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DA: Non-Denominational or Disregarding?
ravonne nevels 10 contributing writer
October 23, 2009

Yes, I come from that Pentecostal stock where the women who say amen wear broad-rimmed hats and the men who shout themselves to trembles hold hankies to wipe their sweaty brows clean. However, I intentionally came to Deerfield largely because of its nondenominational stance.

As a prospective student, I was under the impression that the Brick House Church had nothing to do with the Academy. In addition, it seemed that students were encouraged to worship only if they so desired. Coming from a strict household where Christian living was the utmost priority, I found the freedom at Deerfield to choose a religious lifestyle wonderful.

But after three years, I am ambivalent about how wonderful it really is. I have noticed that, at Deerfield, religious freedom has produced a tendency towards religious disregard. I do not mean disregard as in disrespect, but disregard as in letting religion somehow become remote and unnoticeable.

I find this strange since Deerfield is such a diverse community. Many have their own sets of beliefs, even if they are atheistic, agnostic, or purely spiritual. The learning opportunity within the religious context of our community is astounding. Yet religion is not a truly open discourse here at Deerfield.

The IDEA initiative seems well intentioned. Jan Flaska, our Dean of Spiritual Life, heads the program. The aim is to provide a spiritual and philosophical outlet for the Deerfield community. Its website, lists IDEA’s six basic descriptors: “interfaith, global, pluralistic, cross-cultural, philosophical, and thought and dialogue-provoking.” IDEA is not a new program. The community benefits from its existence. However, my suspicion is that the student body is not aware of all of its messages or opportunities.

Also, not to be forgotten is the average student’s numerous responsibilities. If there is scarcely enough time to sleep, how much time and support does that leave for necessary prayer, meditation, studying of text, and fasting for those who need it—or discourse about those things for those who seek it. This is even more problematic because religion at Deerfield seems too personal, too sensitive to talk about. Religion here is a quiet matter. It does not get as much chat time as politics, music, or world happenings.

It might be that Deerfield students as a whole do not participate in religious activities. Or maybe they are unsure of religion. On the other hand, maybe they are religious but are wary of offending others who hold different beliefs. Alternatively, it could just be that we feel that religion truly is a quiet matter that must be held privately. These are all possible reasons as to why there has been such a serious lack of public discourse about beliefs here at Deerfield.

Before I graduate, I in no way expect to see the student body lamenting to the administration about Deerfield’s lack of a weekly chapel. I do not see a proliferation of Bible or Torah or Qur’an study groups within the next few weeks. Moreover, I definitely do not expect table heads to force the students at their tables to tell what they do or do not believe at the beginning of a rotation. I just want this community to consider what religion and religious discourse means at Deerfield.