Religious diversity on the rise at Villanova

Susan Russo

A convert to Judaism visits a mosque. It doesn’t sound like a typical Friday afternoon for a Villanovan, but it was how I spent my Friday afternoon. I was searching to fulfill one of my “cultural events” for my intercultural class. (You didn’t read wrong – yes, I am converting to Judaism, and yes, I go to Villanova). In the process, I became interested in the level of religious diversity at ‘Nova. I wanted to find out just how many other religions were represented at our Catholic institution. Most people assume that Villanova is entirely Catholic, but a recent survey showed that 32 percent of Villanovans identified themselves as non-Catholic.

This religious diversity is increasing with every year that passes. As ‘Nova’s student body becomes more diversified, many are wary of the changes. Incoming non-Catholics face challenges in finding ways to sustain their own identities and spirituality.

Syed Asad Safdar, a Muslim student in his senior year at Villanova, is president of the Muslim Students Association. He says that membership in the organization has increased in recent years. Safdar reflects on his four years here, saying that he “never had a problem being a minority at Villanova because the administration has always been willing to help us out as we needed.” Some may be unaware that the administration provided Muslim students with a prayer room in the bottom of Tolentine. Non-Catholics need not fear losing their religious identity by coming to ‘Nova.

However, with the recent increase in religious diversity, many Catholic students are concerned that their own culture and identities are being threatened. Kathy Overturf, head of Campus Ministry said, “We find that when we facilitate inter-religious dialogue, it might even enhance their own faith by choosing favorable aspects of other religious traditions and incorporating them into their own Catholic spirituality. What Catholic couldn’t use the relaxation of Buddhism, or the fellowship of Judaism?

Safdar explains how religious diversity benefits Villanova’s Catholics. “It helps people learn about different religions and cultures, and this would help decrease misconceptions and stereotypes,” he said,

As we saw in last week’s Villanovan, admissions committee is working to increase diversity on campus. Students at a Catholic institution with the mission of service and social justice can make the most of religious diversity by not only showing tolerance, but also an interest in other religions.