conversation with Imam or Rabbi and there are some real foundational, theological tenets on which we disagree. But, can we still come to the table and say that’s not my belief, but I understand where you are coming from with that. Imam always says, can we agree to disagree out of love — I think that is such a huge part of understanding different perspectives and, because relationships are so important to this process it involves listening as well as speaking, doesn’t it? 

Shana: Yes, absolutely! Recently, I talked to several Buddhist students, and I learned that some of them were not religious at all before coming to Georgetown. However, once here they became interested and began participating in religious activities on campus. I found that they decided to become religious because they liked the community, not necessarily because they agree with the religious values. It seemed to me that for these students a sense of community came before deciding which religion to follow. I found that interesting and would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Fr. Greg: When you start talking about religion, as you just described, it is about placing oneself – in a communal situation. I don’t think you can separate the two. To somebody who gets involved in a religious tradition… I don’t know if it’s solely for a sense of community. Is whatever one considers the transcendent — there are a lot of different names for this — not somehow working in that community? From a Christian perspective, is God working in that somehow? I would say so if that makes sense. 

Shana: What I’m hearing is it is still valid for people to explore religion, whatever the reason, whether it’s the tenets or the need for community.

Fr. Greg: You know, you think of Campus Ministry’s mission to assist folks in the community to live a life of greater meaning, belonging, and purpose. I think belonging looms large for everybody. Especially for undergraduates. I tell students they are in a privileged position because they are in this place. In the course of a week, they can experience a worship service with any of our faith communities on campus. Where else does this happen in the course of one’s life?

Some people are naturally searchers who might be looking for these things but to have it right here, on the Hilltop — take advantage of the opportunity to experience the transcendent through, say, Jewish Shabbat. It’s pretty powerful. I don’t know if that fully answered your question though.

Shana: I agree that it is nearly impossible to separate the communal aspect from religion itself. So, yes, thank you so much for your answer. If you could say one thing to Georgetown students what would that be? What would you like them to take away from their experience at Georgetown?

Fr. Greg: It comes back to the mission statement: meaning, belonging, and purpose. I think they are all part of the same entity and for those graduating from Georgetown this spring, what I hope for them is that they leave with a sense of belonging because when an individual belongs to a community, they are fully embraced for who they are. From my faith tradition, it would be ‘whose’ they are, in terms of belonging to the transcendent, to God. That is, they leave here having been fully embraced uniquely for who or whose they are and recognizing that their gifts uniquely are essential to the well-being of the community. 

What you bring, Shana is essential to this community at this moment. That’s really my hope that when students depart here and graduate they walk away feeling empowered. That’s the biggest thing, I think, is that sense of spiritual freedom … the sense of spiritual freedom that involves empowerment that allows them to recognize they have unique gifts to be used not just for themselves but for the common good. Does that make sense?

Shana: Absolutely. I love that. I have one more question. Earlier we talked about Jesuit values not being unique to the Jesuit tradition and you mentioned Cura Personalis, I was wondering if you would talk about some of the other values and how they relate to other religious traditions. 

Fr. Greg: I think, Community and Diversity. It’s that sense of having unity, ‘we are Georgetown’ but recognizing that unity contains many facets that are unique and different. It’s the ‘both and’ of being the same, ‘we are Georgetown’ while also being different, at the same time.

Another is our most recent Spirit of Georgetown value, Care for our Common Home. It is based on, Pope Francis’ encyclical, a major letter written in 2015, called “Laudato si.’” This is all about the environment and caring for our common home. I think If we look at all of these faith traditions, everybody across the board is going to agree we have obligations and responsibilities to care for and not destroy our world. 

Another is also Academic Excellence. I think all faith traditions would say wisdom is important. What I love is, if you went down the line and sat down with each of our faith leaders, you would hear them talk about this from the depth of their own traditions. There’s that unity and diversity we were just talking about. Is that helpful?

Shana: Yes, absolutely. It almost sounds like Georgetown is achieving unity through diversity, which is intriguing. Not intuitive, but I think it’s happening very effectively.

Fr. Greg: Yes, you are right. And I think in many ways it is becoming more and more counter-cultural. When you look at the larger world and especially in this city, we see people tend to gravitate to others who think, act, and look like they do. But here on the Hilltop, we aim to live out our values. We don’t do it perfectly, and we know it. There are points in our history that are incredibly, incredibly far from the ideals that we maintain today. But do we try? I think we do try. And it’s not just faith leaders or academic administrative leaders. It’s all of us.

It’s this stuff, what you are doing here right now. This contributes to the betterment of this institution. I mean really. I’m not just saying that. It’s for real. 

Shana: Wow, you are empowering me (laugh).

Fr. Greg: It’s all there, what Campus Ministry gets to do is to help foster it.

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Catholic Retreats Return To The CCC

Samantha Pasciullo Boychuck (C’23) (foreground) with her fellow student retreat leaders at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center.

As a Catholic retreat leader, I have been fortunate enough to lead the Loyola retreat for first-year students, a Catholic Women’s retreat, and the Pamplona retreat for all undergraduate classes both on Zoom and in-person at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center (CCC) in Bluemont, Virginia.

Virtual retreats during the 2020-2021 academic year served as a welcome escape from the classes-from-home environment that was at times unmotivating and draining. During these virtual retreats, I made a number of new friends that greatly enhanced my Georgetown experience and helped me get through the tough times of COVID-19. 

Still, we all longed to be together in person, especially those of us who were lucky enough to experience retreats at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center before the pandemic.  We wished that the engaging spiritual discussions and new connections we were making online were happening at this beloved place. This is why, this past fall, I was so grateful that we were fortunate enough to return to the serene mountain escape and I got to spend a whole weekend at the CCC, leading both the Loyola and Pamplona retreats. 

There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation as the bus pulls away from the Hilltop and heads to Bluemont. The CCC truly brings a special element to the retreat experience, physically allowing Hoyas to remove themselves from the stressors and distractions of campus life to immerse themselves in a space of relaxation and reflection. It is so wonderful to see the awe on the retreatants’ faces as they step off the bus and take in their first glimpses of our beautiful retreat facility.

There is so much to love about the Georgetown retreat experience at the CCC. First, there is the excitement of finding your cabin assignment and discovering your retreat roommate. The rooms are gorgeous, spacious, and clean, providing a comfortable place to settle down at the end of a meditative day. Next, sitting on cushions in Arrupe listening to guest speakers, cozying up by the fire roasting s’mores, playing board games, or eating snacks while retreatants and leaders get to know each other. The farmhouse on the grounds is a welcoming spot for small groups to meet or as a personal space for deeper reflection. 

Of course, there are awesome meals and snacks available at the CCC,  and the dining hall is a favorite place for socializing, especially during Jesuit trivia. The retreat center is home to St. Ignatius Chapel, an intimate setting for the celebration of the Eucharist, and allows for unique experiences such as homilies where retreatants can contribute their own reflections. Finally, the environment surrounding the CCC provides a welcomed chance to connect with nature. Hiking and stargazing are some of the most popular activities amongst retreatants.

Truly, the CCC is a blessing. I recommend that all Georgetown students visit at least once. Retreats, whether online or in-person, provide a sacred time for self-reflection and growth. They allow mental and physical distancing from the rigorous schedules attached to academic and extracurricular life. As a leader, I must express how grateful I am to have the chance to guide my peers in deepening their faith- and self-understanding in such a wonderful place as the Calcagnini Contemplative Center. While virtual retreats have their own merits, the CCC enhances the retreat experience in a way that creates lasting memories, whether in the form of silly group photos with the Shenandoah Valley in the background or new friends to attend Mass with at Dahlgren. God’s presence permeates this second Hilltop, creating an atmosphere conducive to sharing, growing, and relaxing. I look forward to returning to the CCC again soon to witness the joy and serenity it brings to all Hoyas.

by Samantha Pasciullo Boychuck. Samantha is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a retreat leader for Catholic Ministry.

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Buddhist Student Association: Creating a Presence at Georgetown

Students standing in front of Wat Yarnna Rangsee Buddhist Monastery in Sterling, Virginia Earlier this semester, the Buddhist Student Association (BuSA) organized three temple visits, not wanting to favor any branch of Buddhism over the other we decided to visit temples that represent the three main branches of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. We visited a Thai (Theravada) in collaboration with GUThai, a Japanese (Mahayana) temple in collaboration with J-NET, and a Tibetan (Vajrayana) temple and hope to arrange temple visits representing the three major traditions in the spring as well. 

I strongly believe that the temple visits are important to Georgetown’s student body whether they are Buddhist or simply interested in Buddhist teachings. It’s a great way for students to form bonds while spending time together learning about the rituals, teachings, and atmosphere of Buddhism and the different temples. 

Our first visit was to the Thai temple, Wat Yarnna Rangsee Buddhist Monastery in Sterling, Virginia (pictured above). This visit also coincided with Kathina, a festival in which Buddhists offer their gratitude to Buddhist monks, providing donations and most visibly, new robes for the monks. We were completely consumed by the experience. Visually, we were surrounded by Thai-style buildings, monks, golden statues, and people wearing traditional clothing. Music and people speaking in Thai could be heard throughout the temple. Prior to the ceremony, we joined the rest of the laity in sharing what was perhaps the most delicious meal I have had this semester. Providing monks with gifts alongside other members of the laity was a moving experience; I only wish we had enough time to also provide them with robes! 

Students in the the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Fairfax, Virginia.Our second visit took us to the Ekoji Buddhist Temple in Fairfax, Virginia. The interior of Ekoji the “Temple of the Gift of Light”  was simple, beautiful, and meaningful in its layout. Noticeably absent was a statue of the Buddha. Reverend Hayashi, the temple’s residential minister since 2016, explained that he preferred to simply have the name of Amitabha Buddha. He gave us a short special service and answered our questions about Buddhism. Reverend Hayashi also discussed the changes the Temple made to cater to Americans; most visibly we sat in chairs in rows similar to pews (pictured above). The Japanese students among us also talked to him about what it was like practicing Buddhism in the United States. 

Students with a monk at The Drikung Dharma Surya Center, a Tibetan temple also located in Fairfax, VirginiaThe last temple we visited this semester was The Drikung Dharma Surya Center, a Tibetan temple also located in Fairfax, Virginia. The inside of the temple was beautiful, and hundreds of golden Buddhas (pictured above) surrounded us while Khenpo Samdup Rinpoche talked to us about Vajrayana Buddhism. Perhaps the most memorable part of this visit was the opportunity to turn the prayer wheel located outside the temple, a stunning golden masterpiece that, according to them, is one of only two in the entire United States, the other being on the West Coast. 

These temple visits are just the start of creating a permanent and strong presence for the sangha on the Georgetown campus. I sincerely hope that temple visits will be a regular staple for BuSA members in the future, giving Georgetown students every year the opportunity to experience a Buddhist service in a Buddhist environment. 

Finally, I would like to thank all those who helped make the temple visits happen. In particular, Diana Brown, Assistant Director for Interreligious Engagement in Campus Ministry as well as Professor B. N. Hebbar, Executive Vice-President, International Buddhist Association of America (IBAA).

By Jessup Kim.

Jessup is a senior in the School of Foreign Service and Co-President of the Buddhist Student Association.

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Three Buddhists at a Catholic, Jesuit University

Recently, Shana Shin (MSB ‘22) announced on the Campus Ministry Instagram account that she was working on a project where she reflects on being Buddhist at Georgetown University. Below, Shana shares part of that journey — a conversation she had with fellow students about being Buddhist at Georgetown. 

In August 2020, my family stayed at Mihwangsa, the southernmost Buddhist temple on the Korean peninsula. Although I enjoyed being surrounded by nature during the stay, I did not fully grasp the religious values behind the visit at the time. (Shana is pictured here with her father)

Although born and raised in a Buddhist family, I had never regarded myself as religious. When I learned that Georgetown requires all students to take theology classes, I just hoped I could find an easy course to fulfill the requirement. So, last spring, I took Buddhism and Film, a class taught by Professor Francesca Cho. It was the only course about Buddhism, a religion I was the most familiar with, and, therefore, I assumed it would be easier than other theology classes.

Unexpectedly, the class was an eye-opening experience. While studying Buddhism, I realized how much my perception of the world had been influenced by Buddhist concepts and principles, which now I full-heartedly appreciate. For example, my motto is to live in the moment while recognizing that nothing is everlasting. It is, in fact, consistent with the Buddhist teaching that emphasizes practicing non-attachment by understanding the impermanent nature of the world. This revelation piqued my curiosity and I wondered if other Buddhist students’ had a similar experience?

Recently, I sat down with Ellena Joo (SFS’ 22) and Jessup Kim (SFS ’23), the co-presidents of the Buddhist Student Association (BuSA), and together we reflected on our religious journeys at Georgetown. While we all had very different experiences, Georgetown played a vital role in each of our stories.

Shana (right) and Ellena one of two co-presidents of the Buddhist Student Association (BuSA) about their religious experience at Georgetown.

Before coming to Georgetown, Ellena had never thought about faith in her life. But she now believes she is “a shell of a being without faith and spirituality.” Ellena’s initial motivation to explore religion was to find a supportive, inclusive community where she could create organic relationships. With guidance and encouragement from Matt Hall, the former residential minister in Village A, Ellena participated in various activities across religious groups, one of which was a weekly meditation session hosted by BUSA in the John Main Center for Meditation and Interreligious Dialogue. It was through these meditation sessions that Ellena’s interest in BUSA grew. Eventually becoming more involved because she found the community supportive and welcoming. 

To Jessup Kim (SFS ’23), a Buddhist community is a safe place where he has always been welcomed and accepted. And coming to Georgetown provided him with an opportunity to give back to the community. As co-presidents of BuSA Jessup and Ellena organize events that bring on-campus Buddhists together as well as provide opportunities for non-Buddhist students to experience and explore Buddhism. They lead meditation sessions and recently organized visits to temples such as the Wat Yarnna Rangsee Buddhist Monastery in Sterling, VA. The pair also work closely with the International Buddhist Association of America (IBAA) to better deliver Buddhist teachings to Georgetown students.

By exploring our curiosity and purpose of religion in our own way, we three Buddhists have found ways to deepen the understanding of our religion. As Ellena said, Georgetown is a campus that makes us think about faith and religion in ways that are often taken for granted.

Last October, I took this photo with Jack the Bulldog.  As you can see I am very happy.  I am also grateful that Georgetown gave me an opportunity to contemplate my religious background and values.

Next in the series, is my interview with Fr. Greg Schenden, SJ, director of Campus Ministry where we talk about a variety of topics including Jesuit values and the importance of promoting religious diversity. Please stay tuned!

Written by Shana Shin (MSB ’22). 

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Dharmic Students Reflect on Consecration of Dharmālaya

Two students standing in front of a Buddhist shrine greet President DeGioia

Students greet President DeGioia at the grand unveiling of the Dharmālaya

Earlier in November, during the day of Dīpāvali, Diwālī, Bandi Chhor Diwas (the Festival of Lights for Dharmic communities) the opening empowerment ceremonies – Dharmālaya Udghāṭana – for the Dharmālaya: Dharmic Meditation Center were celebrated on Georgetown’s main campus. 

The Dharmālaya is a new meditation center that welcomes members of the Dharmic spiritual traditions as well as people from other religious or spiritual traditions —and is the first of its kind on a U.S. campus. Below, the students involved in advocating for the space and planning the empowerment ceremonies share their reflections of what it meant to them to see their work realized. 

Student stands with Jain priest in front of the Jain shrine

The Jain Blessing

The Dharmālaya opening ceremonies which took place during the shared holidays of the Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, and Hindu traditions were a historic moment not only for Georgetown University but for the world. As a student, it was powerful to participate in the opening of this historic space and to appreciate the many centuries-long journey that led to having a Dharmic meditation space on a Jesuit college campus. Beyond the historicity of the celebrations, it was amazing to inaugurate our space with the community, sharing with friends, elders, and teachers of all the Dharmic traditions. In the future, I hope this space can serve as a resource not only for Dharmic students on campus but for all Georgetown students to come and contemplate and reflect on their spiritual and academic journeys.    

Ojus Jain, SFS’22,
Interreligious Program Assistant,
Campus Ministry

Students sitting on a prayer mat, listening to a Kirtan, Sikh devotional singing

The Sikh Blessing

The creation of the Dharmālaya at Georgetown reflects a genuine commitment to the core values and principles that the institution has sought to embody throughout the University community. For one, it exemplifies its promise of Cura Personalis

In establishing a space for students of Dharmic faiths to practice their spirituality on campus, I believe Georgetown has shown that it cares for students from all backgrounds. For students like myself, the Dharmālaya will serve as a place to reflect and rejuvenate during tiring or difficult periods. This home away from home will undoubtedly support students’ ability to thrive on campus. At the same time, the Dharmālaya will foster interreligious dialogue, not only among the Sikh, Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist faith traditions but also across students of all religious backgrounds as they participate and immerse themselves in this new sacred space. I already saw this in action during the consecration of the Dharmālaya. As students, professors, and faculty members joined together to listen to Kirtan (Sikh devotional singing), I observed honest attempts to engage with and understand new perspectives. This filled me with pride and joy, knowing that the Sikh values that shaped my life were finally being seen and appreciated by others. And so, perhaps most importantly, the opening of the Dharmālaya is an indication that not only do Sikh, Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist students belong at Georgetown, but that we will be more visible in the years to come. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for the Dharmālaya and the Dharmic community on campus. 

Sargun Kaur, SFS’23,
President, Sikh Student Association

a buddhist monk is bowing to a Buddha

The Buddhist Blessing

The consecration of the Dharmālaya was a historic event and the presence of figures such as President DeGioia showed Georgetown’s willingness to also be a welcoming space for those of Dharmic faiths, including Buddhists. It was moving to be at the ceremony and the way Buddhists were included moved a freshman board member of ours [Buddhist Student Association] to tears! I thank Georgetown and especially the many students before us who worked hard to create spaces not only for those of Dharmic faiths but for other non-Christian faith communities on campus.

Dharmic Life and Brahmachari, director for Dharmic Life and Hindu Spiritual Advisor, in particular, have done their utmost for the inclusion of Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist students at Georgetown, and the creation of the Dharmālaya was no exception. The space as well as the opening ceremonies included blessings for Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist students. Monks representing the three main Buddhist traditions, Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana were present, including our own Buddhist Spiritual Advisor, Venerable Yishan an ordained nun (bhikkhuni) from the Chinese Mahayana Buddhist tradition. As a Korean, I was also especially glad to have the presence of a Korean monk, Venerable Wol, at the consecration.

Nonetheless, despite all that Dharmic Life has done for us, it has been easy to feel that everything thus far has still primarily been for Hindu students. But, looking at what has been accomplished for Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu students so far makes me confident that soon enough Georgetown will have its own Buddhist chaplain and eventually a unique space for Buddhist students as well. 

Jessup Kim SFS ’22,
President, Buddhist Student Association

students are setting out offerings, mainly fruit for the blessing of the deities

Preparing for the Hindu Blessing

The promise of a Dharmic prayer space has been a notion that has highlighted my time at Georgetown with hope and excitement. I am thrilled to see this dream, of hundreds of Georgetown students, finally, come to fruition.

When I came to Georgetown, I did not expect to discover, let alone find a home in, the Dharmic Life community. But as early as a few weeks into my freshman year, the Dharmic Life community had become such a home. I was also grateful to have the opportunity to join the board of the Hindu Students Association (HSA), and have continuously been impressed by the compassion, kindness, and openness shown by my fellow students. Now I serve as the HSA president. I am proud of the hard work of not only my fellow HSA board members but also students in the HSA community and alumni for all of their commitment and hard work put into making the consecration of the space such a great success. 

The opening marked a special moment and celebrated the end of advocacy and efforts to have a Dharmic prayer space on campus. I look forward to seeing the ways in which the Dharmālaya will shape the Dharmic Life student groups’ experiences on campus and serve as an asset to students’ exploration and learning about the Dharmic faith traditions.

Although we have been extremely thankful to our fellow faith-based student groups and chaplaincies for accommodating us over the years, we are grateful that we also finally have a space to call our own. I also greatly appreciate the unconditional support provided by Campus Ministry, Dharmic Life, and Dr. Brahmachariji Sharan, director for Dharmic Life and Hindu Spiritual Advisor. During my last semester at Georgetown, I look forward to spending time at the Dharmālaya during weekly Arati services, reflecting, and engaging with fellow students.

Having a chance to be a part of the opening of the Dharmālaya was a highlight of my time at Georgetown, and I greatly enjoyed the chance to share this experience with my fellow students. Seeing the shared appreciation and value for the Dharmālaya, from students, faculty, Campus Ministry, as well as Georgetown administration, has deepened my feeling of belonging on the Hilltop.

I have been looking forward to the opening of the prayer space, and am incredibly thankful and honored to have the opportunity to be a part of the first group of students able to call the space home. I hope that the Dharmālaya will not only provide a holistic space for reflection, prayer, and recentering, but also meet the diverse needs of Georgetown students that may arise over the years and encourage students to facilitate interfaith dialogue, learning, and appreciation, and serve as a home open to all members of the Georgetown community.

Sannidhi Shashikiran, NHS’22,
President, Hindu Student Association

A Hindu priest blesses the deities in front an audience seated on prayer mats

The Hindu Blessing

When I started working for Campus Ministry’s interreligious team during my first year at Georgetown, I very quickly understood the significance of space. There was St. Williams, Dahlgren Chapel, Copley Crypt, Makóm, and by the end of my sophomore year, we had a Masjid too. On a Catholic campus, the mere existence of each space whose community the interreligious team served is an accomplishment in and of itself. 

Indeed, I vividly remember standing outside the Georgetown Masjid during my sophomore year wondering for the first time if my communities might also be able to come together and build a space of our own. With weekly Āratī in Makóm and Dīpāvali Pūja in the HFSC (Healy Family Student Center), my communities always seemed to exist in borrowed space, on the margins, as guests rather than caretakers. And when Hindu Life became Dharmic Life in March 2019, it seemed like this community on the margins had multiplied overnight. Thus, when I finally learned that we would have our own Dharmic space on campus and that we would be able to care for this space in the ways that we had always wanted, I almost didn’t believe it. Even the preparation for the consecration ceremonies feels like a fever dream. One minute we were ironing curtains and threading garlands, and the next minute we were performing Āratī and sending guests home with the prasādam (food offering to a deity and later shared with worshippers) we had speedily bagged. I never would have dreamt that I would one-day craft rice maṇḍalas at midnight for rituals that would take place right outside the residence hall where I’d lived during my first year at Georgetown. But it was on that day that the harmonium reverberated for the first time in Dharmālaya, that all the loose threads came together, and that a piece of Georgetown finally became my own.

Hasini Shyamsundar, SFS’22
Interreligious Program Assistant,
Campus Ministry

The Dharmālaya: Dharmic Meditation Center is located in the Leavey Center.

Read the full story on Georgetown University News, Georgetown’s New Dharmic Meditation Center Opens After Student-Led Advocacy

Photos by, Phil Humnicky, University Photographer, Lisa Directo Davis, Program Director for the John Main Center for Meditation and Inter-religious Dialogue, and Natalia Suska, MSB’22.

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