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Adele S. Bonney


Another finding of the Chronicle study was students’ interest in social service as religious expression, a link that Helen Damon-Moore has seen in her work directing the college’s Office of Volunteer Services/Service Learning. Damon-Moore believes the service activities coordinated by her office with the chaplain’s office have a direct link to student activism that once took the form of missionary groups, gospel teams, and other religiously motivated activities such as the 19th- and 20th-century Prohibition Leagues, the 1930s’ Christian Association and pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, or politically oriented programs like Rev. Thomas’ civil rights tutoring in the 1960s. Recent students have held hunger banquets to simulate various levels of poverty and wealth and how they interact, and assisted a Des Moines United Methodist church in determining the needs and interests of people in its neighborhood.

When she collaborates with the chaplain’s office on service projects, Damon-Moore stands ready to help students discover a larger, spiritual framework for their experience and move beyond one-shot plans for a fund-raising party or food drive to an activist stance. “Religious commitment is one way—but an important way—some students come to service, sustain their interest, and move to activism. Sustained service and activism are what Catherine [Quehl-Engel] and I share as goals for people motivated by religious concerns,” Damon-Moore says.

Cornell’s religious tradition does permeate campus life. Intellectually, students may be influenced by guest speakers on religious topics, by the annual Holocaust Lecture, or by professors conscious of the interaction of their own faith and scholarship (see page 11). Those who find special enjoyment in co-curricular activities can make faith connections in that realm. Sophomore Ben Johnson of Pelican Rapids, Minn., president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), reports strong interest in the weekly meetings and activities of FCA, and not only from student-athletes. Even in their social lives, students are finding outlets for spiritual exploration, some unimaginable in the past. Group discussion on the Internet is now a part of campus life, and Cornell students can access online “folders” or topics. One of the most popular is religion. Recent, freewheeling exchanges ranged from the origins of the icthys symbol of Christianity to literal interpretation of the Bible to the meaning of Christmas to non-Christians.

A co-author of the Chronicle of Higher Education study concluded that religious expression on the campuses they visited was “sufficiently intense and inviting to make us wonder if it had ever been more so in the past.” Her statement might well describe Cornell today, a place where prayer opens and closes the school year. A place where professor Vernoff helps students analyze Hindu thought and where junior Isaiah McGee can say, “My spiritual journey is tangible when I’m training for football.” A place where youthful voices raise contemporary praise songs in The Commons. And a place where the bells of King Chapel peal “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” through the chill of a December morning.

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