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Columbia Spectator Staff

Religion, for me, is the outward expression of my faith and belief in a higher power, which I have come to know as God, through my belief in Christianity. It used to be through the specific denomination of the Anglican Church, which in America is known as the Episcopal Church, but over the duration of my university experience I have moved toward becoming nondenominational or all-denominational. In 2011, I transferred to Columbia as a junior and have since been attending the Hillsong Church in NYC. I also got involved in a Christian group on campus known as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, where I have weekly group meetings with my "Life Group." This group is a group of friends whom I hang out with, and we come together on Fridays to discuss the Bible and share our various faith experiences over the week. When I began university, I joined this group because I felt that there would be a stigma against those of faith at Columbia, and I also wanted to create balance among my extracurricular activities. Outside of my Christian group, I am a member of two groups that are secular and non-Christian: the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and a South Asian dance team known as Columbia Raas. I therefore felt that the Christian group would be a good way for me to overcome any social conflicts that I encountered with my faith. However, this was not the case. Columbia is a place where I do not have to feel ashamed about my religion. I can openly talk about my religion with my non-Christian friends, and in class discussions, viewing certain texts through a religious lens is valued as an alternative approach. I have had countless conversations over what religion means to me without others trying to prove me wrong, despite our evident differences in belief. Besides my Christian friends, many of my closest friends at Columbia are Hindus, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists. The members of the fraternity who know of my religion accept my beliefs, and this comes as no surprise, as the fraternity is diverse and pluralistic. Additionally, a lot of the members of Columbia Raas, many of whom have ties to Hinduism, openly talk with me about my faith and are more than willing to make exceptions if there are conflicts between church and practice times. Over the course of working for my undergraduate degree, I have shifted toward becoming nondenominational—or, as I prefer to call it, all-denominational. This was not due to any specific instance, but rather due to the accumulation of understandings gained from my courses. I have come to learn that socially constructed differences often result in conflict, be it through nationalism or Christianity. I believe that while the different denominations in Christianity have different methods of worshiping, we all worship the same God. Instead of focusing on our differences, I prefer to look at our similarities. Though our interpretations of the Bible may differ, this does not mean that any one denomination is truer than the others. Without excluding ourselves and retreating to groups in which we are comfortable, I find that engaging with difference is much more constructive and beautiful. On one occasion, I had an encounter with a professor who made an insensitive remark, yet when I spoke to him about this, he profusely apologized and engaged in a long discussion with me about my faith and religious views. Columbia, has been an accepting place when it comes to my religious beliefs. Just the other night, when my friend spoke of his Hindu faith, I was able to find similarities in my own faith and constructively engage with him over our differences. Columbia is a place where people do not have to be ashamed of their beliefs if they can justify them in a logical manner. Other than that one instance, I have not been on the receiving end of any stigma against my beliefs. Is it because America was founded on deep-seated Christian values? Or is it because we have come to a point in our education where we can critically engage with difference without renouncing it? I would tend toward the latter. In my opinion, we live in a world where we are constantly being defined by the different labels to which we subscribe, but subscribing to a label does not have to mean renouncing all others. Religion and academia do not necessarily have to go in polar opposition to each other; the interplay can make both more fulfilling. Columbia is a place where you can engage with others, find similarity across differences, and critically explore and develop your beliefs in your religion and faith. The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science and anthropology. To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact

religion non-denominational InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Christianity