The chapels at Brandeis University were conceived in the 1950s as part of the university’s first master plan. When the chapels were commissioned in 1952, the New York firm of Harrison & Abramovitz was asked to design them in addition to several other campus buildings. A back and forth with the architects, administrators and students led to the three chapels – one for Jews, one for Catholics and one for Protestants.
Harlan Chapel, the Protestant chapel, was named in honor of the late Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan who cast the only dissenting vote in the historic Ferguson v. Plessy decision that established separate but equal.
Bethlehem Chapel, the Catholic chapel, was named by then Boston Archbishop Richard J. Cushing.
The Berlin Jewish chapel was donated by Boston surgeon Dr. David Berlin in honor of his parents.
Heralded at the time as representative of a multi-faith America and unity in the midst of diversity, the chapels still stand as they were built. Protestant, Catholic and Jewish services take place today in all of the chapels as well as in a range of classrooms and common areas across campus.
As campus demographics changed, a Muslim prayer space was created in another area of campus in 2004. It includes an Ablution Area as well as social space. More recently, a Dharmic prayer space for Buddhist, Hindu and Jain students was opened in what used to be a small campus art gallery. A prayer/ meditation alcove was also designed during a building renovation in one of the graduate schools on campus.
Campus Rabbi Elyse Winick reflects, "One could argue that sacred space is defined by the intention of its users, rather than the intention of its design. Yet the spare architectural details and simple decor of the three Chapels, along with other designated worship spaces on campus, direct your focus to heart of the experience: the soaring sound of voices raised in prayer."
For more information: https://www.brandeis.edu/studentlife/chaplaincy/