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Religious Practices and the Liberal Arts

We support a diversity of rituals, traditions, and inter-religious dialogue.

  • Holy Days: Services and programs to celebrate the major holidays observed by members of the college community.
  • Religious and Spiritual Life Forum: A student forum that meets weekly for interfaith dialogue and action. All are welcome.

Annual Advent Service of Lessons and Carols

Join us online for this beautiful service that includes readings, choral anthems, and congregational carols, culminating in a candle lighting ceremony. Vassar College Choir, Chamber Singers, Women’s Chorus, and Cappella Festiva Chamber Choir. An annual collaboration between the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices and the Department of Music.

Secularity and the Liberal Arts

We support campus-wide initiatives to consider how secular campus life relates to students’ “big questions” of meaning, purpose, and identity.

  • A Teagle Foundation grant: the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices and Vassar College are part of a multi-campus consortium of religious life professionals and faculty who were awarded a grant to study “Secularity and the Liberal Arts.”
  • Grant initiatives include faculty conversations, qualitative research, campus programs, a white paper, and conference.

Peace and Justice

We sponsor events and bring speakers to campus to explore traditions of nonviolence and tools for peace-making in religious and political communities.

  • Tanenbaum Inter-Religious Peace Fellowship: Vassar students can apply for stipends for a summer abroad working for an organization that works for peace and justice in a part of the world where religion is part of conflict and/or conflict resolution.*
  • Thanksgiving HungerFAST: An annual event; communal fast and discussions intended to raise awareness about hunger in our own community and across the globe.
  • Major speakers and exhibits: speakers and programs have included Cornel West (Race Matters) and Jonathan Kozol (Amazing Grace)

* The Tanenbaum Peace Fellows Program is established in memory of Sidonie Bennett. The program has been made possible thanks to a gift to Vassar College from Sidonie Bennett’s daughter, Dr. Georgette F. Bennett ’67, President and Founder of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, via the Polonsky Foundation.

Spirituality and Service

We offer Vassar students opportunities to get involved in the local community.

  • Good Neighbors Partnerships: A campus initiative, administered by our office to provide small grants to local organizations for projects in education, food security, and community resource development.
  • Service and Study Trips: we support a range of spring break experiences, past trips have included a study trip to the US–Mexico Border with Borderlinks, service trips to Central America with American Jewish World Service, service trips through Jewish Funds for Justice, and a Rural and Migrant Ministry study trip on farmworker issues in New York State.
  • Campus-Community Partnerships: we facilitate connections between students and local synagogues, temples, mosques, churches, and monasteries.

Arts and Celebration

We encourage students to develop skills for creating public art and also to take time for reflection.

  • Walking Meditation: a monthly event; silent walking meditation through a spiral of paper luminaria on the Chapel lawn.
  • Coffeehouse: an annual fall gathering where student groups showcase their talents and share poems, songs, skits, and other performances around a theme chosen by our interns.
  • Religious and Spiritual Life Day: a yearly gathering to celebrate religious and spiritual life on the Vassar campus.

Walking Meditation Among Paper Lanterns

Get yourself walking
toward yourself.

Genesis 12:1

Welcome to this candle-lit walking meditation. It is a variation of an ancient practice found in different forms in many religious traditions around the world. Walking this simple spiral path may enable you to quiet your mind, to awaken your senses, to develop what the secular mystic Simone Weil called “the faculty of attention,” which she insisted is the essence of prayer. Through the practice of walking meditation, many people discover a new way of listening to the questions of their lives.

When God calls Abraham to a new homeland and way of life, God uses the words lech lecha a paradoxical Hebrew phrase. It can mean, as Arthur Waskow suggests, “get yourself walking toward yourself” or, more imaginatively, “reach out in order to find your innermost being.” The phrase points to the power and mystery of walking as a metaphor for the spiritual life and suggests an understanding of spiritual striving as taking the shape of a spiral path. Each step forms a link in a path that moves both forward and backward—back to traditions, familiar understandings, to what has been; forward into the world, the new, into what is to come.

Walking Thoughts

Writer and Labyrinth—workshop leader Lauren Artress offers several different approaches to walking meditation that you may want to consider.

Asking a Question—you may want to take a moment to consider where you are in your life before you begin. Perhaps a question you are asking, or a challenge you are facing will surface for you to reflect upon as you walk.

Repeating a Phrase—a common form of meditation is to repeat a word, a brief-phrase or prayer, or a sacred text. Some people repeat one of the names for God; others have used this Buddhist meditation:

May I dwell in the heart
May I be free from suffering
May I be healed
May I be at peace

Attentiveness—you may simply walk the path as a means of allowing all of your senses to come alive, paying attention to what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

Finding your own Pace—whatever approach you choose, feel free to walk at your own pace and in your own way, without any sense of strict rules that need to be followed. Walking meditation seems to work best when you walk alone, allowing each person to give the full range of their attention to what they are feeling, sensing, and thinking; feel free to stop and stand still or to pass others on the path, and do not worry if others are passing you.

For more information about our program, contact Sam Speers, Director, Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices, Vassar College (845) 437-5550.