The University of Chicago News Office
March 28, 2006 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

University of Chicago opens new interfaith worship center

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, the center of religious life at the University of Chicago, will unveil its new Interreligious Center with an opening ceremony and reception on Tuesday, April 4 at 7 p.m., open to both the community and members of the media. The new space provides a permanent place of prayer, worship and meditation for every member of the University’s religious community, from Christians to Jews, Hindus to Muslims and Baha’is to Buddhists.

The three-year, $1 million project converts Rockefeller’s cavernous basement into a five-room prayer, worship and meditation center open to any student, particularly those who have until now worshipped without a permanent campus location. Due to a shortage of space, Muslims and Hindus, for example, have until now met in any spare room they could find, including the library and the basement of the student union. In the new center, two octagonal-shaped rooms are reserved specifically for these students, creating a permanent faith home for them at the University of Chicago. A third, great room was created to serve as a fellowship or meeting space for up to 75 students, and two existing meeting rooms were upgraded to serve as additional meditation or study spaces.

“This is something that we’ve been thinking about and dreaming about for quite a long time, but after 9/11 we decided it was something that wasn’t just nice but also necessary for spiritual life on campus,” explained Alison Boden, Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and Senior Lecturer in the Divinity School and the College. “We wanted to support what is already good here on campus by giving students more of the support they need to sustain a healthy religious life.”

Any of the University’s 35 religious groups may sign out the rooms, and all students, faculty and staff with valid ID cards will be able to use the space. This means that for any holiday or festival, night or day, year-round, students from all faith backgrounds will now have a place to worship.

To create the space, Boden organized meetings between members of the University’s religious student organizations and architect Nevin Hedlund, a noted designer of religious facilities. Representatives of the groups met with Hedlund at the same time for the series of design meetings.

“That was very intentional,” Boden said of the interfaith conversations, explaining that one of her hopes for the center is that by worshipping side-by-side, students will learn about the world’s religions and develop relationships with people from all backgrounds and faith systems. “The hope has always been that we will not just meet a need, but encourage a sharing of faith and a development of deep relationships, as well as an understanding of lived faith — one that you can’t glean just by reading a book,” she continued.

Sabahat Adil and Tyler Zoanni, both second-years in the College, already have developed such a friendship. Adil, a Muslim, and Zoanni, a Lutheran, met through the RSO Interfaith Dialogue and are both anxiously awaiting the opening of the Interreligious Center.

“My faith is a central part of who I am, how I understand my life and how I strive to lead it,” said Zoanni. “The same is true for many students at the University, and I think it’s safe to say that all of us involved with planning the opening of the interfaith space are committed to seeking mutual understanding and interaction.”

Adil points to the Interreligious Center’s unique octagonal-shaped rooms, open floor plan and eggshell-colored walls as points to praise.

“It’s not just a place for Muslims, Christians or Buddhists alone, but rather, its uniqueness stems from the meticulous attention the planners paid to creating the space, which encourages conversation with both one’s own religious community as well as with others,” she said.

Named for University of Chicago founder John D. Rockefeller, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel is the center of religious activity for the University of Chicago. Events range from worship services and religious education classes to community outreach and performances by world-renowned musicians. The chapel also serves as the ceremonial center of the University, hosting many official University functions. Its E. M. Skinner organ and Laura Spelman Rockefeller carillon are among the great instruments of their kind in the country. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel is located at 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave. with plentiful free parking nearby.  For more information, call (773) 702-2100.
Last modified at 01:33 PM CST on Monday, February 12, 2007.

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