In a show of religious unity, Hindu and Buddhist student groups came together Saturday to inaugurate a new, shared prayer room in the Bryan Center.
Students, faculty and members of the Durham community gathered in the Breedlove Room to celebrate interfaith collaboration on campus and the official opening of the Hindu-Buddhist prayer space. Events included prayer ceremonies in the afternoon followed by a reception sponsored by the Duke University Faith Council.
In the evening, keynote speaker Anju Bhargava, a member of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and founder of the Hindu American Seva Charities, spoke in the Gothic Reading Room to an audience of approximately 60 people. Bhargava said the opening of the space represented the growth of religious diversity and unity on campus.
“The prayer room is a place to be in the right company, a place of character building, a place to strengthen oneself,” she said.
As a member of President Barack Obama’s faith council, Bhargava works to discuss and recommend methods of improving cooperation between the government and faith-based organizations. She added that the prayer room will be a major boon to young people who wish to engage in faith-based service at Duke, encouraging Hindus and Buddhists to come together to serve the community.
“You need a worship space first before you can come together as a community and serve others,” she said.
The groups now have two rooms in the basement of the Bryan Center—one is to be used as an office space and the other as a prayer space, with Hindu deities on one wall and Buddhist deities on the other.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to meet at a steady place,” said Kishor Trivedi, faculty advisor of the Hindu Students Association and Hudson Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Sumi Loundon Kim, chaplain for the Buddhist Community at Duke, also spoke at the inauguration. She expressed gratitude toward Abdullah Antepli, Duke’s Muslim chaplain, for giving his organization’s space to the Hindu and Buddhist student groups.
Katie Ehrenberg, president of the Buddhist Community at Duke and a graduate student in the School of Nursing, said she was pleased with the inauguration’s turnout. About 40 people attended the blessing of the spaces in the afternoon, she added.
Ehrenberg noted that although the room is a suitable place for the members of the Buddhist community to meditate and pray, it has a limited capacity. She said she hopes members will be able to meet in a larger space in the future.
Shian-Ling Keng, scripture study group coordinator for the Buddhist Community and a graduate student in clinical psychology, was one of the students who helped found the Buddhist Community Initiative at Duke in 2003 that was a starting point for the organization of the Buddhist community.
“We have come a long way since then. We began in the Breedlove Room where we meditated and invited speakers,” Keng said. “But we did not have many resources then.”
Senior Karna Mital, co-president of the HSA, said the organization began campaigning for a space last year, adding that board members of the HSA and Buddhist Community at Duke decided that it would more effective to share a prayer room than have two separate prayer spaces.
In the future, Mital said he hopes the HSA will employ a chaplain to whom students can look for religious guidance. He added that he wants to improve communication between HSA students and the Duke administration.
The Buddhist Community at Duke will use the space for its weekly meditation meetings and the HSA will host both weekly religious discussions and Hindu festival celebrations in the prayer room. The room is also open throughout the day to students and faculty.