Annual Spiritual and Religious Life Week to celebrate ‘Connections’

The smells of hot coffee from Tarot Bean Roasting Company, which calls Chestnut Street home, are set to welcome campus and community members to the Midwinter Festival Saturday, Jan. 26, in the lobby of the Henderson Campus Center.

Featuring bead making and games for all ages, as well as popcorn from the Movies at Meadville and donuts from Clark’s Donuts, the Festival marks the start of the annual Spiritual and Religious Life Week. Coordinated by the college’s Meaningful, Open, Spiritual and Interreligious Collaborative, MOSAIC, SRL Week will be observed from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 at various locations across campus.

Allegheny College has celebrated SRL Week — previously titled Religious Awareness Week and Faith Week — for more than a decade, and the week-long schedule of events has evolved to be more inclusive and develop partnerships between campus religious groups and non-religious groups, according to Jane Ellen Nickell, Allegheny College chaplain and MOSAIC adviser.

“Society just feels really disconnected right now, there’s just a lot of partisanship, and we thought about, in general, the way we’re disconnected from the earth, from other people, so we came up with that broad idea of connections,” Nickell said.

“Connections” serves as the 2019 SRL Week theme, which has inspired the eight events hosted by campus religious groups and their partners. When planning began for the 2019 SRL Week in October, each campus religious group, Nickell explained, was tasked with collaborating with another club or department at the college to develop an event for the week.

Themes in recent years have centered around the campus-wide theme, including the 2015-16 Year of Meadville and the 2016-17 Mindfulness themes. The 2018 SRL Week was titled “Just Us for Justice” and focused on several types of social justice, including racial and environmental justice.

Maximus Levinsky, ’21, works as an interfaith intern with SRL. The interns and MOSAIC were responsible for the general planning of SRL week, which included scheduling the week’s events and selecting the theme, Levinsky said. He added that the theme came from a desire to collaborate with other organizations and people on campus.

“Because college campuses on a whole throughout America are becoming less religious, it’s  important for us to remember that not everyone wants to be involved in events that are inherently religious, but people still are interested in other things and topics that are tangentially related to religion,” Levinsky said. “We kind of wanted to bring in people who maybe don’t think of themselves as religious or as belonging to a religious group on campus, but still might have an interest in being a part of an activity or community.”

Lauren Kanavy, ’20, president of MOSAIC, emphasized the importance of MOSAIC’s role as a bridge that facilitates such collaboration between campus groups.

“The combinations that we see this year are interesting, to say the least, so I’m excited to see how it’s going to turn out,” Kanavy said.

Students gather in the lobby of the Henderson Campus Center for the 2018 Spiritual and Religious Life Week kick-off event, the Midwinter Festival, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018.

Levinsky echoed Kanavy’s thoughts on the importance of MOSAIC’s role. Multiple groups are coordinating events, each partnering with other organizations or faculty members.

“Each group planned their own event,” Levinsky said. “It’s not something that’s centralized in the SRL office. We’re just there to make sure everything goes smoothly and people have the resources they need. We also make sure people are talking about it and have a plan.”

Hillel will be partnering with the Southeast Asian Student Society to cook Indian food and discuss Jews in India, an event Kanavy is particularly excited about.

I feel like religion sometimes is put in its own bubble, but it doesn’t have to be, so we’re trying to work on breaking that stereotype.

— Stephanie Felton, Class of 2020, Allegheny College

Along with a midweek MOSAIC lunch Wednesday, Jan. 30, in campus center 206, SRL Week has organized events with Hillel, the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Islamic Cultural Association, Allegheny Christian Outreach and Sojourners Christian Fellowship.

The lunch MOSAIC is hosting will focus on the dynamic of interfaith relationships and marriages and will include a panel of faculty members, according to Levinsky.

“We’re partnering with a few faculty members who are in interfaith marriages to talk to them about their experience and see what it’s like to be in a constant interfaith space all the time in a marriage or relationship,” Levinsky said. “One of our MOSAIC goals for the year is to discuss topics people really encounter in real life.”

MOSAIC, formerly known as Interfaith Fellowship, began as a religious life council that facilitated event planning SRL Week planning, as well as discussion among representatives from campus religious groups, Nickell said. In recent years, Nickell continued, MOSAIC students have become more interested in discussion-based meetings.

Along with the event for SRL week, MOSAIC has fostered conversations concerning religious expressions in school and, around Halloween, discussed cultural appropriation, especially in a religious context, Levinsky said.

“(MOSAIC) is an inherently collaborative organization,” Levinsky said. “We don’t all come from the same backgrounds, but we still are able to do productive and enjoyable things together. It’s about making sure that’s possible inside our group and also on other spaces on campus.”

Stephanie Felton, ’20, MOSAIC treasurer and religious studies major, said she first became involved with MOSAIC after attending a MOSAIC discussion on atheism.

In addition to classroom and textbook religious studies learning, Felton said she wanted to experience more of the “real-life” religious aspects of her coursework. By becoming involved in MOSAIC and working in the SRL Office, Felton said she has had that hands-on experience.

“What I’ve been trying to help do is make MOSAIC an inclusive space, especially for people who maybe aren’t part of a religious group on campus or are looking for one, or just want to be part of the conversation,” Felton said. “I feel like religion sometimes is put in its own bubble, but it doesn’t have to be, so we’re trying to work on breaking that stereotype.