Although Seton Hall is a diocesan university under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, it accepts students of all faiths.
According to the Seton Hall website, about 70 percent of students are Catholic, however the university promotes its commitment to fostering universal values and creating an environment that encourages dialogue, acceptance and respect.
Vinay Trambadia, a junior accounting and finance major, practices Swaminarayan-Hinduism and considers himself to be religious. His parents are from India, but have been living in America for more than 25 years. Trambadia was born and raised in New Jersey.
Though he is religious now, he was not always so devout.
“I am more religious now than I was in high school, partially due to the fact that I’m older and more mature now,” he said. “Attending Seton Hall has helped me realize that I do not need to fit into a specific persona but I can truly be myself.”
Trambadia said that during college he decided to fully immerse himself in his religion and become one with it.
“Hinduism believes in the concept of ahimsa, which means non-violence and compassion,” Trambadia said.
Dr. Chad Thralls, a teaching fellow and professor of the Core Curriculum, said that the main difference between the Catholic faith and the Hindu faith is that Hindus have an appreciation of multiple pathways to God and Catholics have just one, Jesus.
Thralls added that Hindus have millions of intermediaries, believe in reincarnation, and live by the caste system, which gives them different values and respect for all living things.
Trambadia said that the university encourages acceptance and he feels happy and accepted at Seton Hall.
“There have been times when I felt uncomfortable, but in general, in my two years here, I feel accepted,” he said. “In fact, attending a religious school motivates me to believe in my faith more and become a better person.”
The fact that Seton Hall is a Catholic school did not deter Trambadia from attending. Rather, he embraced everything that SHU had to offer.
For instance, the Core Curriculum requires students to study various Catholic texts in their Journey of Transformation, Christianity and Culture in Dialogue and Engaging the World classes.
Dr. Nancy Enright, associate professor of English and Catholic studies, said the Journey of Transformation class in particular focuses attention on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II declaration that outlines the Catholic Church’s position with regards to other religions.
“It shows how all religions have much in common in that they seek to address central questions we all have including what it means to be human, the difference between good and evil and if there is an afterlife,” Enright said.
Trambadia agreed that studying such documents enhances and informs his own beliefs. “Reading Catholic texts in class, or just hearing about it from friends, inspires me to go further in my religion,” he said.
Enright added that the Core classes are structured to include various texts from the Catholic and Christian tradition as well as texts from other traditions, like the works of Plato and the Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu scripture.
“A non-Catholic can certainly get a lot out of this kind of dialogue,” Enright said. “The key thing is to get students to enter into the conversation, considering their own beliefs.”
Despite the University’s efforts at inclusion, Trambadia said that there have been moments during his time at Seton Hall where he has felt isolated because of his religion.
“I came from a different background than many others here, so sometimes I felt uncomfortable sitting in classes where professors would ask us about Christian beliefs, readings and more,” he said. “It would be more difficult to participate in class because it felt like the question and topics did not pertain to me. However, I did try to keep an open mind and learn as much as I could from class.”
Although the feeling of isolation has occurred for Trambadia, he said “everyone faces [isolation] once in awhile.”
SHU’s social climate helped Trambadia quickly adjust to a new environment and he was able to find friends who accepted him for who he was, even though he is not Catholic.
Though there is not a place for Trambadia to worship on campus, he worships at Mandir, a Hindu temple in Clifton, N.J. and tries to go every weekend.
Christina Simon, the Student Government Association (SGA) secretary, said there are many clubs on campus that celebrate faiths other than Catholicism.
“There are also a large number of clubs who celebrate various cultures and ethnicities,” Simon said. “Often, these clubs hold events that are open to everyone in the campus community regardless of their religion or ethnicity which is a great way to promote diversity on campus and learn about other cultures, like the Jewish Student Association.”
Although there is not a club for the various sects of the Hindu religion, Simon said the diversity of SHU’s community will only grow if students fill out the application to start a new club.
“SGA values the sense of diversity and community on our campus,” she said.
Trambadia said he does not let the differences he faces at SHU define him or cause any conflicts. Rather he uses it as an opportunity to improve upon his own religious life.
This is the first article in an occassional series about different religions at Seton Hall.
Rebecca White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Haley Zenna can be reached at email@example.com.