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Expansion of religious perspective essential in personal college development

By Haley Donovan, Guest Columnist

In his work on ideology and ideological state apparatuses, social theorist Louis Althusser explains that religion serves as a vessel from which citizens obtain an ideology that they ultimately latch on to. From this, certain ideologies go on to become dominant, or the societal "norm," through various modes of reproduction.

When asking about diversity on Miami University's campus, responses are often dismal. It may appear, upon first glance, that Christianity is the dominant ideology, especially if you're looking at data from the Office of Institutional Research.

According to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey information, Roman Catholicism was the favored religion of 34.9 percent of the 2013 freshman class. "None" came in second with 19.4 percent in the most recent set of data about incoming Miami students' religious identities.

So if a third of that class identified as Catholic, and another fifth declared no affiliation, that doesn't make Miami very religiously diverse ... or does it? Diversity also includes a difference in attitudes and ideology, and the ways in which we come to believe the things we do. At Miami, it is encouraged to engage in healthy and constructive conversations with peers and professors about differing ideologies.

One place where this can happen lies on the outskirts of Miami's campus, directly across from the Phi Delt Gates. The Interfaith Center is a place where students and Oxford community members can come together and engage in important conversations about various topics from religion to social justice issues.

Previously, the historic building on the edge of campus was known as the Campus Ministry Center. But, according to Lea Wilczynski, a sophomore intern at the Center, the name was changed in 2014 in order to accommodate and represent more students.

The Center hosts a variety of events throughout the year that are open to anyone. An example of one of these events is Food for Thought, a small dinner with a guest speaker, who often introduces new ideas to attendees.

Lea says that the Center has active relationships with most of the faith-based or culture-based student organizations on Miami's campus, such as the Secular Students of Miami, Hillel, AAA, ISA, Muslim Student Association, Kappa Phi, Cru and Navigators. These connections attract a variety of people to the Center, all equipped with differing ideology and behaviors.

At events, Lea says, attendees have chances to engage in conversations about difference and diversity. "There are typically a range of faiths, non-faiths and philosophical identities present, but I think the majority is some form of Christianity, from my observations. I have also noticed from my own observations a large majority of international students, specifically Chinese international students who have shown interest in events," Lea reports.

It is important to engage in conversations with individuals who may be engrained in an ideology that is different from your own. It's the whole point of college: to open your mind to new, albeit sometimes uncomfortable ideas, especially before the real world throws them in your face.

Just because someone may identify with a certain religious denomination, it does not mean that they hold all of the ideology that is typically associated with it. In today's ever-changing, progressive society, it is sometimes difficult to cling to orthodox ideas within certain religious sects. Similarly, one student who identifies as Catholic may hold entirely different beliefs than another student who attends the same masses.

So, keep an eye peeled for Interfaith events, or stop in to the Interfaith Center in your free time. You never know what kind of conversation you'll have, or what you'll learn from the experience about yourself, your fellow classmates or someone within the greater Oxford community.