"Religion is like water" that flows through an individual's entire identity, intersecting with traits such as race, class, sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Mouhamadou Diagne, Bucknell's first chaplain for the Muslim community.
"Identity development and leadership development for youth are central to me," said Diagne, who joined Bucknell's Office of Chaplains & Religious Life on Oct. 16, after serving as assistant university chaplain at Columbia University for two years. "Given the current political climate, we need to promote religious literacy within a more intersectional framework."
Born in Senegal, Diagne was 12 years old and spoke no English when his family moved to the United States. However, he quickly distinguished himself academically and attended Carleton College in Minnesota as a Posse scholar, majoring in psychology and educational studies.
"My most significant experience was working in the chaplain's office," Diagne said. "Although, when offered the opportunity to do so, I initially said no."
Rethinking that decision helped to shift the focus of Diagne's life. Instead of pursuing a doctorate in education, as he'd planned, he attended Harvard Divinity School, where he earned a master of divinity degree in Islam and African religions.
Diagne said he worried about disappointing his parents by changing course. "But I couldn't let my fear control what I wanted to do, which was work with students and help them develop into their fullest selves."
"If you do what you're passionate about, and live passionately, success and rewards will follow," he added. "That's been my mantra, and I hope I can inspire more students to follow where their hearts and spirits lead."
Enhancing Diversity, Inclusion on Campus
As the first chaplain for the Muslim community at Bucknell, Diagne is positioned not only to create a welcoming environment for people of Muslim faith, but also to educate others and forge dialogue and partnerships with other religious groups on campus, Provost Barbara Altmann noted.
"Bucknell is deeply committed to diversity in all its forms, including religious beliefs," Altmann said. "Chaplain Diagne has a wonderful opportunity to ensure that our Muslim students feel supported in their faith and represented in University life. He brings strong professional experience and dedication to students, which will increase the vibrancy of campus culture in a way that benefits everyone."
Diagne plans to convene weekly gatherings of students, faculty and staff to discuss scripture, history and Muslim traditions, as well as personal experiences. In addition, he's developing a lecture series to bring speakers from a range of backgrounds to campus to examine unity and diversity within Islam.
Diagne also hopes to make a new Muslim Prayer Room, located in the South Campus Apartments, a hub for students.
"It's not just a prayer space," Diagne said, explaining that, along with a room dedicated to prayer, the suite features a full kitchen, a living room with a television and a study space. "It's a very inclusive space for Muslim students to be in community with one another and pray in a quiet environment."
Diagne added that the three faith-related houses on St. George Street — the Berelson Center for Jewish Life, Fellowship House and Newman House — are already vibrant gathering spots. "It follows that Muslim life should have a similar space to build a community," he said. "I want to create a place where all Muslim students feel comfortable, regardless of religiosity, gender or sexual identity."
"The fact that the chaplains are housed under Diversity & Inclusion," along with the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans* & Queer Resources, International Student Services, Multicultural Student Services and the Women's Resource Center, "really drew me to Bucknell," he said. "And I praise God that he has blessed me with this position."