Chaplain Bruce Coriell talks about kegs on top of Shove, apartheid in South Africa, being a Baptist Minister and religion at CC.
What was your spiritual journey to the chaplain’s office?
I had been a chaplain at a school in Indiana for a couple of years. I decided I loved being a chaplain and went back and work on an advanced degree and get a Ph.D. I was working on my Ph.D at Vanderbilt in philosophical theology and somebody handed me a job description and said, “Bruce, this looks like the kind of job you always talk about wanting.” It was too early for me to apply, but I did anyway and basically fell in love with CC when I got here. I was looking for a place that wanted a chaplain, but didn’t want a traditional chaplain who represented a particular tradition or did traditional services. I was looking for a place to build a program that was pluralistic and innovative.
Where you raised in a religious household?
I was. It will come to a surprise for some people at CC that I grew up conservative Baptist. I’m actually ordained as an American Baptist Minister. But my own faith journey never left that behind, it just added lots of pieces. Richness of traditions and spiritual practices that wouldn’t look much like that.
So as a chaplain you get to go to a lot of cool places like Mexico, and you have class in Alaska and South Dakota and the pilgrimage in Scotland and Ireland. What do you hope to teach students by going to these places?
Maybe the most important thing to me as chaplain is to help students and other members of the CC community integrate their lives in a way that they’re learning and their larger life experiences start to become a kind of meaningful whole. For that to happen, I think many folks clearly need to find a spiritual path that is rich and rewarding for them, usually within a particular religious tradition or community. Beyond that I think we all are enriched by our experiences of other religious communities and traditions, and I think of it in some ways like the way we think of language learning. Most all of us have a native tongue and a language that we learned growing up. When we learn other languages, we learn more about the structure of our own language, and we see dimensions of human experience that are reflected in a completely different context, but we also see things that are missing in our own tradition.
Do you learn new things when you return to these places?
Almost every single time.
What do you think about spiritual life here at CC?
I hope that spiritual life at CC feels incredibly welcoming and open to all people of faith or people with no faith tradition. I hope that everybody comes to CC and feels like this is a place that is both safe to be who they are, but also safe to explore who they want to become. We often fall short of our aspirations, but I hope that people would experience the possibilities for religious and spiritual engagement as rich and diverse and supportive of people wherever they find themselves.
What do you feel like being a chaplain when CC is maybe predominately nonspiritual? Do you think people with spiritual values face a lot of challenges being in a nonspiritual environment?
I think it’s a challenge a lot of people face, but I think it’s an incredible opportunity for all of us in that based on some of the data that gets collected when folks take surveys, over 40 percent of the incoming students express no connection to a religious or spiritual connection. That may not sound too surprising, but that number is actually quite high, even for schools that are like CC. Most schools, even progressive liberal arts colleges have a much higher percentage of students who identify some religious tradition that they have a background in. I think that is one of the things I love most about CC, and at the same time I think we have a community that is incredibly open and very curious about other traditions.
How long have you been here?
I’m working on my 25th year. It’s pretty crazy.
What was your role in protesting CC’s investment in apartheid South Africa?
One of my roles on the Committee on Selective Divestment was to articulate the values we held in common at Colorado College and to show how some of the companies we were looking at were inconsistent with those values. We put those names forward and it got rejected by a very different Board of Trustees than we have now, and I felt like if those particular corporations weren’t candidates for divestment, none were going to be. I actually resigned and sent an all-campus letter explaining why I thought the process was flawed. That generated a fair amount of controversy.
How would you explain your own personal spirituality?
If I had to do it in a single phrase I would say I’m an earth-based Christian. What I mean by that is that not only did I grow up Christian and embrace that as an adolescent, that’s still part of my identity. I still find Jesus to be one of the most riveting, pivotal figures in human history, and that’s important to me personally. But I also have a series of practices that are really meaningful to me that mainly happen outdoors. It’s really important for me to spend time by myself outside.
Can we ever have a keg party on top of Shove for of-age students?
In the past we actually had an event for seniors focused on monastic beers. I don’t know whether the answer to the question is yes or not. Tell Jesse [Paul] to give me a call and we’ll talk about a senior event sponsored by the chaplain’s office. That I can say yes to.