In the living room there’s a bookshelf. It holds a number of bibles, other religious texts, and a stack of board games including Apples to Apples and Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
The room also has about a dozen Keene State College students sharing a few laughs and eating some home-cooked ravioli.
Their topic of conversation: the role religion plays in the public school system.
This is KSC’s Inter-Faith Voices club meeting on Nov. 27. The group holds open discussions on all topics relating to religion in the living room of their meeting place, KSC’s Campus Ministry (a former fraternity house), every Tuesday at 8 p.m., and holds non-religious activities – such as movie nights and themed parties – every Saturday at 9 p.m..
The group’s slogan is “Converse, not convert,” and students of all faiths (or no faith at all) are welcome to attend. The group currently includes Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Buddhist, Agnostic and Atheist members.
Partly due to a lack of student interest, they decided to switch from a strictly Christian organization to a multi-faith club in 2009.
“We needed a change or else the club would have continued to stagnate,” member and former club President Kelsey Whittemore said.
“We went from a rather pathetic number, that was going to radically dwindle because they were all seniors graduating, to now a kind of more robust group,” Whittemore said.
Sophomore Hannah Lacy said that despite Inter-Faith Voices being a religion-oriented group, most members are either not affiliated with a specific religion or agnostic.
The religious affiliation of the club’s members varies each semester. Club President Sylvana Majone said at one point over half of the club’s members were Buddhist.
Majone follows Reconstructionist Judaism, which she described as a fairly recent branch of Judaism, that believes people should choose their own level of orthodoxy and commitment to whatever practices they choose.
Majone explained her religion is very compatible with the multi-faith nature of the group because “Judaism has never said that there shouldn’t be other religions. Judaism actually believes that their should be multiple religions,” she said. Inter-faith Voices was the cause of some controversy in its first two years as a college-funded organization.
According to Whittemore some Keene residents, who were not affiliated with KSC, were upset that a religious organization was financially supported by the school.
She said they complained to the college and purchased misleading advertisements in newspapers and on the radio.
Whittemore said they wanted to evoke a public outcry and get school funding cut from all groups associated with religion, which would include Inter-Faith Voices, Buddhist Minds, Hillel, and more.
However their efforts proved unsuccessful. Whittemore said, “I think the school handled that situation wonderfully… and responded very respectfully.”
Majone said she thinks KSC’s atmosphere surrounding religion has room for improvement.
“I feel like for the most part it’s treated like a topic that you don’t necessarily discuss,” she said.
Lacy said, “I feel like most of my friends aren’t really religious, but I feel like they’re not like, ‘Oh we hate religion,’ it’s kind of like, ‘You are what you are.’”
With about a dozen or so regular attendees to their meetings, Whittemore said the group definitely has room for growth, especially with about half of their E-board graduating this year.
The group has tried to increase turnout by hanging flyers around campus and posting MyKSC announcements.
However most members said they originally learned about the group from friends.
Each Tuesday night meeting has one specific topic, and the discussion is lead by one member who volunteers to do so.
At the beginning of each year the club decides what topics they would like to plan to discuss.
Guest speakers occasionally fill the moderating position. On Nov. 13 the group’s advisor Pastor Stacey Gershwin led a discussion on homosexuality and the Bible. Whittemore said they’re currently trying to arrange for a Hindu professor to come speak.
Although the scheduled topics of conversation for their Tuesday night meetings are usually on the more serious side, the atmosphere couldn’t be more laid back.
“People think that it’s like big scary topics, but we almost always end up cracking jokes by the end of the meeting,” Majone said. “We try to be good natured, we’re all about accepting other people, we’re like this is what you think, this is what I think. It’s okay to have different thoughts,” Lacy said.
Majone said the group’s Saturday night meetings are purely for entertainment.
“People will talk about whatever they want to talk about, but its usually just fun stuff.”
On Dec. 1 they held a “Wii Night,” and on Dec. 8 they have a “Holiday Party” scheduled, and as always all KSC students are welcome.
Commuter student Dmitry Borisov from Derry, N.H. said, “To be honest religion’s one of the least discussed topics – unless it’s historical – within colleges and schools. So it’s very interesting to see an approach like this to be explored outside the school curriculum.”
Eric Walker can be contacted at