Collective young voices of harmony
The Coming Together interfaith event at Princeton highlights
students’ efforts, Arthur J Pais reports Eboo Patel
Eve Woogen, one of the over 85 stu- dents from across America who attended an interfaith conference at
Princeton University last month, told the
campus newspaper why she was there.
‘I go to Macalester College, which has the
unique reputation of being the number-one
‘most godless’ campus in America,’ she said,
adding that she wanted to show there were
students on her campus who believed in
religion, spirituality, or were eager to know
more about other religious faiths.
Called ‘Coming Together 5: A Venture
Across Religious Boundaries’, and organized by Religious Life at Princeton, the
interfaith event showcased the efforts of
students of different faiths, led to a big
extent by Jahnabi Barooah, Alana Tornello,
It was an entirely student driven four-day event. A large
number of student leaders were of South Asian origin,
including Shivani Radhakrishnan, who converted to
Catholicism a few years ago, and the tennis-playing
Uberoi sisters, Neha and Shikha.
The interfaith event received big support from Paul
Raushenbush, associate dean, Religious Life, Princeton,
students said. The summit sought to ‘help bridge religious mistrust and division,’ Rausenbush asserted. Over
the years he has stepped up the efforts to make Princeton
help the religious life of minority students. The Ivy
League university has Muslim and Hindu chaplains, and
The first Coming Together conference was organized at
Princeton, followed by Johns Hopkins, the University of
A snapshot from the events, which were entirely student-driven
ARTHUR J PAIS
For Neha Uberoi and sister Shikha, who were
brought up in Sikh-Hindu families, showcasing the
Sikh faith to students from nearly three dozen
American universities was an experience to savor.
Neha would say that her sister and two other
Princeton students, who organized events highlighting the faith through the Sikhs of Princeton organization, suspected that the participants knew very little about the world’s fifth-largest religion.
‘We explained the pillars of Sikhism,’ Neha wrote
on her blog. ‘And I was so delighted to hear the
entire audience of students, Muslims, Jews,
Christians, Buddhists, Hindus… singing the shabad
(hymn) along with us.’
The event was part of the 5th Annual Coming
Together Interfaith Conference, or CT5, organized
by Princeton University last month. About 100 stu-
dents from over 35 universities across America and
many faculty members joined the event.
“We were just four students involved in organizing
these Sikh events, but it looked like we were 50,” said
Shikha. “We were fired by the mission we had ahead of us.”
“We were able to show case our faith in many ways,”
added Shikha, who is also a member of Princeton’s
Religious Life as well as vice president of the Princeton
Hindu Satsangam. The Bhangra event also showed the
lighter side of the community.
“But it wasn’t just fun,” she recalled. “We showed people
how to dance, and it was an electrifying event. We said
meeting for a few days and learning about each other’s faith
is fine. But I also felt we should show in public places how
we respect each other’s faith.”
The first step was to visit the gurdwara near Princeton.
Despite the exam times, nearly a dozen students belonging
Princeton showcases Sikhism
to five religions turned up. Her Muslim friend, forbidden
by her religion to bow before a religious object of another
faith, joined the group.
“She wanted to show she appreciates other beliefs and
respects them,” Shikha said. “The visit reinforced the ideals
of respect for all religions, not just tolerance but respect.
The fact that these students actually participated and felt at
home in a Sikh gurdwara shows the world that interfaith
peace and harmony can exist.”
Like at the campus events, the visitors had another
opportunity to learn about the Sikh tradition of serving
home-made food free at the temples. “Langar was beauti-
fully served by members of the congregation who made
many rounds making sure everyone had thirds and fourths
Sikh hymns are sung
of everything they liked,” Shikha said.
She plans to take members of Princeton religious groups
to area high schools. And she hopes similar projects are
undertaken by students who attended the interfaith event.
Princeton, she explained, “also has a number of associa-
tions not only representing the major faiths, but also
groups within a religion... Wouldn’t it be interesting to see
if a Catholic group visits a mandir or a gurdwara or a
Muslim group goes to a church event?”
The Sikhs of Princeton will take the Muslim Students
Association March 27 to the gurdwara near the campus, to
be followed by similar tours for every religious group on