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Sikhs and Interfaith Students Visit a Gurdwara Together Through New “Souljourn” Program

On January 31st, the Sikh and Interfaith NU community had our first Gurdwara visit for the spring semester, as part of CSDS’ new “Souljourn” program visiting sacred places in greater Boston. It was a huge success.

Surprisingly we had a huge count this time; around 30 people showed up for the event. We started around 11:45 am from Ruggles Station and reached Sullivan Square station around 12:15 pm. From there we hired cabs since we missed our bus towards Gurdwara.

On reaching Gurdwara, we had snacks then headed towards the main hall and listened to the Kirtan ( chanting of hymns). After regular activities of Gurdwara concluded, Gurinder Singh from the Gurdwara management delivered a keynote on Sikhism to us. He gave us insight into the core beliefs and practices of Sikhism and a brief history about the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh’s holy book). It was about 50 minutes interaction with him. After the keynote, we had langar. Later we took the bus to Sullivan Square station and concluded our event there.

Overall it was a memorable event and we all had wonderful memories from the event.



Hardeep Singh
Candidate for Master of Science in Information Assurance
College of Computer and Information Science

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Conversations That Matter: A Dialogue about Immigration And Belonging


Jiddu Krishnamurti, a speaker and writer on matters that concern humankind, believed that dialogue is a form of communication in which question and answer continues till a question is left without an answer. He went on to say that it is a conversation in which investigation reaches a certain point of intensity and depth which then has a quality that thought could never reach. Don’t you think such conversations are refreshing, or even liberating?

At least that’s what we at the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service believe and hence have started “Conversations That Matter: A Campus Dialogue Initiative” which will create a comfortable space for participants to indulge in meaningful conversations. Our most recent dialogue was held in the warm Sacred Space on a cold January evening and attended by a diverse group of students from various fields and backgrounds. The dialogue was centered around the idea of Immigration and Belonging.

A group of over 25 participants along with facilitators from the center started off the discussion with how and when they felt like they actually belonged to a place away from home. Students spoke about the process of gradual adaptation to the new environment. One of the participants pointed out that back home, we are set in our ways. To venture out of the comfort zone is a massive step to take but the experiences that follow, build, strengthen and uproot some values and that is how one grows and broadens one’s horizons. Someone added by saying that we take our perspectives for granted and believe that the world is exactly how we think it is, but only when we are in the midst of the most diverse settings, we realize how wrong we have been.

The group agreed that going away from home is not easy, but it definitely gets better, mostly because in due course, you meet people who share the same ideas and people with contrasting ideas, both making you wiser and hence altering your personality for the better.

Next, the concept of Home was discussed. The facilitators asked the participants what it might mean to not have a place we call home or to never be able to return to a place we call home. Numerous answers popped up, some said home is where they are happy, others were of the opinion that home is where family is. One of the students shared his experience of leaving the comfort of his home and shifting to a new place. He said that the decision felt like shutting the doors on the life he once had. He said that the whole process was a storm inside his head, but meeting and becoming friends with people who come from such different backgrounds and learning something new every day made him believe that he made the right decision. An introspective vibe spread across the room as everyone began contemplating over their journey and sharing their experiences with the group.

The facilitators then asked the group how they can ensure that everyone feels a sense of belonging, regardless of generation. A student excitedly volunteered to answer and just said one word: Food. The group broke into laughter and after a good few minutes, a beaming facilitator asked the student to elaborate. With the utmost sincerity, the student said that she believed that in a University having people of different races, religions, languages and mindsets, food is the only thing that brings them together, the only universal language with which you cannot go wrong. She went on to say that if she would want someone to feel welcomed and included, she would cook for them. Everyone nodded in agreement and one student pointed out how he felt the same warmth when he entered the Center and saw the numerous desserts from all over the world. A facilitator reassured that he can get back to them soon as the group had almost come to the end of the dialogue.

A general agreement stood suspended in the air as everyone looked around at placid and peaceful faces. One student broke the silence and said that he admired all the people who put themselves in such different and difficult situations to get closer to their aim. Another student added that amidst all the classes and assignments, she doesn’t know whether she’s happy or sad,  but she does know that she’s at ease.


Sagar Rajpal

Office and Program Assistant at Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, Currently pursuing Masters in Engineering Management at Northeastern University.



Note: We, at the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, honor confidentiality in all our sessions. Although the Blog Post is anonymous, we also do not share specific information without the speaker’s permission. The Dialogue participants approved having the above comments shared for the purpose of this blog.

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An Open Letter to the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

We write to you as college and university administrators and religious leaders responsible for guiding major initiatives in interfaith cooperation and community service in U.S. higher education. Many of our campuses have been named to President Barack Obama’s 2015 Interfaith and Community Service Honor Roll. We represent a multitude of faith backgrounds, spiritual identities, humanist allegiances, and moral persuasions. Together, we extend this letter calling upon governmental leaders and political actors present at the UN Convention on Climate Change in Paris 2015, to forge and commit to strong, binding agreements to ameliorate the human impact on climate change while protecting the basic human needs of all people.

We lift up the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions Interfaith Call to Action on Climate Change: “The damaging impacts of climate change are already extensive…If human behavior does not change, these impacts will become far more extreme, resulting in turmoil and suffering on an enormous scale with immense harm to both humans and other forms of life. People affected are, and will be, disproportionately the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable, including women and children—those who have done least to create this crisis. This is a massive injustice.”

As college and university professionals of conscience, we have been charged with fostering the religious, spiritual, and moral integrity of the next generations. We charge those present in Paris to take action to ensure a livable planet for these future generations by putting global well-being over specific national interests. The world is in your hands. Please act wisely.


Alexander Levering Kern
Executive Director
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Harrison Blum
Buddhist Spiritual Advisor and Mindfulness Programs Coordinator
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Jem Jebbia
Senior Assistant Director
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Karin Firoza
Assistant Director
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Celene Ibrahim
Islamic Studies Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Director of CIRCLE
Andover Newton Theological School & Hebrew College
Newton Centre, Massachusetts
Muslim Chaplain
Tufts University
Medford, Massachusetts

Ken Scott
Director of Community Service
Eco-Ministry & Leadership – earthpeace
The College of Saint Rose
Interfaith Sanctuary / Spiritual Life Area
Albany, New York

Rev. John D. Williams, Ph.D.
Chaplain and Director of Church Relations
Austin College
Sherman, Texas

Jeffrey Scholes, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy
Director, Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

The Reverend Janet M. Cooper Nelson
Chaplain of the University and Director
Office of Chaplains & Religious Life
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island

Graziano Marcheschi, M.A., D.Min.
Vice President for University Mission and Ministry
Saint Xavier University
Chicago, Illinois

Rev. Dr. Zandra Wagoner
University Chaplain and Assistant Professor of Religion
University of La Verne
La Verne, California

The Rev. Dr. Paul V. Sorrentino
Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and Protestant Religious Advisor
Cadigan Center for Religious Life
Amherst College
Amherst, Massachusetts

Walker A. Bristol
Humanist in Residence
Tufts University
Medford, Masschusetts

Dr. Patrick B. Reyes
Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs
Director of the Center for Community Engagement
Trinity Lutheran College
Everett, Washington

Rev. David K. Miller
College Minister
Union College
Barbourville, Kentucky

Matthew Shields
Director for Mission & Ministry
College of Mount Saint Vincent
Bronx, New York

Alexander Hernandez-Siegel
Mennonite Chaplain
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Vanessa Christman
Assistant Dean of the College for Access and Community Development
The Pensby Center
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Rev. Dave Wright
University Chaplain
Director for Spiritual Life and Civic Engagement
The Center for Intercultural and Civic Engagement
University of Puget Sound
Tacoma, Washington

The Rev. Canon Dr. C. Denise Yarbrough
Director, Religious and Spiritual Life
University of Rochester, Interfaith Chapel
Rochester, New York

Rev. Jeff Buscher
William Jewell College
Liberty, Missouri

Kathryn O’Loughlin
Associate Director, Mission and Ministry
College of Mount Saint Vincent
Bronx, New York

Matthew Shields
Director for Mission & Ministry
College of Mount Saint Vincent
Bronx, New York

Jennifer Karsten
Executive Director
Pendle Hill Quaker Center
Wallingford, Pennsylvania

Reb Eli Herb
Jewish Spiritual Advisor
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud, Ph.D.
University Chaplain and Director
The Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service and Social Justice
Hamline University

Rev. Matt Carriker
Protestant Chaplain
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann
Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life
Stanford University
Palo Alto, California

Rev. Joanne Sanders
Associate Dean for Religious Life
Stanford University
Palo Alto, California

Mary Lahaj
Muslim Chaplain (retired)
Simmons College
Boston, Massachusetts

The Rev. Dr. Nancy A.G. Vogele
Director of Religious and Spiritual Life
The William Jewett Tucker Center
Dartmouth College
Hanover, New Hampshire

Jennifer L. Sanborn
Admissions, Hartford Seminary, Hartford, Connecticut
Pastor, Enfield American Baptist Church

Nathan Wallace
Assistant Project Coordinator, Student Affairs
Erie Community College
Buffalo, New York

John Bach
Quaker Chaplain
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tarah Trueblood, Esq. JD, MDiv, MA
Director, University of North Florida Interfaith Center
Jacksonville, Florida

Walter Hjelt Sullivan
Director of Quaker Affairs
Haverford College
Haverford, Pennsylvania

Rachel Samuelson
Coordinator, Student Community Engagement Center
Portland State University
Portland, Oregon

Rev. Kate Smanik
Assistant Dean of Students for Spirituality, Service and Social Justice
DePauw University
Greencastle, Indiana

Robert A. Pyne, Th.D.
Senior Director for Community Engagement
Director, Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding
St. Norbert College
De Pere, Wisconsin

Rabbi Jeff Foust
Jewish Chaplain
Spiritual Life Center
Bentley University
Waltham, Massachusetts

The Rev. Charles L. Howard, Ph.D.
University Chaplain
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Todd Williams
Spiritual Advisor, Agape Christian Fellowship
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Jyl Gentzler
Humanist Advisor
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Philosophy
Amherst College
Amherst, Massachusetts

Malisa Ellis
Spiritual Advisor
Agape Christian Fellowship
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Sr. Chris Clark, DHM
Catholic Advisor
Amherst College
Amherst, Massachusetts
Rev. Robin J. Olson, DMin.
Spiritual Life Center Director
Bentley University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Yael Shy
Senior Director
Global Spiritual Life
New York University
New York, New York
Rev. Dr. Rodney L. Petersen
Executive Director
Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries and Interfaith Youth Initiative (IFYI)
Newton Center, Massachusetts

Rev. MaryHelen Gunn
Spiritual Advisor Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Gary R. Kirk, Ph.D.
Director, VT Engage: The Community Learning Collaborative
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Virginia

Melody Fox Ahmed
Assistant Director for Programs
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
Georgetown University
Washington, DC

Julie Newman
Student Cantor
Hebrew College – School of Jewish Music
Newton Centre, Massachusetts

Maytal Saltiel
Assistant University Chaplain for Special Programs
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Rev. Laura Brekke
Director of Religious Diversity
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, California

Rev. Judith Stuart
Episcopal Spiritual Advisor
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Rev. Dr. Justin Allen
Dean of Spiritual Life
Director of the Institute for Church Professions
Shenandoah University
Winchester, Virginia

The Rev. Katrina E. Jenkins
Illinois College
Jacksonville, Illinois

Imam Abdallah Ddumba
Muslim Adviser
Spiritual Life Center
Bentley University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Jennifer Peace, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Interfaith Studies
Co-director, Center for Interreligious and Communal Leadership Education (CIRCLE)
Andover Newton Theological School
Newton Centre, Massachusetts

Aaron Jones. M.A.
Assistant Director for Community Affairs, Civic Engagement & Advocacy
Associated Students
President, Graduate Students Association
UC Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California

Dudley C. Rose
Associate Dean, Ministry Studies
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Kurt Nelson, MDiv
Dean of Religious & Spiritual Life
Colby College
Waterville, Maine

Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger
University Chaplain
Associate Director, IWU Center for Human Rights and Social Justice
Illinois Wesleyan University
Bloomington, Illinois

Kathleen S. Flowers
Director, Center for Community Engagement & Service-Learning
Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Geneva, New York

Jeremy T. Wattles
Associate Director
Center for Community Engagement & Service-Learning
Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Geneva, New York

Rev. Alex Hendrickson
College Chaplain and Director of Religious & Spiritual Life
Lafayette College
Easton, Pennsylvania

Kasra Ghorbaninejad
Shia Spiritual Advisor
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Kaitlin Ho
Campus Staff Minister, Intervarsity Multiethnic Christian Fellowship
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

Ahmad Abdul-Rahim
Muslim Spiritual Advisor
Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service
Northeastern University
Boston, Massachusetts

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3 Q’s for Executive Director, Alexander Levering Kern

How does the center’s model align with Northeastern’s teaching mission?

Northeastern’s mission is to educate students for a life of fulfillment and accomplishment, to create and translate knowledge to meet global and societal needs, and the center is integral to this mission. To be an educated global citizen, one must have some basic understanding of religion and culture. Whether our students go on to work in business, engineering, professional sports, the arts or international diplomacy, they will be working alongside people who will not think, speak, pray or respond to conflict in the same ways as they do. I believe we all need to develop basic interfaith and intercultural competencies to address our shared global and societal challenges.

Since I arrived, I’ve seen the “I am Northeastern” motto a great deal, and I’ve been thinking about that from a spiritual perspective. On this campus, we can say with pride, “I am Jewish, I am Christian, I am Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or humanist, I am spiritual but not formally religious, and yes, and I am Northeastern. And even more than that, we can say I am a citizen of the global village. We are part of something much greater than ourselves — our family, our community, our university, our nation, our planet. At Northeastern, we have many opportunities to live out our true identities, and to become the community that the world needs us to be.

It has been amazing to see our international students stream onto campus for their orientation this week. The first international student family I met was from Thailand, from the Sikh community, the faith that was targeted in the recent hate crime in Wisconsin. To watch this mother and father deliver their son here only weeks after that awful tragedy was a powerful experience for me, and to engage them in dialogue from my own location – as a Quaker, a Christian, and a U.S. citizen – was a moment of real learning. This is the kind of encounter that Northeastern makes possible. To welcome this family to the Northeastern family, and to have them welcome me into their world for a brief moment, was a powerful reminder: we need one another, for at the deepest level, we are one.

How have your previous experiences prepared you for this new role at Northeastern?

I’ve spent the last 18 years of my professional life at the intersection of higher education, interfaith leadership and civic engagement in the U.S. and abroad. I am truly grateful for this new adventure, and I understand the enormous opportunity that exists at Northeastern to pioneer and innovate a new model of religious life on campus and a new model of global leadership development, supporting our students as they tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

I’ve worked extensively in major U.S. cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and my hometown of Washington D.C., as well places of extreme need and conflict abroad. My work has involved interfaith and intercultural dialogue, bridge-building work, and direct service, including working with Haitian earthquake survivors in 2010 and traveling to Nigeria as part of the State Department-funded delegation for Christian-Muslim peace building in 2009. Using what I have learned from these experiences, I am eager to help foster an ethos of shared service and global citizenship and to equip our students with the skills and competencies our world so desperately needs.

How will the center engage students, and the entire Northeastern community, on campus?

We are in the midst of strategic planning for the center, but the contours of our work are clear. We’ll continue and expand the wonderful pastoral work at the Sacred Space in Ell Hall, offering ample opportunities for spiritual practice, meditation, worship and prayer in the midst of our busy lives. We will draw on rich resources across the university and in greater Boston, developing strategic partnerships and supporting new and returning religious leaders to serve our students. We’ll design dialogue programs that will develop student leadership skills in ethical and moral reflection. We will set a tone for a new kind of conversation on campus and in the public square about issues that matter, seeking common ground and reverencing the sacred seed that dwells in each one of us. We’ll mentor student organizations of all cultures and faiths to help students better understand their own religious and cultural traditions. By understanding themselves and where they have come from, our students will be better prepared to navigate where we will move as a society.

We will work closely with the African American, Latino/a, Asian American and Social Justice Resource Centers, among others. Already we are envisioning exciting new collaborative programs, such as a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Interfaith Service for greater Boston. The Center is inherently interdisciplinary and designed to connect classroom learning with the wider community. I’ve already begun connecting with many departments and student groups such as Hillel, the Islamic Society of Northeastern, the Hindu student group, the Catholic Center, and others. I can envision developing new Alternative Spring Break opportunities, new study abroad experiences, national conferences and symposia, and new opportunities to explore the unique religious and social justice history of Boston.

At Northeastern, the globe is our classroom, and when we look at the serious problems that our students will face, interreligious and intercultural conflict ranks high among them. Structures of peace and interfaith/intercultural cooperation need to be created, from the local to the global level. Never has there been a more important time for work such as this, and Northeastern is perfectly positioned to help lead the way.

Looking ahead to the fall semester, the center will be present at Monday’s Xplosaic cultural festival on Centennial Common (from 2 to 4 p.m.), and our open house is scheduled for Sept. 20. Our Religious and Spiritual Advisors and student groups are already planning worship services and a range of amazing activities. We will remember Sept. 11 in front of Ell Hall, and join with our faith communities as they observe their holidays this fall. Great things await, and leaders are needed from the entire Northeastern community to make this vision real.

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