By Christian Todd
News and Opinion Editor
A sunny day on a quiet, calm April morning in 2018. On the edge of Chicago, a large dome-shaped building rises high to the blue sky, and at the bottom of the building, a long row of stairs lead up to large doors. Inside the building, a tall, round room is filled with chairs that form an almost perfect circle around the speaker’s area. The exterior and the interior of this building convey a weighty sense of importance because this is the only Baha’i temple in North America.
The Baha’i Temple of Worship is just one stop made by the students in Rochester University’s World Religions class during an annual spring trip to Chicago. Dr. Keith Huey, professor of religion, teaches the class and oversees the trip. “If you’re going to go to Chicago, then the Baha’i Temple is a must-see,” Huey said.
Baha’i is one of the most popular religions in the world. Rainn Wilson, most commonly known as Dwight Schrute from NBC’s "The Office", is a practicing member. The religion is influenced by other religions, and for meetings, members gather in each other’s homes.
Each year, Huey selects different places of faith for his class to visit. In addition to the Baha’i temple, the class group visits a mosque, Hindu temple, Sikh gurdwara and Buddhist center. Huey said the trip to Chicago to visit houses of worship makes so much more of an impact than simply having students write research papers. He hopes the Chicago experience helps students start to understand and appreciate the layers of other religions.
“I want them to put a human face to the religious traditions we talked about, and I bring in guests to class so that they can do that just a bit. But I want them to see, instead of just talking about Hindus worshipping Vishnu, I want them to actually see people,” he said.
Elizabeth Fahling, a junior accounting major who went on the trip in 2018, said, “I learned what places of worship and worship [practices] look like for different religions. It was helpful to see them in person and to meet some of the people who practice these religions and hear, in their own words, what it meant to them.”
Huey said he understands that students might not be sure about the different faiths and beliefs, but he wants his students to understand them so that they can view those who practice these religions in a sympathetic light.
“There are a lot of religions that I didn’t even know existed and learning about them was really interesting," said Amber Luma, a sophomore theatre major, who is taking World Religions in spring 2020.
Huey appreciates how the various places of worship have been welcoming to RU students. The hosts have been respectful of the beliefs of the students visiting and welcome them with open arms. The students are able to experience friendly environments that allow them to see what each of these religions offers in terms of tradition and worship.
While Detroit has many of the same places of worship as the Windy City, Huey said he prefers taking his class to Chicago because it allows students to get out of state and to feel that they are not just rooted in the state of Michigan. Toronto is another option for a location to visit, but then students would have to worry about obtaining passports, he said. RU faculty also are invited to travel to Chicago with the students.
In addition to the Chicago trip, the class occasionally visits other places of worship or events in the Detroit area. For example, the Dalai Lama spoke at the University of Michigan one year and the class went to listen to his speech. Students sometimes visit Jewish synagogues, but a detriment to that is while the visit is informative, much of the sermon is not in English.
Huey started taking his World Religions class to Chicago in 2002. He said he always looks forward to introducing students to new ideas and concepts about the diverse field of religions.