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reed magazine logoSpring 2008

The early history of the college appears to support his point. Pews still grace Eliot chapel, and though the original organ is gone, the space once reverberated to the sermons of college presidents and trustees, including Thomas Lamb Eliot, a leading Unitarian minister in Portland.

But many faculty members argue that college employees—faculty, deans, and administrators—have no business engaging in the religious life of students. They say that the stance of the institution should more properly be strict neutrality when it comes to religion.

In response to the spiritual listening project and the issues raised by it —including the use of college facilities by off-campus groups that minister to students—several members of the Reed religion department circulated a letter last year calling for the establishment of clearer religious guidelines for the college. (Faculty members involved in the effort declined to be interviewed on the record for this story.) Two resulting faculty resolutions were approved at the end of the 2006–07 academic year (see sidebar, Reed Faculty Take "Spiritual Listening" to Task).

Diver readily admits that he and Moore have been “chastened” by the faculty rebuke. The administration isn’t likely to broach the topic again soon, and will avoid even innocuous questions like whether the college can arrange rides to church or synagogue for students. But Diver believes that in time, these and other services will come to Reed. “The overwhelming reality is that more of our students are going to be interested in religion and practicing religion,” he says. “And they’ll be asking the college for support.”

In the Beginning…
If you went to Reed, you probably heard the one about the football game from back when the college actually had a football team. Reed was playing Multnomah School of the Bible, recalls Ken Raymond ’64, now chair of the chemistry department at UC Berkeley. He remembers a fall day, probably in 1963, on the field by the running track.

The bible college had brought real cheerleaders. Their uniforms and pom-poms were bad enough. But at half-time, they provoked the home team, chanting “Beat those beatniks! Beat those beatniks!” Reedies in the stands responded by forming a shaggy conga line that spiraled across the field. At its head a Reed student carried a large crucifix; behind, a long line of students stomped in time shouting their own impromptu chant: “Sin!” [step, step] “Sin!” [step, step].

Once or twice a week, on the top floor of Eliot Hall,
about a dozen students meet for a Zen meditation session
led by a Buddhist priest. The student coordinator is
Jordan Kohn ’09, who says he enjoys meditating with others. “There’s more energy being part of a group.”

“I was on the sidelines,” Raymond remembers, “cheering and observing all this with amusement. I have no recollection of who won, but I know it got Reed kicked out of the football league.” The attitude seems pure Reed—but not the Reed of the earliest years.

From the start, services were held in the chapel six days a week and were open to the public. (For more on the history of religion at Reed, see this history compiled by the religion department.) Printed programs show a heavy rotation of musical selections and inspirational lectures; Sundays featured distinguished guest speakers and scripture reading.

But the chapel activity raised questions from early on. In 1925, the Quest published an editorial that concluded:

During the four hours of morning work, the student goes through a course calculated to overthrow every moss-backed religious idea which has survived high school, yet, on entering chapel he is greeted with a setting worthy of opening exercises of the Hunkville Endeavor. We fail to see the point in this—no student is likely to have his childhood faith reestablished by Puritan hymns and black robes, and we cannot see that our mental horizons are cleared by invoking the blessing of a discredited power upon a discussion of Krazy Kat or the Phi Beta Kappa.

We suggest that the students of a definite religious faith have a day of the week set aside for religious services, whether their faith take the symbol of the cross, the seven-branched candlestick, or the house emblem. The majority of the students, who are frankly of no religious convictions, would then be able to receive the saccharine tablet of chapel services without the quinine coating of rites surviving from discarded faiths.

reed magazine logoSpring 2008