From the very foundations of LSE, religion did not take a prominent place on campus for two reasons: the LSE was an educational institution for exploring the social sciences and wanted to be maintained as a purely academic institution. Alumni of previous generations may admit that religious activities took place at the margins, but there was no formal provision for religion.
Yet, one of the remarkable features of LSE, which it has retained since its inception in 1895, is and has been its ability to adapt and be in tune with changes/modernity in society. Consequently, in recognition of the undeniable fact that most of the world’s population in the 21st century still have religious beliefs or associate with one or more of the different religions, the LSE reached a milestone in its history when it created the LSE Faith Centre in 2014.
Since then, the LSE Faith Centre has been tremendously useful to both students, staff, and alumni within the LSE community, regardless of their faith or belief. Housed in the Saw Swee Hock Building (second floor) on 1 Sheffield Street, the Faith Centre is itself a world with its own atmosphere of serenity, peace, quiet and calm. The Faith Centre has six sections: upon entry there is a reception on your immediate right, a cave (for silent reflection/meditation) on your left, and also to your left is the Centre Manager’s office. There is an Islamic Prayer room and ablution facilities for both male and female students/staff. Finally, there is the Desert Room, famous for its stained glass, designed by Sir Christopher Le Brun. The Desert Room has notably been confused for a “dessert room” by many freshers/first-time visitors who come into the building in search of desserts (sweets and snacks). But the “desert” here draws on the imagery in many faith traditions of the desert as a place of contemplation and encounter.
The exceptional light and unique ambience provided from the window has drawn many into this space for silent reflection and contemplation – away from the busy life of the LSE campus. Craig Calhoun, former Director of LSE, admitted frequenting the Desert Room for purposes of silent reflection. For me, as a graduate intern at the Faith Centre, there is an inexplicable feeling of joy and amusement to see both students and staff come around the Faith Centre and just say, “can I use the desert room/cave for some meditation/silent reflection?”…and then see them leave with great peace and calm.
The Desert Room is a mutual and shared space, used by several faith societies for their weekly/termly events. The Catholic Society, Christian Union, Gospel Society, Hindu Society, Islamic Society, Jewish Society, Korean Prayer Group, Mandarin Fellowship and Sikh Society are all housed by the LSE Faith Centre.
But the Faith Centre is not just a facility that houses the different faith societies on campus. It is involved in cutting-edge research and has a research unit on the study of religions (Religion and Global Society (RGS) Research Unit). LSE RGS has academics and PhD students involved in running its activities and has produced several publications relevant to our contemporary world. The Director of the Faith Centre – Professor James Walters – is also a professor in practice in the Department of International Relations and has published a number of books, some of which look at the intersection between religion and international relations. The Faith Centre also runs an extracurricular course – Beecken Faith & Leadership (BFL) – that seeks to develop transformational leadership capacity in students at LSE for students of all faiths and none. The LSE Faith Centre also runs Interfaith Encounter, a trip to Israel-Palestine for selected students who demonstrate a commitment to peacebuilding on campus.
In order to fully explore, appreciate and demystify the LSE Faith Centre, the Faith Centre team is producing a 3-episode series covering the same topics. These audio-visual contents will feature Professor James Walters, students, staff and many others from the Faith Centre team and alumni network.
Watch the episodes on our YouTube channel!