During the academic year 2012-2013, the University of Rochester (“U of R”) went through a collaborative process of creating a Statement of Policies of Affiliation for religious communities that serves students on the U of R campus under the auspices of the Interfaith Chapel. An older document, “The Covenant,” had been in effect since the early 1990s. However, because the scope of the religious diversity on campus had changed significantly since that time, it became necessary to re-visit the procedure by which religious communities affiliate with the university through the Interfaith Chapel. The goal was to create a policy that would recognize all of the affiliated religious communities equally, not privileging any historical group and offering all groups equal opportunity to access university resources and support.
In the process of drafting the new Statement of Policies of Affiliation, a host of issues arose, many of which exemplify the challenges that come with a religiously diverse community. Many of the tensions and issues that we confronted as we thought through how religious communities would co-exist in our university environment parallel the issues that arise in local communities in our contemporary society as the United States adjusts to the increased religious diversity of our cities, towns, and villages. In addition, the issues that arose as we struggled to define how we would create and live in an “interfaith” university community offer insight into what makes “interreligious” or “interfaith” studies as an academic discipline unique and distinct from the study of comparative religion.