Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 17, 2022

Many students at Hopkins take time out of their schedules to participate in religious life. However, while Hopkins has many groups emphasizing different religions and aspects of faith, students hold diverging opinions on the openness of the campus as a whole.

“The way I have always seen it is more of a general apathy. Like, I have never had too crazy of a response to my faith, but from other students there is generally a sense of ambivalence: they might ignore the fact that you may be religious or involved in some kind of faith. However, I’ve never experienced malicious behavior,” junior Peter Nelson, president of the Hopkins Catholic Community, said.

While one in four students on campus identifies as being Catholic, according to Nelson, the amount of students directly involved in Catholic Community weekly events is about 30 to 40 students. At weekly Mass, however, it is common to see more than 100 attendants.

“Our overall mission, or goal, is to provide a place on campus for Catholic and non-Catholic people to learn more and to experience the true meaning of Catholicism. A huge part of our faith is active worship through the sacraments, so we emphasize that. We want to be somewhere where people can relax and really just learn more about themselves and their faith,” Nelson said.

Others have cited similar responses, feeling that students around campus often hold ambivalent attitudes toward religion.

“I think it very much depends on who you are talking to,”senior Joshua Kays, president of Stepping Stone Ministry, said. “People involved at Interfaith Center (IFC) will be very welcoming and very open. The humanities also tend to be more open, and I say that as an engineer. However, around campus there is a general undertone of intellectual superiority, and the belief that religion is old, pagan stuff. Generally it is not like the campus is overtly discriminating or anything crazy, but there is definitely this undertone.”

Still, Stepping Stone Ministry tries to engage the Homewood campus in other ways. The only on-campus church at Hopkins, Stepping Stone Ministry meets in Mudd 26 and boasts about 50 to 60 members, according to Kays.

“We get involved with a few service things. For instance we do something called ‘2 by 2 prayer,’ where we walk around Brody during midterm season, and ask people ‘can we pray for you?’. This offer is a way of loving this campus, and if people are interested, we can tell them more about our group. We tend to do less direct outreach, and instead just try to be on campus and love this campus as much as possible,” Kays said.

Others have found religious life on campus to be very inclusive.

“In my social circle it is pretty welcoming. This is obviously only a small sample of the population, and I can only speak for myself, but people are fairly accepting, at least of my beliefs,” junior Marcelo Sayeg, president of the Jewish fraternity AEPi, said. “And as far as within Judaism, there are lots of different degrees to how traditionally Jewish you are and how you observe the holidays and religion. And the people I know have been accepting of both people who follow everything and people who just go to a Shabbat dinner once a semester.”

Some students, such as sophomore Bryce Rowan, chose to take their religious life off-campus. Rowan attends worship services, Bible talks, devotionals and retreats with a group of students from other schools around the Baltimore Area.

“I have the same doctrine, or religious beliefs with this group, and they have a branch back to my home church in Atlanta. Hopkins does not offer this type of connection nor doctrine,” Rowan wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

On a campus of more than 5,000 undergraduates, different experiences are bound to occur. However, Hopkins is making an effort to encourage interfaith awareness.

“We are making every effort to ensure that there is opportunity for religious and spiritual life at Hopkins. However, I do think it is a mixed experience, especially in the classroom. I hear some students who find experiences in the classroom that are very open to their religious and spiritual identity and to understanding and respecting people’s different identities. However, there are other experiences that students have had, where that is not always the case,” Kathy Schnurr, Campus Ministries Chaplain, said.

Schnurr has found the work the University has done with the IFC to be especially successful. The IFC, dedicated in May of 1999, acts as the home of Campus Ministries.

“I think that Johns Hopkins has made a commitment to students having healthy religious and spiritual opportunities on our campus, evidenced in the commitment that was made when the Interfaith Center was purchased and renovated,” Schnurr said. “So many religious groups, among other groups, share the IFC, and it has been a model for other campuses as the development of shared religious spaces is occurring more and more frequently at other institutions and universities.”

Beyond the IFC, students have developed many ways to engage with their faith.

For instance, the Catholic Community hosts Newman nights, prayer groups, priest hours and traditional Mass and Bible studies. Hillel, the center of Jewish community at Hopkins, hosts Shabbat dinner on Friday nights and prayer services during the week.

“A large part of Judaism in general is being open and welcoming. There are prayer services for Jews from all different backgrounds before Shabbat dinner (as far as I know, reform services happen most seldom at once a month). There's also a big emphasis on helping and involving the general community in which we live and are a part of, whether that be Hopkins or Baltimore or other things,” junior Hugo Uvegi, one of the business managers of the Jewish a cappella group Ketzev, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Outside of traditional aspects of faith, student groups are finding unique ways to engage with and share their beliefs. Some Jewish groups focus on different aspects of Jewish culture, including Ketzev. Their 17 members include both Jewish and non-Jewish students, who sing a mixture of Israeli and American pop songs.

Adoremus, the Christian a cappella group, currently hosts about 15 students. The group has performed at Hopkins events, such as the O-Show and SOHOP, along with being invited to perform at churches and at the annual Christian A Cappella conference in Boston.

“We carefully choose our songs so that each one clearly reflect what we believe,” junior Jami Cheng, president of Adoremus, wrote in an email to the News-Letter. “Our faith is an integral part of Adoremus. While we are a performing group, we are ultimately worshiping our Savior and our Lord. We are a community of believers, where each one of us believe in the good news of the Gospel and are all seeking to grow in our faith and worship God through song together.”

Christianity and Judaism are not the only religions represented by organizations on campus. Among others, the JHU Hindu Students Council and the JHU Muslim Association act as representatives of Hindus and Muslims at Homewood respectively. Representatives from these organizations, however, could not be reached for comment.

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