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Religion CCE: A Recap

Though Packer prides itself on talking candidly and consistently about the many identifiers that affect the way students move through the world, one is often left undiscussed: religious affiliation. Julian Isikoff (‘20) and Jolie Krebs (‘20) decided to break this unfortunate pattern when, on Friday, November 2nd they led a CCE focused on the topic of religion.

The discussion moved in a variety of directions, but to start, Julian and Jolie set group norms and acknowledged that, both being Jewish, they as leaders lacked a variance of perspectives. In acknowledging the limited scope of their own perspective, Julian and Jolie encouraged others to do the same.

The discussion began with an analysis of a survey that was sent out to the entire Upper School student body regarding religious affiliation. Of the 96 students that responded, 66.7% of them had a religious affiliation, and of that 66.7% who associated with some religion, 46.9% were Jewish. Participants in the discussion were surprised by that statistic, as they had always assumed that Packer was a primarily Christian school; after further thought, some came to the conclusion that, due to the self-selective nature of the survey, Jewish students may have been more likely to respond than Christian ones.

After examining the results of the survey, the conversation shifted towards the question of how religion manifests itself at Packer. Many students said that though they had never experienced blatant religious prejudice at school, they had been subject to jokes and other microaggressions of a similar nature that made them uncomfortable. As to why the topic is not widely discussed, participants pointed out that being religious, or believing in God, is often equated with idiocy and a lack of scientific understanding.

Given that Packer is a relatively liberal environment and that, as a result of political factors, being religious and being liberal can sometimes seem incongruous, a liberal student being open about the level to which they practice religion may cause some others to question the validity of their liberal values.

There is “prejudice against religion as a concept,” said one student, who was met with a chorus of head nods.

“Because religion is swept under the rug here, you leave that part of your identity at the door,” said another. One aspect of religion that differentiates it from other identifiers, such as race, is that, for some, it is possible to hide their religion and have freedom over to whom they choose to disclose their beliefs. Since some religions are privileged over others, disclosing one’s religion has the potential to strip them of power, which further contributes to a general lack of discussion surrounding the subject.

Some Christian students and faculty members who attended the discussion explained that the current political climate has complicated their relationship to the degrees to which they express their Christianity.

“I often feel embarrassed for my Christian faith, which is hard because it’s something I love so much,” said one faculty member.

Echoing a similar sentiment, a student said that she sometimes “feel[s] like [she] has to apologize for [her] Christianity.”

Though Christianity was discussed to an extent, the conversation was dominated by Jewish students and the unique challenges that accompany being a Jew. The tragic shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was discussed, along with a recent increase in anti-semitic hate crimes.

Clear throughout the course of the discussion was that many students had never gotten to voice these feelings before, and were grateful for the opportunity. Hoping to take what was learned inside of that room out of it and further delve into the subject of religion at Packer, Julian and Jolie will be hosting a debrief of the conversation on Tuesday, November 6th.

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