Religion: Campus perceptions

Tracy DeLade, Cynic Correspondent

The bells of Ira Allen Chapel don’t just mark time, they are also a reminder that religion and spirituality are still a part of UVM.

At UVM, students can join religious organizations and clubs such as Hillel, the Reformed University Fellowship, the Muslim Student Association and the Catholic Student Association.

In Hillel, Jewish students can find a community that provides weekly Shabbat dinners and programs for other events or holidays, according to the UVM clubs website.

The UVM clubs website also states that all are welcome to the Reformed University Fellowship, “a community of students who love God, love others, and love UVM/the world.”

From all backgrounds of culture and diversity, the Muslim Student Association at UVM brings together Muslim students for events and programs according to the club description.

The Catholic Student Association, according to the UVM club webpage, “aims to be the voice for Catholic students on campus and to cultivate growth and understanding of the Catholic faith.”

Another resource that welcomes faithful and curious UVM students is the new Interfaith Center.

Laura Engelken, the Interfaith center coordinator and  ordained minister, seeks to help individuals and the institution identify, explore and critically reflect on the ways they and others make meaning of their life to make the community stronger, she said.

“The overall mission of the Interfaith Center is to help equip and empower both individuals but also the institution as a whole to be able to engage comfortably and competently with spirituality and religion,” Engelken said.

The concept of spirituality is broader than merely a religious life, and spirituality can be experienced by questioning identity and the reason for our existence, she said.

The Interfaith Center is focused on “creating a space for people to reflect and deepen their own understanding of meaning, as well as learning about others,” Engelken said.

She expresses the importance of providing resources to discuss questions of meaning with the community.

“To be an effective citizen or professional in the world it is important to know how people make meaning,” she said.

Engelken is an ordained minister with the United Church a Christ, a Protestant denomination, she said.


She enters her work at the Interfaith Center from this particular spiritual perspective,  but does not use her work to promote that perspective, she said.

Another community on campus that provides the opportunity to express spirituality or engage in awareness is in one of the Yoga Studio classrooms.

According to Jon McConnell, an employee of UVM Athletics, his yoga school program at UVM has had 150 graduates over the years.

Yoga can also serve as spiritual guidance for students.

The UVM yoga school is a year-long certification program for students who want to learn more about yoga or become a yoga teacher.

Some of the students who graduated the program have been teaching at the recreation center for group fitness classes or in downtown Burlington, McConnell said.

Registration for the coming year starts every Valentine’s day, and McConnell expressed hope that students will be increasingly enthusiastic about it.

The philosophy of yoga resonates with McConnell beyond the physical challenge, he said.

“There is some sort of spiritual part to yoga… and it doesn’t have to be just about the body.”

McConnell said there are different aspects of yoga that he teaches. The first is that “there’s goodness and light inside of you and you’re perfect as you are.”

“I really like that one,” McConnell said.

The second perspective of Yoga philosophy is that “you need to connect to the goodness that’s available but it’s not necessarily you”, he said.

In the life of sophomore Stevi Greenan, “my belief system gives me a sense of morals and makes me a better person,” she said.

No matter the spiritual path each student takes, “there’s a good vibe here,” first-year Ravenne Howard said. “That’s why I chose UVM.”