South Asian Students Sample U.S. Religions

July 11, 2008

Author: Tim Johnson

Source: Burlington Free Press

For a tour showcasing "religious pluralism" in the Burlington area, the first stop was appropriate enough: the First Unitarian Universalist Society, which not only embraces a diversity of faiths, but displays their symbols on the walls of its sanctuary.

Then there were the guides. The first clergy whom the tour group encountered were three female Protestant ministers -- two of them former nuns -- and a gay male rabbi.

"Talk about religious pluralism!" exclaimed the Rev. Adrianne Carr, associate minister at the First Congregational Church, the second stop.

This was hardly an inaugural experience for many of the visitors: They had been exposed to plenty of religious diversity at home.

The "tourists" were 18 university students from South Asia -- Bangladesh, India and Pakistan -- who are spending the month at UVM, courtesy of the U.S. State Department, in one of seven Global Student Leader institutes around the country. The program is highly selective, and those chosen evince a measure of global sophistication and a more-than-passing familiarity with the United States, even though most are here for the first time.

Still, they have a full schedule designed to get them even better acquainted with American ways. Next week will be devoted to U.S. and Vermont politics; this week, the theme is American history and culture, with Thursday set aside for the "religious pluralism" tour.