Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans: these are the usual foods that come to mind when one recalls Thanksgiving, perhaps the quintessential American holiday. They are staples, the things of tradition; they are supposed to adorn every table nationwide. But considering that America is, above all, a melting pot of many cultures, then shouldn’t a Thanksgiving dinner--the most literal translation of that melting pot--be more varied, with different foods representing those many different cultures?
On November 16, the Hamilton Spirituality Initiative held a feast truly in the “spirit” of America: a Thanksgiving dinner in which people of all faiths contributed foodstuffs that were characteristic of their respective backgrounds and ideologies. For example, Jewish members of the Initiative brought items like challah bread and kugel; pagan members brought venison and cornmeal; Muslim members brought daal. Other foods on the table included collard greens, macaroni and cheese, quiche, beans, pies, and tarts. “Spirituality is something that should bring us together, not tear us apart,” said Lauren Lanzotti ’14, president of the Initiative. “We want to bridge the gap between the spiritual groups on campus.”
“We are essentially a dialogue group that meets biweekly to discuss controversial topics regarding faith,” said Lanzotti. The Initiative itself is comprised of about 12 students and faculty members (including the College Chaplain Jeffrey McArn and Hillel advisor Anat Guez). But within that modest number is a great variety of different ideologies: beliefs represented include paganism, atheism, Christian Protestantism and Unitarian Universalism, just to name a few.
Originally, the Initiative was called the Interfaith Dialogue, but “we renamed it because ‘faith’ felt exclusive. Toward agnostics, for example,” said Lanzotti. “We wanted to include those who don’t identify with a specific faith. Everyone is free to talk about spirituality without a label. Most of our dialogues aren’t ‘I am Jewish this,’ or ‘I am Muslim that’ but instead, ‘this is how I feel and maybe it’s because of my roots.’”
A recent meeting of the Initiative focused on how different members experience the holiday season. “For example, we talked about how Buddhists don't necessarily celebrate Thanksgiving itself, but rather give thanks through prayer,” said Lanzotti. In the past, the Initiative has discussed such topics as music, sexuality and the repercussions and prevention of hate crimes. It has also hosted pointed meditation sessions which encompassed Zen Buddhist meditation (“based on focusing your mind,” said Lanzotti), Catholic meditation, and pagan meditation (“based on cleansing your soul”).
“It’s important that nobody is preaching,” said Lanzotti. “Everyone comes to have an open minded discussion; everyone wants to learn from each other. You're not learning from a textbook, you're learning from other people.”
When students return from winter break, the Spirituality Initiative will begin preparing for Spirituality 101 Week, in the last week of January. An event will be held each day, including routines by Jewish and Muslim comedians, more meditation sessions and a visit to a local monastery. “We hope to help students experience cultures outside of their own, outside of classes,” said Lanzotti.