The NYU community comes from over 130 countries and represents countless backgrounds, beliefs, and identities. That is why exploring intersection and cooperation is an important priority for many of our clubs and organizations. Take our multifaith groups, for example. Mosaic serves students of color of all spiritual persuasions, while Queering Faith is a safe space for students to explore intersections of faith, unfaith, sexuality, and gender. Through Bridges and MuCH, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian students can engage in interfaith dialogue. All of these are housed within the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership, a coalition of students, staff, and fellows that fosters dialogue and service across religions. Through training sessions, academic education, and events, Of Many equips the next generation of multifaith leaders on campus and beyond.
It Started with a Friendship
Rabbi Yehuda Sarna joined NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life as a chaplain in 2002. A few years later, the Islamic Center at NYU invited him to join a teach-in led by Imam Khalid Latif. The focus was a series of inflammatory cartoons. Published by a Danish newspaper, they depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist. At the end of the session, Latif led some of the Muslim students in their sunset prayers on the street outside. Sarna stood next to them in solidarity, praying alongside. The moment cemented a friendship between Sarna and Latif that has grown over the last 15 years.
Since then, Latif and Sarna continue to facilitate interfaith dialogue among students, especially in response to religious conflict in the Middle East. Together, along with former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and NYU vice chancellor and senior vice provost for global programs and university life Linda Mills, they officially launched the Of Many Institute in 2012. Its mission focuses on education, leadership, and action. “We teach our students that you not only come together and talk but also come together and do,” says Latif.
Of Many: Then and Now
Coming Together for Action
The year Latif and Sarna first met was also the year of Hurricane Katrina. Embracing the principle of service shared by their religions, they led a group of Muslim and Jewish students to aid in rebuilding New Orleans. The Bridges Interfaith trip is the legacy of that initial venture. Shoshana Ehrenkranz, Class of 2021, participated in the trip as a first-year student. “I went to a Jewish school my whole life. I knew going into NYU that I wanted to explore clubs that would allow me to be part of interfaith conversations,” she says.
On Shoshana’s Bridges Interfaith trip, they traveled to Houston, Texas, to volunteer in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The group consisted of five Muslim students and five Jewish students. On the trip they split their time between meaningful dialogue and volunteer work. “In addition to meeting admirable faith leaders, I made some of my best friends on that trip,” she says.
Shoshana also serves on the Student Multifaith Advisory Council (SMAC), another Of Many initiative. SMAC consists of eight students of diverse religious backgrounds who spend a year planning and executing a group project. “Currently, we’re brainstorming how we can leverage our combined backgrounds, faiths, and spiritualities. We want to invest in a project focused on social justice, community development, or a combination of the two,” she says.
Another SMAC member, Nick Gordon, Class of 2022, identifies as both Episcopalian and gay. His church supported his coming out process, and he is interested in learning more about how other religions support or reject LGBTQ+ identifying members. “The opportunity to work toward creating more of a sense of belonging for people through the lens of faith is really exciting for me as I pursue leadership within my own faith communities,” he says. Nick is currently minoring in Multifaith and Spiritual Leadership. Of Many, the Silver School of Social Work, and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service cosponsor this innovative minor.
“An interfaith relationship means being there for each other, showing up to each others’ events—not just talking about them.”—Sangeetha Kowsik, Hindu Chaplain
Rooted in Education
Another educational initiative offered by Of Many is its Faith Zone Training sessions. Open to everyone at NYU, these workshops equip people with skills to facilitate safe and honest conversations around religion. Meanwhile, fellowships offered through the Institute allow NYU chaplains and campus partners to pursue yearlong projects that promote religious literacy and multifaith collaboration on campus.
As well as being a Hindu chaplain on campus, Sangeetha Kowsik is a practicing designer. Her fellowship project incorporates Hindu identity and Arabic calligraphy, something in which she is formally trained. “It is very important that Hindus and Muslims have open dialogue in the United States,” she says. “Folks tend to forget that India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Iran were all one before colonization.” Through her work as an artist and a religious leader, she aims to combat stereotypes. “I celebrated four Eids this year! Plus Easter and Passover. An interfaith relationship means being there for each other, showing up to each others’ events—not just talking about them.”