WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — Georgetown University, a Jesuit-run private college in the nation’s capital, became the first college in the U.S. to hire a hindu priest as the school’s chaplain — Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan, led his first worship service for students Sunday.
Other universities have employed Hindu monks, who have less training than priests, or have enlisted lay people to work as chaplains for Hindu students, Georgetown officials said.
Founded as a Catholic college and still profoundly dedicated to its religious purpose, officials of the Jesuit institution said being at the forefront of educating the nation’s youth about different religions should not be counterintuitive. “Part of our mission and our ethos is our desire to form the whole person,” said the Rev. Greg Schenden, a Catholic chaplain at the university. Georgetown seeks to provide its students with spiritual growth during their time in college — and that means all students, not just the Catholic ones.
As evidence, the university also keeps a rabbi and imam on staff as chaplains, as well. However, with 300 Hindu students across its undergraduate and graduate schools, the university felt it necessary for a Hindu chaplain to foster those youths’ religious growth as well. “It wasn’t just to say, ‘Oh, we got one here,’ ” Schenden said. “It was, ‘Oh, we need one here.’ ”
Sharan led puja, the weekly worship service that students have been leading on their own for years. In traditional white garb, he chanted Sanskrit mantras while playing the harmonium, pausing frequently for student-friendly explanations of the rituals.
Neharika Khandavalli, a senior, has attended puja at Georgetown for three years, and she proclaimed the service that Sharan led the very best one. “It couldn’t have gone better,” she said afterward. “All of us students, we’re religious and Hindu, but we wouldn’t have been able to do what Brahmachari-ji did.”
Having trained as a priest at ashrams in India, then completed his PhD in Sanskrit at the University of Edinburgh and taught at universities in Wales and London, Sharan is well equipped to enrich Georgetown students’ Hindu education. During Sunday’s service, he explained several mantras and the personages of a few Hindu gods. He discussed the debate between Hindus on whether the religion has hundreds or even millions of gods, or one Supreme Being who appears in many forms.
A Hindu priest at Georgetown, Sharan said, is “very, very surprising. It’s a testament to their commitment and not simply lip service.” Yet he said his new job fits the school’s philosophy: “They would like students to leave Georgetown with a deeper understanding of their spiritual self and their place in an interreligious society.”