Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXXI - Issue 4 - News
Changing Role of Memorial Church
by Aliyya Haque
News Staff Writer
Stanford's Memorial Church has undergone major changes within the past century, especially due to several damaging earthquakes. However, the most notable change to the building affectionately known as "MemChu" occurred within the past few decades and was not physical; it was the replacement of the Memorial Church's doctrine from a non-denominational Protestant Christian ideology to an all-encompassing multi-faith idea. Although the change mainly took place over the past two decades, diversity among Stanford's religious groups can be traced back to the 1950's.
The Stanford Historical Society presented a lecture Tuesday, October 21st, in the Oak West lounge of Tresidder Memorial Union, discussing Memorial Church's changing role. The panel included Professor Robert Gregg, Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, and Mr. Imran Maskatia. Professor Gregg is the Moore Professor in Religious Studies and former Dean for Religious Life. He also has been named director of the new Islamic studies program established earlier this year. Rabbi Karlin-Neumann is the Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life. Mr. Maskatia is a Stanford alumnus, former President of the Islamic Society of Stanford University (ISSU) and ASSU senator. He is currently a software engineer in the local area.
"Memorial Church stands for the piety of one women, Jane Stanford," stated Rabbi Karlin-Neumann. Memorial Church, built by Jane Stanford in memory of Leland Stanford, was completed and dedicated in 1903. The Stanfords were not committed to any one religious affiliation and were advised by friends, including Andrew White, president of Cornell University, not to associate Stanford with any Church organization. Mrs. Stanford did however place a stipulation on the university stating that religious services on campus were to be held only in Memorial Church. In 1973, Stanford's Board of Trustees went through legal action to designate Memorial Church for all religious groups, and it remains so today.
"Even now though," remarks Professor Gregg, "Stanford has a problem providing appropriate worship space for all religions. Memorial Church tends to be aggressive in its Christian iconography." On the other hand, Mr. Maskatia commented on the coincidence between the position of Memorial Church and Palm Drive; he stated, "that both [Memorial Church and Palm Drive] happen to be aligned to the North in almost the exact direction in which we [Muslims] pray."
Professor Gregg has played a large role in Memorial Church's change from non-denominational to an all-encompassing multi-faith church. During his years at Stanford, Professor Gregg is said to have sharply increased the comfort level of religious life for those who are not Christian on campus. "Memorial Church now represents a multi-faith venue, where the voices of other religious traditions can now be heard," said Professor Gregg.
Professor Gregg came to Stanford due to his interest in racial-religious and cultural diversity. "I've learned about so many different groups and people in this place [Stanford]," he says. Professor Gregg has also reconfigured the clergy by hiring staff members from different religions, including Rabbi Karlin-Neumann. "Our staff meetings were very interesting," recalls Professor Gregg, "We all came from different perspectives, and our discussions were so intellectually challenging."
Memorial Church's change from non-denominational to multi-faith church has brought some to question if the integrity of Jane Stanford's vision remains intact. "What we have to ask is whether the Stanford's would still recognize their mission in Memorial Church today," Professor Gregg remarked. This has become a somewhat controversial point of debate, although the majority of people seem support the opening up of Memorial Church to all religions. Professor Gregg and the Office of Religious Life reason that the Stanfords' original intention of non-denominationalism would be considered in today's world to mean multi-faith and that they would approve of the direction Memorial Church has taken today.
When the question of opening up Memorial Church to all religions initially arose in the 1960's however, the Board of Trustees, who believed that a multi-faith church was against what Jane Stanford would have wanted, met the idea with resistance. "There was always a concern for Mrs. Stanford's wishes," Professor Gregg says. Eventually the change did occur, in some part due to a strong push from the ASSU on the grounds of increasing the diversity of Stanford.
Memorial Church's change from non-denominational to multi-faith also mirrors the growth of Stanford's Religious Studies program. "Students do a great deal of religious experimentation in college, many of them for the first time," says Rabbi Karlin-Neumann, "And Stanford has a broad range of religions to choose from." Presently, with its recent $9 million endowment, the Islamic Studies program is ready to join the ranks of Stanford's Religious Studies program. Says Professor Gregg, "Stanford can now say that it is truly religious diverse."
Page last modified on Thursday, 02-Mar-2006 00:26:11 MST.