Growing up in a Unitarian Universalist Humanist congregation in Minneapolis, Minn., John Cioci Lazur was fascinated by the diversity of religions and faiths early on.
As part of their Sunday school program, Lazur participated in a series where they learned about different religious traditions, which included visits to and lessons about Zen Buddhist temples, synagogues, mosques and various Christian churches.
Lazur shared that it was their exposure to different faiths and religious ideas that helped them become a curious thinker.
“There was that sense of encountering religious otherness or spiritual otherness and also learning how to be a visitor in these spaces,” Lazur said. “Growing up in that congregation and my parents’ support of asking questions and wondering about myself but also trying to understand myself through other people’s religious experiences was really helpful and very formative.”
Ever since Lazur arrived at Tufts, that sense of wonder has animated and shaped their college journey. After completing the 1+4 Bridge Year program in León, Nicaragua, Lazur participated in the Conversation, Action, Faith and Education pre-orientation program as a first-year.
“[I had] this realization that what I really wanted to do in college was learn about how I related to other people and how I could hold myself in community,” Lazur said.
While Lazur initially intended to major in chemical engineering, they ultimately found a passion for anthropology.
“By the time I came on campus as a first-year, I knew that I didn’t want to do engineering. I didn’t want the rigidity of that structure. I felt really inspired to lean into this romanticized vision of liberal arts as a collage of academic and intellectual experience,” Lazur said. “I had taken one anthropology class with professor Alex Blanchette. … I [would] leave the class every day and have to go sit on the lawn and just process, because I felt like that class made me rethink how I was living in a daily way.”
At its core, anthropology is about a particular way of storytelling, which resonated deeply with them, Lazur explained.
“I really started to see a lot of academic disciplines as a particular way of telling stories,” Lazur said. “I think that the way that anthropology — or the courses that I was taking, at least — asked me to think about the stories that I was telling was really a perspective-shifting approach.”
Outside the classroom, Lazur found the joy of storytelling through their interfaith communities at Tufts.
“I love stories; I love telling stories. I am quite the talker, and I love listening to stories. One of the chaplains here, Lynn Cooper, the Catholic chaplain, once described listening to stories as a sacred act,” Lazur said. “That has so deeply resonated with me, that there’s something holy about listening to one another in that way. And I think … stories are important to me because they change the world we live in.”
Throughout their four years at Tufts, Lazur served on the Interfaith Student Council and organized a number of programs and events hosted by the University Chaplaincy. Lazur also participated in the Tufts Summer Scholars program in 2021 and is working as one of the co-coordinators for CAFE this summer. In recognition of their leadership and academic accomplishments, Lazur was awarded a Senior Award by the Tufts University Alumni Association.
Academically, Lazur has grappled with religious pluralism as a focal point of their studies, particularly in their senior capstone that aims to examine the university’s religious history through oral histories and archival materials.
Lazur articulated what religious pluralism means as a philosophy and its salience to the Tufts community.
“In this global world, especially on a college campus, we are living in a religiously diverse space. That is the fact of being at Tufts,” they said. “What we do with that diversity is the question we get to answer, and I think engaging with religious pluralism, specifically, is this: ‘I am not just going to tolerate that you have different beliefs, but I am also energetically curious about that.’”
Lazur looks forward to sharing their senior capstone project with the Tufts community.
“To think about religious pluralism at Tufts is to talk about the DNA of Tufts, … describing Tufts in a way that is complicated and nuanced but also trying to understand where we’ve come from and how we’ve gotten to where we are in terms of religious diversity,” Lazur said. “I’m working on developing a series of mini presentations around different core themes that trace … these core notions of religious pluralism, of ethical leadership, of multi-faith sacred spaces [and] of Universalism on campus … [that have shaped] decisions of the university since 1852.”
In light of their senior capstone and life experiences, Lazur elaborated on how religious pluralism can help make the world a better place.
“Being really involved in the chaplaincy community, … [it] has been really clear to me that we’re not just coming together to come together — we’re coming together to build community so that we can use those relationships going forward to expand the kind of work that we want to do,” Lazur said.
Reflecting back on their four years at Tufts, Lazur shared that they can now see how different aspects of their college journey helped them become the person they are today.
“The beauty of my liberal arts experience is that all of those academic endeavors that I have been on and all my [moments of] ‘this seems like a cool class,’ they all ended up connecting and helping me articulate these are the really nuanced questions that I am trying to answer right now,” Lazur said.
Ultimately, Lazur hopes to have fostered a sense of “radical hospitality” through their academic and extracurricular involvements at Tufts.
“[Radical hospitality] is that willingness to say, ‘I don’t know who you are’ or ‘I do not know why you are here, but I am happy that you are here,’” Lazur explained. “It is that offering of belonging; you don’t need to be someone different to belong here.”