From joining an LGBTQ Ramadan celebration to helping migrants at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church, Fordham students in the Religion in NYC course got a hands-on education in the work of New York’s faith communities.

Karina Hogan, Ph.D., associate professor of theology, said her goal for the course was to help students to understand and “actually experience” the diversity of religions across New York City. This is the second time the community engaged learning course was offered, but it was the first time that it had a theme of gender and sexuality, Hogan said.

Hogan said the course, offered at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, explored that theme through class discussions, community activities, and texts such as Father Patrick Cheng’s book From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ.

Speaking Openly about Religion

Francesca Rizzo, a rising senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill who is majoring in humanitarian studies and theology and minoring in peace and justice studies, liked that she could speak freely in the class.

“Both my peers and my professor were intent on building what we called ‘beloved community’—a space for us to talk about our experiences in an honest way,” she said.

Rebecca Hurson, FCRH ’23, who majored in sociology and minored in theology, said the course gave her insight into the complicated history between queer individuals and religious institutions, such as how some Catholic hospitals and nurses cared for patients during the AIDS epidemic.

“Queer religious people have always existed—there is a long history of queer religious people working with institutions,” she said.

Fordham students participate in The Center’s Iftar.

Partnering with Mosques, Churches, and Synagogues

The students were also matched with a community partner and required to participate in at least seven events or programs with them; Hogan said many did more. The community partnerships and events were arranged by Fordham’s Center for Community Engaged Learning, which helped develop the course.

Hurson worked most Mondays at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church’s resource fair for migrants and immigrants. They’ve recently been helping migrants who are getting bused to New York.

“People were lost and they started showing up to SPSA,” Hurson said. “People can take any clothes they need, emergency backpacks. They have a whole team of legal help to help with forms, and they have translators to help.”

A performance at the LGBTQ community Iftar at The Center.

Rizzo worked with Congregation Beit Simchat Torah and the Islamic Center at NYU.

“There were a lot of college-aged people there that are taking time out of their day to honor their own spirituality and honor their religious traditions,” Rizzo said about the Islamic Center, adding that it was powerful to see “multi generations learning about their faith side by side.”

Many students participated in the LGBTQ Community Iftar, a religious event that’s a part of Ramadan, held by the Center, an LGBTQ community center in NYC. It’s co-sponsored by many organizations, including Fordham and its Center for Community Engaged Learning.

“It was a very beautiful experience,” Hurson said. “It was very obvious how much it meant and for them to be in a room of Black, brown, queer Muslims—there’s not too many spaces where they can come together..”

New Yorkers Praying ‘Close Together’

Benedict Reilly, FCRH ’23, attended two Iftars—one at the Center and one at the Muhammad Ali Islamic Center, where he prayed salah, ”the traditional Muslim ritual prayers. The Iftar also inspired his final paper on how a prayer practice could be used to examine the relationship between topics like social justice and religious, gender, and sexual diversity.

“The practice of ‘closing the gaps’—coming physically close together to pray—stood out to me as a beautiful representation of community and inclusion,” said Reilly, a theology major with minors in Middle Eastern and humanitarian studies. “A Columbia Business School graduate prayed inches from an African refugee who, in turn, was inches from a local high schooler who was inches from me.”

Fordham students attended and participated in the LGBTQ community Iftar at The Center.