This is an excerpt from the Daily’s 2014 Orientation Issue. To read the rest of the issue, click here.
Sometime early on in freshman year, most students realize, “My parents aren’t here to make me get up on the weekends to go to religious services.” It’s true, religious life at the University comes with no parental mandate, but those looking to include religion in their lives are likely to find something to fit them.
Many students are able to continue practicing the same way they have with their families, while some find reformed alternatives of their family’s religion and others become more involved in their spirituality. There are 115 different student religious groups on campus, including Christianity, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and many others. Additionally, there are interfaith groups on campus and a Unitarian Church in Ann Arbor. These resources come alongside the University’s own offerings in religion, such as the recently-added religion minor.
Some organizations address spirituality. The Mindfulness Club, for instance, offers meditation programs and intends to help the members improve their daily lives. Another group called Ask Big Questions aims to foster discussion among students on topics like responsibility, learning and life satisfaction.
Interfaith organizations intend to create community among religious and non-religious students to allow them to better understand their identities and beliefs. MuJew is one such organization; it aims to engage Muslims and Jews on campus.
“The University of Michigan has a vibrant religious life where students can find a home for themselves, find places of exploration and find places where they can express their religious identity,” Tilly Shames, executive director of the University’s Hillel chapter, said. She’s also chair of the University’s Association of Religious Counselors.
Hillel, the largest of the many Jewish organizations on campus, is directly affiliated with 55 others Jewish groups on campus. Hillel provides free Shabbat and High Holiday services to students, each with services options ranging from reformed to orthodox. Shames said students are encouraged to explore whichever type of service fits them best.
Another important feature for many students is Hillel’s organization of Jewish students’ birthright trips, providing Jewish students a free trip to Israel, an important journey in Jewish culture.
Public Policy junior Jill Epstein took the trip shortly after her freshman year, having wanted to take the trip after years of Hebrew school. Although Epstein said she isn’t highly involved with Hillel otherwise, the trip was a great way for her to meet new people and unwind after the end of the term.
“I thought it was really cool that Hillel offered an option to go with people from school and especially being a freshman I thought it would be cool to meet friends that I could see throughout the rest of college rather than going on a random trip,” she said.
Christian organizations too offer a range of resources for students through student organizations and the many churches in Ann Arbor. Christian groups also vary in level of time commitment and observance style.
Kelly Dunlop, associate director of the Catholic Campus Ministry for St. Mary Student Parish, said St. Mary is focused on inclusion and meeting the faith needs of all students — focusing primarily on Catholic students, but remaining open to students from all backgrounds. She said her parish provides regular religious services, including eight masses on Sundays. The parish also offers a religious-based Alternative Spring Break where students learn about social issues.
In addition to St. Mary, other Christian groups offer similar chances for students to travel. Kinesiology junior Nicole Stortini is a member of the University’s Young Life chapter, an international youth-based Christian ministry. Storitini has participated in Young Life’s weekly Bible study, attended their meetings and has been on two spring break trips. She said the group gives her a chance to explore her religious life independently.
“I feel like I’m a lot more religiously involved now than I was back at home just because it’s a lot easier to do it in college when you’re doing it with your friends,” Stortini said.
For Islamic students, the Muslim Students’ Association provides religious support and community. University alum Mohammed Tayssir Safi, a chaplain working externally to raise money for the MSA and other campus groups, said the MSA hosts religious, educational and social events.
He added that the University is still lacking in resources for practicing Muslim students; however, there are signs of growth in the community.
In keeping with most all other groups on campus, the MSA strives to be as welcoming and accessible as possible both to Muslim and non-Muslim students.
“The religious life communities from all these traditions, I think they want to find a positive place to interact with all the members of the community,” Safi said.