Duke Hires Its First Hindu Chaplain

Usha Rajagopalan

Duke University has hired its first Hindu chaplain. Usha Rajagopalan, who began her part-time role at Duke Aug. 1, will provide guidance for the Hindu Students Association and represent the group on Duke's Faith Council and in the university's Religious Life program.

Rajagopalan is fluent in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam, and comes to Duke with degrees from Annamalai University in India and the University of Maryland. She has been leading Hindu worship services in the Triangle area and received the 2009 Kathryn H. Wallace Award in Community Service from the Triangle Community Foundation.

"Hinduism, or Sanathana Dharma, is not a religion but a practice, a way of life," Rajagopalan said. "Deepening understanding of their inner world as they pursue their academic goals allows Hindu students at Duke to receive a holistic education and to practice their Dharma or way of life."

Duke Chapel Dean Samuel Wells said he welcomes Rajagopalan's perspective in campus conversations among different faiths.

"I am proud to be part of a campus culture that builds up diverse faiths by bringing them into healthy dialogue and common enterprises with one another," Wells said. "This is a flowering of our university's longstanding aspiration to 'eruditio et religio' -- academic learning and embodied faith."

Founded in 1998, the Hindu Student Association at Duke organizes scripture studies, Hindu festivals and Hinduism Awareness Week.

The Religious Life program at Duke comprises more than two dozen campus ministries that operate under the oversight of the chapel.