Honoring Diversity: Religious and Spiritual Practices


At our recent Fall Convocation, Davidson installed a new associate chaplain, the Rev. Grace Burford. What made this occasion especially remarkable is that Rev. Burford is an ordained Buddhist minister. Her installation marked another step in the college’s ongoing commitment to honor diverse religious and spiritual practices within our community.

In its Statement of Purpose, Davidson affirms that, as an institution of higher education with roots in the Presbyterian/Reformed Tradition, the college “welcomes students, faculty and staff from a variety of nationalities, ethnic groups, and traditions … recognizing the dignity and worth of every person. Therefore, Davidson provides a range of opportunities for worship … and teaching that enrich mind and spirit.” Over the past thirty years, the religious and spiritual needs of our community have grown. The student body today is more pluralistic than ever: More than 17 percent of students identify as Catholic, 9 percent as Presbyterian, 6 percent as Episcopalian, and 5 percent as Jewish. More than 25 students identify as Muslim, and almost as many are Buddhist or Hindu. Large numbers identify with no tradition, but they are looking for practices such as meditation to ground them (hence part of Rev. Burford’s role centers on supporting these students.) Through an active Chaplains’ Office, an array of student-led organizations and varied opportunities for religious observance, Davidson helps students to explore and live into their religious traditions or spiritual paths.

For example, in late August, our Muslim Student Association hosted a celebration for the holy day of Eid al-Adha. In September, the High Holy Days services led by our Campus Rabbi Michael Shields drew to campus hundreds from the Jewish community in the Lake Norman area. In October, our Better Together interfaith group sponsored the Hindu Diwali Festival of Lights in the Alvarez College Union, with Indian music, food and dancing. In December, our Christmas Vespers Service will be held in the Davidson College Presbyterian Church (DCPC).

Student-led organizations sponsor weekly gatherings for fellowship and discussion in a range of traditions, including Buddhist, Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian. Bible studies or faith-sharing small groups are a staple of our non-denominational Christian groups. And opportunities abound for prayer, meditation and worship on campus: Catholic Mass and Episcopal Eucharist on Sundays, mindfulness meditation on Tuesdays, an ecumenical Christian service on Wednesdays, a contemporary praise-and-worship gathering on Thursday evenings and Muslim Jummah prayers on Fridays. Many of these gathering happen in the Oasis, our space in the Chaplains’ Office suite dedicated specifically for religious and spiritual life.

This support for a many particular spiritual traditions is supported by Davidson’s Presbyterian/Reformed heritage, which leads the college (as the Statement of Purpose says) to “openness to and respect for the world’s various religious traditions.” Our religious and spiritual diversity contributes to our students’ preparation for service and leadership in a pluralistic world. This vision guided Davidson as it installed the Rev. Grace Burford as an associate chaplain, and it will continue to guide us as we nurture new opportunities that enrich mind and spirit for all of our students, staff and faculty.


About Author

Rob Spach '84 is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he came to Davidson as Chaplain in 1993. His interests include the practice of centering prayer, the history of Christian thought and wisdom traditions of various world religions. He is married and has two grown children.

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