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Experiencing Other Faiths to Find One's Own

If Gillian Siple had to describe herself in one word, it would be "spiritual." A senior at Davidson College in North Carolina, Siple spent the past year traveling and studying in Asia and Europe, immersing herself in religions other than her own.

Amid an abundance of information about religion easily available via the Internet and television, she says, "maybe the youth of today aren't sure if the way of their parents is perhaps the way that they want to follow, and I think that's wonderful."

With a small group of students, Siple, a religion major, lived in China, Thailand and India. She meditated in monasteries and ashrams, lived and studied among Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus — not your typical study-abroad program.

She remembers living at a meditation center in Thailand, wearing the traditional garb of a yogi. "I remember waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning and taking out my mat and I can remember just thinking, 'What if my friends saw me now? Would anyone recognize me? I am so far from the person and the life that I live back at Davidson right now. There's no remnant of that life on my body right now.'"

Even her faith began to fall away. She says that when she mediated, she felt an uncommon sense of peace. She wondered: Have I gone into this too deeply? Am I still a Christian, or am I becoming something else?

But back at Davidson College, she returned to the faith she knows best: Christianity. That faith is stronger now, she says. She attends prayer and fellowship meetings and heads an interfaith group on campus. She also meditates based on the teaching she learned in Thailand.

Siple calls herself a Christian pluralist, open to the possibility of the validity of other religious traditions.

After her tour of Asia, she spent a week at the Taize monastery in France, a place that attracts young people from around the world. In a Taize service, there is chanting and reading from scripture. But there are also long moments where more than 1,000 young adults sit quietly together in silence — not being told what to do.

"You do what you feel is right for your religious practice," Siple says. "I think that is what our generation is screaming for right now. People want not to be told what they should do, but to figure it out for themselves."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Judy Woodruff