Chaplains and Religious Life

What We Do

Living, studying, and working within a rigorous academic community prompt and require responses to a host of profound questions.

The chaplains' work is rooted in the care of the whole person—body, soul and spirit. As such, a core mission of every chaplain is to make available pastoral care and advisement for any member of the Brown community—students, staff, faculty, and alumni; solve problems; ease discomfort; and function as an advocate for faculty, staff, students and alumni/ae. This can happen through individual counsel, interventions in emergencies (both academic and personal), programming on critical spiritual themes or concerns, and presiding at key life rituals. The latter includes everything from weekly services to weddings/unions, baptism/blessing of children, and memorial or funeral rites. The composite of the chaplains' work in this area includes care for many hundreds of community members.Chapel Panel Talk_10-31-22

Another key part of the chaplains' mission is to increase religious literacy within the Brown community. Thus, OCRL is guided by the same core principles as articulated in Liberal Learning at Brown— "to remain open—to people ideas, and experiences that may be entirely new. By cultivating such openness, you will learn to make the most of the freedom you have, and to chart the broadest possible intellectual journey."  

Furthermore, the office supports religious diversity and promotes more nuanced knowledge of and acquaintance with religious practice and topics. It dives deeply into the complexity of religious identity through interfaith dialogue, multifaith collaborations, and other service beyond the Van Wickle Gates. 

History of the Chaplaincy

The character of Brown's chaplaincy has shifted with the life of University itself, especially during the past sixty years. Brown presidents until 1926 were ordained Baptist ministers, and Brown's religious life until the 1950s was largely concerned with compulsory chapel attendance (or the lack thereof) and the ad hoc organization of various religious groups.

In 1952, however, a special committee of the Corporation recommended the formation of a formal chaplaincy, thus recognizing that the chaplain was “an important official of the University, a spiritual counsellor [sic] to the entire student body, and an overall supervisor of all religious activities of the University including the chapel services and relations with neighboring churches.” (Encyclopedia Brunoniana, “Chapel”).

During the past fifty-seven years, the Corporation's mandate has evolved; the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life (OCRL) has become a key collaborator in the University's mission to "embrace" diversity and expand students' intellectual life as well as their "moral core" (Liberal Learning Goals - "Engage with your communities"). The chaplaincy accomplishes this expanded mission while staying close to its historic role as spiritual counselor to the Brown community.

In 2008, the Office moved from its long-time location in Faunce House across Waterman Street to what is now known as Page-Robinson Hall (formerly J. Walter Wilson Building). In this setting, which overlooks the former Faunce offices, the chaplaincy is now located in the heart of student activities. The building, a former laboratory, was completely rehabilitated to serve as a hub for student support services and classrooms. The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life continue to make this new setting a center for religious and spiritual life at Brown.

Read about the history of Manning Hall and its Chapel.