A student at Georgetown's new Dharmic Meditation Center
Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Appoints New Brahmacharini to Lead Dharmic Life

Georgetown has named Brahmacharini Shweta Chaitanya as the new director for Dharmic life.

Chaitanya will start in her role on Aug. 1 after serving as the Hindu chaplain at Emory University for over three years. At Emory, Chaitanya worked with an interfaith chaplaincy team to support the university’s Hindu community. She hosted weekly gatherings, provided educational opportunities and offered pastoral care.  Shweta Chaitanya in a yellow garment on a clear day

Chaitanya will join the Campus Ministry team along with Rabbi Ilana Zietman, who will serve as the new director for Jewish Life. Together with Rev. Ebony Grisom, the director of Protestant Life, the three women will lead half of Georgetown’s chaplaincies, a first in the university’s history.

“I am excited to welcome Rabbi Ilana and Brahmacharini Shweta to the Georgetown community and look forward to supporting their ministry to our Jewish and Dharmic communities,” said Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for Mission & Ministry. “To have three women lead our chaplaincies is a significant milestone and a testament to all that women contribute to our spiritual life at Georgetown.”

A Soft Place to Land for Students

Chaitanya was exposed to Dharmic life early on. Growing up, she watched her mother practice her Hindu faith in the Varkari tradition and attended weekly Hindu formation classes in her hometown of Houston, Texas.

“I grew up hearing her sing the poetry from that tradition, seeing her do worship within that tradition. Every time I’d go to India, I’d see her side of the family engage in that practice,” Chaitanya said. “I was taken by it as a kid … I loved the messages I was hearing in the poetry and devotional songs, and it inspired me to want to dig a little bit more into what a more formalized spiritual life might look like.”

While Chaitanya experienced Hinduism primarily in sacred spaces growing up, she wanted to learn more about how to apply her faith in everyday life. She decided to pursue a career in chaplaincy. After being ordained as a brahmacharini in 2017, Chaitanya served as a spiritual teacher at the Chinmaya Center — a Hindu organization rooted in the Advaita Vedanta tradition —  in Houston before finding her role as a chaplain at Emory.

Coming to Georgetown, Chaitanya said she was drawn to the university’s commitment and investment in interreligious understanding and Dharmic life, pointing to the Dharmālaya that opened in 2021. The center offers space for members of Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Hindu and other Dharmic traditions to gather in small groups, practice religious and spiritual traditions, and meditate. The room was internationally designed with teak shrines from Myanmar and marble icons from India to create a space for worship. It was also built from the interfaith effort of students from the Hindu Association, Sikh Student Association and Buddhist Student Association, who advocated for a sacred space in partnership with Campus Ministry and alumni, particularly as Georgetown’s Dharmic communities grew.

Interreligious understanding is important, Chaitanya says, because it offers students different avenues to explore deeper questions while also encouraging them to understand and humanize others who come from different backgrounds.

“To speak to a fellow human and hear their story, to hear their understanding, is so helpful,” she said. “I think an interfaith setting helps us do the work of parsing out how we connect with our spiritual or religious traditions. We may not come to complete resolutions, but we do come to deeper understandings of each other.”

Chaitanya said she is thrilled to continue her work with students and eager to meet Hoyas and get to know the individual needs of students in her ministry. Above all, she said she wants to be a resource and a conversation partner to whom students feel comfortable going.

“I’ve heard once from a colleague at Emory, Rabbi Jordan Braunig, that he saw our office as a soft place to land for students, and I really loved that,” Chaitanya said. “College is a roller coaster. There are a lot of ups and downs and times of stress. …  I want students to know they can reach out to me anytime.”