Non-Christian students reflect on experience in required religion courses

Non-Christian students have both positive and negative experiences when taking Baylor's required religion courses. Photo illustration by Camryn Duffy

By Rachel Chiang | Reporter

At Baylor, students are required to take Christian Scriptures and Christian Heritage courses, as well as two semesters of Chapel. Students who aren’t Christian shared numerous experiences with their required religion and chapel courses.

Fresno, Ca., freshman Abheet Singh Sachdeva shared his thought process when learning about Christianity as a Sikh.

“In my experience, everything I’m doing and everything I’m required to do is just strictly on an educational basis,” Sachdeva said. “In my approach, it was just another literature course. I’ve taken literature courses in high school; there were times where we did have to go over some biblical context because it makes reading a lot of western literature so much more relevant.”

Sachdeva said his Christian Scriptures professor was very intent on clarifying the course would look at scripture like a textbook.

“Dr. Holleyman made it very open and did a very good job of making me feel comfortable in that situation,” Sachdeva said. “It never felt overbearing. It never felt like he was trying to push anything on me.”

Sachdeva said overall, he enjoyed the class, as it has given him a better understanding of Christian theology and how to interact with other people.

Due to the lack of Sikh population surrounding the Baylor area, Sachdeva said he has felt more religiously isolated than at home. He said classes like Christian Scriptures have made him feel more knowledgeable.

“I was just learning religion not as a purpose of conversion, but more of just a purpose of understanding other people,” Sachdeva said.

Sachdeva also said it has allowed him to be able to have deeper conversations with people and share his own religion, while still learning about other religions.

Scottsdale, Az., freshman Obaid Jaffery said he does not enjoy Chapel because the videos often contradict with his beliefs and religion as a Muslim.

“Chapel is annoying to do,” Jaffery said. “It’s frustrating that I have to learn this and answer these questions. It’s kind of like Baylor is forcing this upon me, and I don’t really want to do that.”

Jaffery said he does not like the prayers in the video because they pray to Jesus, and Muslims do not pray to Jesus. He said he has met people on campus who have adamantly tried to convert him, and although he is open to willingly learning, he does not want to be forced.

“It’s rather frustrating, seeing as I’m here for an education and not for theological conversion,” Jaffery said.

Jaffery said although he knew Baylor was a Christian university when he came in, it was more than he expected.

Grapevine freshman Shivani Haribhai said she found Chapel interesting, and she appreciated the effort Baylor put into the videos. She said she has managed to take away some things from the videos in her own form and apply it to her faith despite being Hindu.

“Coming to Baylor, obviously I knew that it was a Christian school,” Haribhai said. “And so I didn’t realize how outward people would be about their faith. And I really admire it, and I find it pretty interesting. It’s kind of made me stronger in my own faith seeing people so devoted to theirs. And with Chapel, it’s kind of made me want to do more research and dive into my own faith.”

Haribhai said Chapel has been overall a positive experience, and the similarities she has learned about Hinduism and Christianity through the course have enabled her to relate with other women on campus.

Haribhai also said being a part of the Indian Subcontinent Student Association (ISSA) has allowed her to find people of her demographic and be able to practice her faith with other women who have the same faith and background as her.

Austin junior Tanish Singh said he came to Baylor for the psychology program because he wants to start his own school one day. Singh said he doesn’t particularly identify with any religion, and his experiences in Baylor’s religion courses have provided him with ideas of the learning environment he wants to create for his own students one day.

“Being here — being in a system that doesn’t really accept me and doesn’t understand me — helps me understand what not to do in my own school and how that must feel for a student,” Singh said. “It makes me actually go through that experience, so I can avoid that and make it an environment where everyone is accepted and has an opportunity for growth.”

When he took Chapel in person, Singh said it always felt like there was a social pressure to partake in practices like standing for worship. He said that he wouldn’t stand for things he doesn’t believe in, even if he respects them, and that Chapel just felt forced.

“The concept itself is nice; it’s just the execution was lackluster,” Singh said. “I’m open to learning, but I don’t want to be forced. It was fun learning different things because I enjoy learning different religions and stuff. It was just this attitude of ‘my religion is better than yours.’”

Singh said it often made him feel invalidated, and those experiences extended into his times in his Christian Scriptures and Christian Heritage as well.

“The experience itself was a little bit eye-opening because I didn’t know that people would be that intolerant of different viewpoints,” Singh said. “For me, I kind of just viewed it as another story, and I just kind of viewed it through my own lens.”

Singh said that his classmates were great and that he had good discussions in the class, but he just felt the professor seemed authoritative in mandating what the truth was.

“It’s made me more tolerant of people who are intolerant of others — not in a passive way, but like understanding why and expanding my tolerance for different viewpoints,” Singh said. “I want to emphasize that I understand that Baylor is a Christian institution. I just want the opportunity to discuss and grow with my classmates and not be tied down to ‘this is what it is, and you can’t do anything about it,’ because I don’t think that’s what college should be.”