Brown's Interfaith Dorm Offers Space for Creative Exchanges

May 15, 2006

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On May 15, 2006 The Christian Science Monitor reported, "J.T. Do can be blunt. 'I don't get this discussion topic,' he announces only a few minutes into a Sunday night gathering at Brown University's Interfaith House. The subject this week: the difference between religious belief and practice. 'I don't see how someone can practice but not believe. That seems a little hollow,' he says, sitting on a folding chair drawn into a wide circle of couches, a black visor cocked on his head. 'And if you believe in something, wouldn't that compel you to do something about it?' None of the 15 participants rushes in with a defensive comment... By now they all know J.T., a Catholic who says faith is 'the most important thing' to him and directs his life. Living here, they've learned to manage the extremes and the nuances of dialogue among people of different faiths, people of wavering faith, and people of no faith at all... For the most part, he [J.T.] sees the house as 'a kind of bastion of spirituality - a place where I can be comfortable with being an Ivy League student and a person of faith at the same time.' Now a junior, it's his second year living here. He attended Catholic schools and opted for a secular college, but found Brown to be 'a little hostile to ideas of faith,' even in some of his religious-studies classes. That's not to say there aren't other outlets for people to hash out spiritual issues. Brown has a 40-year tradition of interfaith supper, held every Thursday at the chaplain's home. [Interfaith] House founders wanted 'to create an environment where ... we could have conversations about God in the hallway at 2 in the morning,' says Julian Leichty, who grew up in a Mennonite family. He helped write the proposal for the house in 2002 after he and a few others attending a multifaith retreat realized that sharing a home would take the experience to a new level. The house has grown in its first three years from 16 to 33 residents, attracting everyone from Hindus to Lutherans. Eli, who has lived in the house since the beginning, recalls how a cluster would often head to the bathroom, ostensibly to brush their teeth, and stay for more than half an hour to talk about things like liberation theology. The spontaneous gatherings were dubbed the 'toothbrush debates.'"