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NYU's Religious Groups to Unite Under One Roof at Spiritual Center

By Andrea Swalec | February 27, 2012 8:23am
NYU's Center for Academic and Spiritual Life was built in response to a need for more academic, religious and spiritual spaces for students.
NYU's Center for Academic and Spiritual Life was built in response to a need for more academic, religious and spiritual spaces for students.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

GREENWICH VILLAGE —  They can all just get along.

After years of being scattered across NYU's campus, the university's more than 40 religious and spiritual groups will come together under one custom-made roof this fall with the opening of the Center for Academic and Spiritual Life.

DNAinfo took a preview tour of the five-story building that will be shared by Catholic, Muslim and Jewish groups, among others, and found a host of amenities including a blue-walled meditation room for yoga, reiki and quiet contemplation and ablution rooms to be used for washing before Muslim prayer.

The center at 58 Washington Square South, near Thompson Street, will draw the university's spiritual groups closer to each other, according to Marcella Runell Hall, interim director for NYU's Center for Multicultural Education and Programs.

NYU's Center for Academic and Spiritual Life overlooks Washington Square Park.
NYU's Center for Academic and Spiritual Life overlooks Washington Square Park.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

"This is an opportunity for authentic relationship-building," Hall said. "The center helps create a really valuable bond for groups to share programming and resources."

Father McGuire, director of the Catholic Center at NYU, which is among the groups that will be housed inside the center, said the building will allow groups to strengthen their bonds.  

"We already have a very good relationship together," he said. "Sharing a common site together for the first time will enhance that." 

Imam Khalid Latif of the Islamic Center at NYU said the longtime collaboration among NYU's spiritual groups will be enhanced by having the hub. His center occupies a portion of the fourth floor, which also houses a shared prayer space and an shared office space for the leaders all of the religious organizations.

Latif moved into the space earlier this year, after running his center from the basement of the Church of St. Joseph's on Sixth Avenue for many years.

"This building will enable shared programming and services to move forth steadily, for us to learn better together and to strike up conversations," said Latif.

David Rittberg, executive director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, also extolled the virtues of shared religious spaces. 

"We're very much interested in the multi-faith, pluralistic universe that is NYU," he said. "We hope to use the space to convene people."

Hall said the center was built in response to a shortage of religious spaces on campus, and to create additional academic space, which is the goal of NYU's massive 20-year expansion plan currently under public review.

Architects at Machado and Silvetti Associates worked with student religious clubs to design spaces to meet student needs, Hall said.

The large fourth-floor prayer room for all faiths has prayer mats and screens that can be used to separate men and women during Muslim prayer, as well as meditation chairs. Down the hall are men's and women's ablution rooms with floor-level sinks and benches specially designed for Muslims to wash their hands and feet before prayer.

A small meditation room with gentle lighting on a dimmer switch is located down the hall from the prayer room. Yoga, meditation and reiki classes will be held there, Hall said.

The Catholic Center at NYU, which will be run by the Archdiocese of New York, is currently under construction on the building's first floor. The Catholic Center will include a 175-seat chapel with an altar in dark green marble, a lecture hall, a meeting room and a walnut-paneled common room with a fireplace, McGuire said. 

The university's previous Catholic Center was razed in 2009 to make way for the Center for Academic and Spiritual Life.

The building, which connects to the neighboring Kimmel Center on every floor, also has 20 classrooms equipped with projectors and computers for instructors, as well as an auditorium in the basement with more than 250 seats and a warren of 23 music practice rooms.

The center is expected to be completed and open to the student body in the fall, university spokesman James Devitt said.