The menu for the Denison Religious Understanding meeting: homemade pierogis, bread, borscht and kolache.
“It’s important that we have a dialogue around a meal so we recreate a homey, dinner time vibe, which it’s hard to get in the dining hall, so it’s unique in that way,” said Gemma Aldana ‘17, an educational studies major from Westlake, Ohio. She is a member of the elder council, the leadership team that facilitates DRU’s group discussion.
The topic for the meeting: souls. The elder council emails the group with the menu, topic and the questions for the week. This week they asked: “Why or why not do you believe in the existence of the soul? How does religion/spirituality influence or not influence your belief? How would you describe your understanding of the soul? How does your understanding of the soul influence the way you live?”
Then on Monday the members of DRU got cozy in the Open House – some sat on couches, others took off their shoes – and they settled in for an hour of deep conversation about those questions.
“We usually pick topics that we are interested in, or that are relevant to the community. We did ‘welcoming the stranger,’ which relates to refugees, but also everyone has experiences of being a stranger or welcoming a stranger,” Aldana said.
The group is open to people of all types of beliefs. “The purpose of the group is to share personal experiences about religious perspectives, but also non-religious, spiritual,” Aldana said.
Dominic Pfister ‘17, who cooks the meals along with Heather Grimm ‘17 and Rohit Krishnan ‘18, explained that they are a diverse group so there are many different viewpoints.
Claire Cappelle ‘17, a participant in the group and a biology major from Cleveland, Ohio, agreed. “I participate in DRU to hear from other religious and spiritual perspectives on things,” she said. “I think it’s important that people from all religions try to collaborate with each other because there’s a lot of differences in beliefs but I think that if you try to understand each other it’s better.”
Student facilitators from the elder council lead the discussion.
“What I love so much about it is that it’s not debate where people are constantly yelling at each other like ‘you’re right, you’re wrong.’ It’s also not a discussion where you just sit down and just discuss,” said Cappelle. “It’s something deeper where you try to understand what each person is saying and you’re actively listening to them.”
“I think it’s important to have a safe space where people can talk about religion and not feel like they might be judged or criticized,” Aldana said.
DRU meets every Monday from 5-6:15 p.m. in the Open House.