News / USA

Hindu Lawyer, Religion Scholar Oversees Religious Life at USC

TEXT SIZE - +
Mike O'Sullivan

As American universities become increasingly diverse, the job of supporting the spiritual life of students has become more complex.  Many universities have chaplains and faith-based clubs, often overseen by a school official called the dean of religious life.  The man who fills that post at the University of Southern California is Indian-born lawyer and religion scholar Varun Soni, who says he relishes the challenge.  

Varun Soni coordinates the USC chaplain corps of 50 clergymen and women of various faiths, who offer counseling and conduct religious services.  Yet he is not ordained himself.  He is a lawyer, religion scholar, and entrepreneur who once ran an India-based business that did legal work for American high tech firms.  He’s also Hindu.

“It is unusual for someone like me to be in a position like this.  I’m the first Hindu in American history to be the chief religious or spiritual leader of a university.  I’m the only non-Christian currently serving in this capacity," he said.

Soni admits that, like many of his friends of other faiths, he grew up in the United States somewhat disconnected from his religious heritage.  His family did celebrate Hindu holidays. “Theologically or scripturally, we didn't know much about our own tradition.  And in fact, it wasn't until I got to college that I really began to study Hinduism and Buddhism, that I really began to learn about my own [religious] traditions," he said.

He studied Buddhism in Bodhgaya, India, the place where the Buddha was said to have been enlightened.  Soni would later complete a doctorate in religious studies.

He taught law for a time, but since his appointment as USC’s primary spiritual leader three years ago, Soni says, he enjoys the chance to interact with students on a more personal level. “When I look and reflect upon my own college career, I realize that the transformative moments in my life that really shaped the trajectory of my life often happened outside the classroom.  They happened in conversations with friends, they happen for our students through their fraternity or sorority experiences, through their study abroad experiences, though athletics, through community service," he said.

He says community service projects in low-income neighborhoods bring together students from many religious backgrounds. “What we see is that our generation of students [is] less interested in traditional religious service and doctrine, and more interested in community service and religious experience and engagement and conversation," he said.

He notes that many students today say that they are spiritual, but not religious, and that college chaplains have adapted to the change. “And the way we've addressed this is that we've oriented our office not around God, but around meaning and purpose, and the ultimate questions that students and in fact all of us ask; the questions that connect us as humans: why am I here, what is my purpose, what does it all mean?”

What it means, he suggests, is that members of this so-called Millennial Generation want to find fulfilling work. “Our students aren't just interested in being physicians.  They want to be global health practitioners.  They're not just interested in being business people.  They want to be social entrepreneurs," he said.

Varun Soni says Indian Americans are branching out beyond such professions as medicine, law and engineering. “Now Indian Americans and Hindu Americans who grew up in the United States have so many prominent role models in the public sphere.  There are governors and writers and actors and innovators and entrepreneurs, as well as physicians and lawyers and engineers.  So I think for Indian Americans growing up today, they can do more things because there’s a path," he said.

He says some may even, like him, aspire to become the dean of religion on a university campus.

You May Like

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid