Too often these days we hear about religious intolerance and the conflicts that arise when two or more religions are placed side by side in a community. The United States, being a melting pot of culture and ethnicities, is also an inter-religious society, and should lead the way in promoting religious tolerance and understanding. Well, Georgetown did just that.
The Washington based, oldest Roman Catholic university just recently announced its appointment of a Hindu priest as chaplain, after the first Hindu chaplain left due to personal reasons. This is, in fact, the "first Hindu priest to serve in the role of chaplain at any university in the United States," for many institutions either hire monks (who are not as trained as a priest) or ask common practitioners to step in as a Hindu chaplain.
The new chaplain, Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan, trained as a priest in ashrams in India and is a PhD holder in Sanskrit from the University of Edinburg. He has taught at universities in Wales and London and is now part of spreading the Georgetown's philosophy of educating students, both spiritually and socially. Given the university's decent population (roughly three to four-hundred) of Hindu students, faculty and staff, and the presence of the Hindu Student Association (HSA), it was a major move by the university to make sure their students feel included in the community.
While many are critiquing Georgetown's actions in this matter, this isn't the first time the university has embraced its religious diversity on campus. In the past, the university as appointed a rabbi (1968) and an imam (1998) as chaplain to include its Jewish and Muslim minorities. To the university, leading the way in educating students about different religions is not counterintuitive. The university wants its students to have a "deeper understanding of their spiritual self and their place in an inter religious society".
Personally, I applaud this move by the university, for it gives respect to both its Catholic roots and at the same time, encourages respect and support for those who come from other faiths as well. Being Hindu myself and having exposure to other faiths since I was a kid, I would like to see more universities and communities trying hard to actually educate others on the diversity that exists in our beliefs. To hire a priest versus having just someone step in to teach about things that cannot be defined to mere words is a major thing. One, it shows the willingness to care about those who practice the religion and two, it reduced the chance of misunderstanding of faiths (given you have a well-trained person talking). I hope that many more universities and communities follow suite in promoting religious tolerance and acceptance, and that violence doesn't have to be caused because one believed differently from another anymore.