By Ashley Yeaman
When meeting fellow Baylor students, the question “Where do you go to church?” often comes up as frequently as questions about hometowns and majors.
Situated in the southern “Bible Belt” region and having historical Baptist roots, Christian beliefs at Baylor are a core component of life at college for many students.
More than 5,000 Baptist students attend Baylor, with Catholicism and non-denominational Christianity accounting for more than 4,000 students, according to Baylor’s Office of Institutional Research and Testing 2010 facts.
A small religious minority of about 400 also exists within the student body, which includes students who practice Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam and Judaism, among others.
Sugar Land junior Nevin Shah, a Jain, was initially concerned about coming to Baylor because of its Christian affiliation.
“When I came here for the tour, I thought, ‘I need to look at this honestly and see [if I] could come to campus and be successful, and be OK with the Christian environment,’” Shah said. “I mean, it’s everywhere, and you can’t really get away from it. But I didn’t feel that it was overbearing in any way.”
In making his decision to come to Baylor, Houston sophomore Ali Mohammad, a Muslim, respected the Christian aspect of the university.
“Christians are good people,” Mohammad said. “I figured at least I’d be in a place where morals and values would be upheld.”
Christian faith is directly incorporated into the core curriculum at Baylor, through two religion classes — Christian scriptures and Christian heritage — and Chapel.
Mohammad said for those not of the Christian tradition, these classes often pose challenges.
“It’s a little hard for people who have been studying different religious texts for so long,” Mohammad said. “There are a lot of things taught in the Bible and in religion classes that are different from things in the Quran … Just small details. In the Quran we believe Solomon was a prophet, and I remember on a test once seeing ‘Who was Solomon?’ ‘Solomon was a prophet.’ ‘No, Solomon was a king.’ Things like that.”
Being at a Christian university poses challenges out of the classroom as well, such as finding a place to worship, Mohammad said. When living at Penland last year, Mohammad remembers contact information was given to students to connect with upperclassmen from Waco churches in order to have a ride to services.
“Well, they don’t consider that, possibly, people of other faiths would like to do the same thing,” Mohammad said. “You know, maybe a bunch of Muslim students or Buddhist students or Jewish students would like to, maybe, get together. I think that Baylor should take a little more initiative in trying to help others practice their faith more openly and easily.”
Despite the challenges, students have found ways to embrace and strengthen their faith.
Mohammad is currently working to get other Muslim students together to pray on Fridays.
“Friday is considered to be the holiest day by all Muslims. The closest mosque is about two and a half miles from campus, and a lot of us Muslim students don’t have cars, so I’ve been trying to organize a Friday congregational prayer here,” Mohammad said. “I would really like to have it somewhere where we can get together and share our faith.”
Katy sophomore Mihir Bedre, a Hindu, said the Christian aspect of Baylor adds another perspective to the university, but he believes that other religion classes, such as world religions, should be incorporated into the curriculum as required courses.
“Better-educated students lead to a better rounded knowledge of the world and its various inhabitants,” Bedre said.
Bedre said he thinks world religions would make other students more aware of his faith.
“I do not want to call many students ignorant about my faith, but there is a fine line between ignorant and being oblivious,” Bedre said. “Many students do not know about Hinduism and its principles. I try my best to spread knowledge about my religion and culture, but one student can only do so much.”
Katy junior Beena Shah said she benefits from having conversations with her friends about religion.
“Often, I have engaging discussions with my friends about our personal views on [the] meaning of self and our presence,” Beena Shah said. “I like being educated on different religious views.”
Shah said such conversations have strengthened his faith during his time at Baylor.
“I really felt that I delved into my faith when I had to become more independent [in college], to figure out what do I think for myself versus what others think,” Shah said. “[It’s] just a part of maturing — my faith had to mature, too, and as I’m discussing it more and more, I feel like it’s strengthening.”
Discussions with others are also important for Midland senior David Wiseman, a Messianic Jew, because otherwise he finds many students lack knowledge on his religion.
“What I find is more than having misconceptions, people are just clueless,” Wiseman said. “Most people don’t even have a stereotype. For the most part, if someone has a clue at all, they’ve got generally the right idea. It’s an interesting dichotomy, where either people don’t have any idea, or they pretty much got the right idea and ask for clarification.”
Wiseman added he’s found unity with other minority religion followers at Baylor.
“I spent my entire first year — I hardly knew a Christian,” Wiseman said. “I hung out with Muslims and especially ISSA [Indian Subcontinent Student Association]. It was funny, because even though we weren’t the same faiths, we connected by not being part of the majority.”
It’s that spiritual atmosphere, whether Christian or non-Christian, that drew Jackson, Tenn., junior Isaac Lee to Baylor.
“That’s what I really like about Baylor. You get a faith dimension, and it’s also a great academic environment,” said Lee, who is also a Messianic Jew.
Lee said students’ ideas are not always accurate. In his experiences at Baylor, people are often surprised to learn that he is Jewish because he is also Korean.
“It’s really hard, because they have a preconceived notion of what a Jew is or what a Jew looks like,” Lee said. “But the fact is, there are Jews from all different nationalities and races.”
Lee has come across some conflict when discussing his faith at times.
“We argue, and after that we come to an agreement that there is no agreement to make,” Lee said. “You believe what you believe, but I’ll still practice Judaism no matter what you say.”
Overall, Lee said he believes students, both Christians and non-Christians, are able to come together to discuss faith at Baylor freely.
“Whether you are a Jew or a Christian or a Buddhist or of Islam, you still have a right to see what you see,” Lee said. “I believe we are able to share. We can talk.”