Prayer & tradition shape personal beliefs


Laura Slade

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Some diversity is visible to the naked eye, but some cannot be known just by looking at someone. At St. Paul Academy and Summit School, religious diversity, while less visually prevalent, is undoubtedly ubiquitous.

Sophomore Caswell Burr is a Unitarian-Universalist. Unitarian Universalism is unique in that it allows followers to form their own beliefs. Burr likes being a Unitarian because it is “accepting of all beliefs, and it’s really inclusive.”

Burr was baptized as a Christian, but he and his parents switched to Unitarianism later in his childhood. “I was a little kid, so I kind of got absorbed in the culture,” Burr said.

Unitarian practice involves going to services on Sundays and participating in religious education as a child. Through the Coming of Age program, 9th grade Unitarians explore their beliefs on a variety of topics and present their beliefs to the church community in their own personal credo statement.

“[Unitarianism] preaches being accepting and caring and loving outside of the church community,” Burr said.

After they present their credo, they are welcome to become members of the church. “Once you graduate high school and go to college, finding a Unitarian church is becoming a lot easier,” Burr said.

Junior Neerja Thakkar practices Hinduism. For her, it started out as a family tradition: “I started truly practicing when I learned more about [Hinduism],” Thakkar said. Some of the important beliefs of Hinduism are dharma, karma, and reincarnation. Dharma is someone’s duty and karma is the action taken to fulfill dharma.

“Every jiva (human being, soul) has a destined path they have to go through to rid themselves of all of their vasanas (impurities that cloud self-realization) in order to have a clear mind and see that they are a part of god,” Thakkar said.

Thakkar practices Hinduism by going to temple once a month or more, reciting bhajans, the Hindu version of hymns, every day, doing a form of Indian dance called bharathnatyam, and going to a school of Hindu philosophy.

One common misconception she believes people have about her religion is the notion that Hinduism is polytheistic. “All of the gods, and even all human beings, are part of one divine spirit,” Thakkar said. “Respecting all life is a big part of Hinduism because all life is divine.”

Sophomore George Stiffman follows reformed Judaism. “Reformed Judaism follows some rules from the Torah, and we sort of selectively follow them,” Stiffman said. Stiffman’s father is Jewish and that’s why he follows the religion.

Junior Eva Zaydman’s family is also Jewish, and she doesn’t fully practice Judaism, but she does take part in religious holidays. To Zaydman, Judaism is “a religion that brings a lot of family and friends close together during celebrations and services.”

Stiffman likes reformed Judaism because it is “more about the ideas behind [the Torah] and the morals of how to be a good person.”

Zaydman practices Judaism by eating traditional Jewish food and attending services with her mother around major holiday, while Stiffman practices by going to Hebrew school once a week and is in the process of getting confirmed.

Sophomore John Boosalis, a Greek Orthodox Christian, has attended St. George’s Greek Orthodox church since he was less than a year old. “When I was younger I went to Sunday school,” he said. “I try to act in the way that Jesus would act and be kind to other students.”

Though students may not display their religion openly, for some it is still an important aspect of their personalities. Their prayers and services shape who they are and how they relate to those around them.

Additional Reporting by Gitanjali Raman