Traditions and Interpretations: Religion and its Position on College Campuses

Authored by Clare Harris

Poster from event at Marymount Manhattan College

October 11: President Jud Shaver and Rabbi Hiat discuss “The Sacrifice of Isaac” (Genesis 22) in Jewish and Christian Tradition [Flyer advertising for student event surrounding religious debate and discussion.] (October 11, 2012).

Diversity and inclusion are topics that matter and surround us everyday. With the rapid change of laws and opinions on what should and should not be allowed, there is a growing need for safe spaces where people, specifically students, can go and speak freely about their convictions. Students on college campuses today are experiencing many different changes in their lives. One type of identity that could change is a student’s religious preferences. Students have diversity in different aspects, religiosity not only differs between students but also takes unique positions in their lives (Cooper, Howard-Hamilton, and Cuyjet 2011, 372). Students may look to new leaders in their lives for other religious opinions in an attempt to mold themselves into someone new.

College campuses become a nurturing second home for most students and because of this there needs to be a balance between what student’s need and what the college can provide. Eboo Patel and Cassie Meyer (2009) in “Engaging Religious Diversity on Campus: The Role of Interfaith Leadership, Journal of College and Character” state that, “American universities have a particular role to play supporting students as interfaith leaders in an era of global religious conflict. As Harvard Professor Diana Eck explains, America is the most religiously diverse country in the world…” (Patel and Meyer 2009, 5). With the rising growth of student going to college, there is more of an effort needed from university staff to engage students in discussions that allow for religious interpretations and debates to occur without fear of being ostracized.  

At what point do we feel we can speak out and actually feel comfortable enough to talk about our religion or other personal identifiers. Marymount Manhattan College, as described by Archivist Mary Brown (2018), “…was a mission of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a congregation of women religious dedicated to ministries to women” (Brown 2018, 1). Starting its history on the foundation of catholic values, the school has developed into an open space for many religions besides Catholicism. The poster shown above is just one example of the college’s ability to be inviting and open to all different religions and faiths. Former president Jud Shaver and Rabbi Hiat created the event “The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) in Jewish and Christian Tradition” to help students feel they have leaders who can interpret and speak on beliefs that relate to the student population. The specific story spoken has varying interpretations between the Christian and Jewish faiths. The choice to speak about the sacrifice of Isaac may seem odd at first considering most college students do not think about ritual sacrifice on a daily basis. However, the story is not necessarily about the sacrifice itself but about the relationship and trust one can have with a religion, with a God. Bauks (2007) explains the two different interpretations as showing that everything in the world becomes dependent on a god to be involved in their lives (Bauks 2007, 86). While Marymount Manhattan College is no longer a religious affiliated campus, it still works to build bridges between what it’s student population believes and what they need in order to feel free to express as desired.

With the ability to give back to it’s students, Marymount Manhattan College appears to be branching off of the concept of Vincentian service used at St. John’s University. The Vincentian page on the St. John’s website says that, “giving back to the community teaches us lessons that can only be learned by serving, lessons that deepen our faith.” (St. John’s, n.d, 1). President Jud and Rabbi Hiat both worked to give to their community in the best way they most likely knew possible, through their faith. Faith not only give them an ability to educate others while also observing new ways to reach back into the community they serve.


Brown, Mary. 2018. “Event Research”, email message to author, October 8, 2018. 

Cooper, Diane L., Mary F. Howard-Hamilton, and Michael J. Cuyjet. 2011. Multiculturalism on Campus : Theory, Models, and Practices for Understanding Diversity and Creating Inclusion. Vol. 1st ed. Sterling, Va: Stylus Publishing.

Eboo Patel & Cassie Meyer. 2009. Engaging Religious Diversity on Campus: The Role of Interfaith Leadership, Journal of College and Character, 10:7,  DOI: 10.2202/1940-1639.1436.

Finsterbusch, Karin, Armin Lange, and Römheld Diethard. 2007. Human Sacrifice in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Numen Book Series, V. 112. Leiden: Brill.

St. John’s University. 2018. “Social Action”, Accessed October 10, 2018.