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Student groups foster religious diversity

Rachel Brown

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Alabama is situated in the geographical center of what many people call the Bible Belt.

Despite The University of Alabama’s location in what the Huffington Post called the “3rd Most Christian State in America,” students at the Capstone represent a diverse group of religious beliefs and practices.

St. Francis Catholic Church is the only Catholic congregation that directly serves the UA community. Susan Nelms, a campus minister at St. Francis, said nearly 4,000 students identify themselves as Catholic, and many members of St. Francis are UA students and faculty.

“We have found that our ministry is a very large one,” Nelms said. “Most are not from Alabama but from predominantly Catholic areas.”

Nelms said she estimates the church sees about a third of the Catholic student population at some point throughout the semester.

The Source, a website that catalogues all on-campus organizations, lists a number of groups affiliated with specific religions, such as the Muslim Student Association, the UA Vedic Society and the Hillel Foundation, which houses the Jewish Student Association. Other student groups work to foster relationships through nonreligious ties, such as the organization Better Together, which seeks to break down religious barriers.

According to Better Together’s website, the group “views religious and philosophical traditions as bridges of cooperation. [The] interfaith movement builds religious pluralism.”

The Vedic Society is a student forum that promotes the ancient teachings of Vedic culture. The Vedic period refers to the time in which the Vedas, or ancient Hindu scriptures, were composed. Nagarj Hegde, president of the Vedic Society, said it is a student forum that combines yoga, meditation and ancient mantras.

“We try to establish harmony around everyone,” Hegde said.

In contrast to other religious societies, the Crimson Secular Student Alliance provides a place for students who wish to be a part of a “free-thinking and non-religious community,” according to its website.

The CSSA offers a place for members to express their beliefs, whatever they may be.

“We wanted to provide a safe, educational and enjoyable experience for University of Alabama nonreligious folks,” Cody Frederick, president of CSSA, said.

Frederick said it can be difficult living in a society often steeped in religious traditions.

“It is difficult to be a nonreligious person in this part of the world,” he said.

Although the University is located in the Bible Belt, students are able to express their beliefs freely and are given the opportunity to learn more about diverse cultures and beliefs.

“There have never been any institutional boundaries for our group and, to my knowledge, other groups, with regards to the University’s actions,” Frederick said. “I think the University has always been very accommodating to any and all religious groups.”

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Student groups foster religious diversity