Last week a panel of five people representing different religious views participated in a debate entitled "Making room for religion". Inspired by a Delta article on the topic of prayer rooms on campus, the event focused on whether or not TU Delft as a university should accommodate religion and religious practices.
At the beginning of the event, the moderators conducted a poll with the approximately 40 audience members. Four questions were asked, and a follow-up poll would be taken at the end of the debate to see if opinions changed. The questions were as follows: Should TU Delft offer prayer rooms? Should the university repeal the ban on face-covering religious clothing? Should the university accommodate religious needs in terms of planning exams around religious holidays? Should you be allowed to thank (a) god in your thesis or not? Each member of the panel was given three minutes to introduce their general perspective before being asked to address the four questions.
On the issue of prayer rooms, debater Ubeydullah Kaya, an aerospace student and one of the founders of the Turkish student association SV Hezarfen, said calling them "silent rooms" would be more politically correct. He argued that offering such rooms doesn't violate secularism, but instead could be a solution for many. "A survey showed that 90% of students have stress issues," he said, "so these rooms could be used for more than just prayer."
With regards to religious holidays, the point was made that during the last academic year exams fell during Ramadan, the time when Muslims fast during daylight hours. It was also noted that most Dutch holidays are based on the Christian faith. According to Stijn de Vreede, a bachelor‘s student in industrial design and chair of the JOVD (Dutch youth organisation for freedom and democracy), the university shouldn't facilitate religion, although freedom of religion is very important. "Our holidays are from a really long tradition," he said. "I’m not religious, but if you accommodate everyone it becomes complicated."
Despite constructive arguments on several of the issues, the second poll at the end revealed there was no significant change in the stance of the audience on the four questions. But the debate did make it clear that with the internationalisation of the TU Delft population, the conversation on religion on campus is not over.
This was the first in a series of debates jointly organised by TU Delta, Studium Generale and the TU Delft Debating Club. You can find information on future events on the Delta Facebook page.