In our first blog post LSE Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser the Reverend Dr James Walters explains some of the background behind the new LSE Faith Centre and outlines some of his hopes for its future…
Venture into the new Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at LSE (as hundreds of excited students are currently doing!) and you’ll find a full range of state of the art student facilities: gym, nightclub, bar, cafés, careers service, everything you would want on a twenty-first century university campus.
But some may be surprised to discover that half of the second floor is given over to a suite of rooms for spiritual/religious provision. LSE Faith Centre brings together our existing religious provision (Chaplaincy and Islamic Prayer Rooms) into a single facility with three aims: to meet the observance needs of all the different religious groups on campus; to create a home for our interfaith work and outreach; and to provide a space for everyone in the School to find some quiet and opportunity for reflection.
For a long time, Western universities took for granted the idea that religion was a purely private matter that need not be catered for in public institutions. Many assumed that it would die out sooner or later anyway. But the Western European experience of secularisation was not universal and the large growth in international students, combined with changing patterns in religious identity more broadly, have led to the need to recognise religion as an important dimension of the university community.
As the Director has said, “Religion is prominent in the public sphere and important in private life, not least on our university campuses. I am delighted that the LSE is leading the field in opening this state of the art Faith Centre. It respects the importance of religious identity to many of our staff and students while also promoting the kind of engagement and dialogue that must always characterise the university.”
LSE is still secular. But we’re embracing an understanding of secularism that doesn’t want to eradicate religion from the institution. Rather it recognises the contribution that the religious identity of staff and students makes to the diverse character of the LSE and allows them to express that without privileging any one religious or non-religious standpoint.
Finding a sense of community and belonging at a university like LSE is not always easy. Around 700 of our students do that within our SU Faith Societies and many more are connected into religious groups and activities. On their own these groups are doing great things, generating community on campus as well as serving the wider community. The Islamic Society recently raised £25000 for charity by climbing Mount Snowdon. Members of the Catholic Society regularly work at a soup kitchen in Soho. The Hindu Society has been feeding the homeless in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This is to merely single out three examples.
When these groups come together there is even more potential for generating good relations on campus and taking that message of unity and understanding to the wider world. A small example has been the interfaith week visits to local primary schools that are now in their third year, helping young children around Holborn to learn that people of different faiths can study together, become friends, and work together for a better world.
So the LSE Faith Centre is going to be a really important part of the new Student Centre. Sign up for the newsletter to learn more about what’s going on. And whether you are part of an organised religious activity, or if you want to come to an interesting talk or seminar, or if you want to join a meditation or yoga group, or if you just want to find somewhere to sit and think quietly for a while, the LSE Faith Centre will be a place for you.