April 28, 2010

Dear Friends,

Here we are already well into spring, and for many of us this means another sprint to the finish as we wrap up another year’s work on campus. The flowering trees in Harvard Yard are a familiar signpost that it is almost time for the flurry of Commencement activities, and then the quiet of summertime in Cambridge. It has been a particularly productive and exciting semester at the Pluralism Project, and while it’s almost impossible to hearken back to the cold, short days of January, there is much to report.

Diana Eck

This year Harvard added a J-term, during which I team-taught a weeklong workshop called, “Faith & Leadership in a Fragmented World.” Together with Nitin Nohria of the Harvard Business School, Marshall Ganz of the Kennedy School of Government, and Bernie Steinberg of the Kennedy School and Harvard Hillel, we led students in an intensive exploration of questions of the role of faith “in three dimensions of leadership: self-knowledge, relationship with others, and call to action.” Four case studies, including two developed by the Pluralism Project, formed the basis for discussion. For all of us, faculty and students alike, this was an intensely engaging experience; it reinforced my own sense of how effective the case method is for religious and theological education. By “inhabiting” a case, participants are challenged to enter more deeply into the dilemmas of leadership in multi-religious societies, and emerge that much better prepared.

As is the case on many campuses across the country, our President Drew Faust issued a call for increased inter-disciplinary collaboration in response to the financial crisis last year. As we all know, the gains of this kind of approach extend well beyond the bottom line. The world in which we are training our students to lead is fraught with complex realities that are not sufficiently analyzed, interpreted, or resolved through one discipline alone. This inter-disciplinary model is one that will better equip all of us for our work together, as students and scholars. I am also deeply grateful to my new colleagues for the sense of academic renewal I experienced, and I look forward to the possibility of offering this workshop again in 2011.

Our next chapter at the Pluralism Project will be focused on the further development of our Case Study Initiative, with the capable leadership of our Research Director Elinor Pierce. Over the course of this semester, and over the last few years, we have focused our efforts on developing partnerships and collaborations with other individuals and institutions that also see the pedagogical value of the case study method for religious and theological studies, and in learning from those colleagues in business and law who have effectively used the method for many decades. This summer we will host our first-ever Case Study Fellowship Program, and we will continue to involve all of our students in this important area of our work. This initiative is an exciting extension of the demographic research we began together nearly 20 years ago – an innovative way to document and engage with our changing religious landscape. I invite you to send us your ideas for case studies, as well as your reflections on experiences you have had with the method so that we might learn together with you.

Finally, I would like to honor and thank our outgoing research associates. We have been blessed by your commitment to this project, and we look forward to the ways in which you will all continue your leadership, scholarship, and service in the world. Congratulations and best wishes to PJ Andrews, Vaughn Booker, Josh Daneshforooz, Kate DeConinck, Sarah Harcourt, and Katie Merriman. You join many other distinguished Pluralism Project alumni, and we are proud of you.

Best regards,



Case Study Initiative

Visit to Wellesley College

Wellesley Multifaith Center

In mid-March, Research Director Ellie Pierce and Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre made a site visit to Wellesley College to explore possibilities for a new case study. We participated in a meeting of the Religious Life Team, and learned about the challenges and opportunities they have experienced as colleagues in the newly renovated Multifaith Center. Victor Kazanjian, the Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Dr. Neelima Shukla-Bhatt, former Hindu advisor at Wellesley and Pluralism Project affiliate, gave us a tour of the Center. They explained the pluralistic vision for it as well as the day-to-day realities it provides for negotiating the practical and theological contours of religious difference. In a lunchtime session, Ellie Pierce led members of the Multifaith Council and the Multifaith Living and Learning Community in a case study discussion.

Workshop at the Center for the Study of World Religions

Case Study Workshop

In mid-April, we convened the third in a series of Case Study Workshops at the Center for the Study of World Religions to consider the application of the case method to the teaching of religion and theology. Approximately 40 Harvard faculty, staff, and students from across the University, Pluralism Project staff and student researchers, local community leaders, and selected faculty from outside institutions discussed a new case entitled “Adding Eid” that explores the issue of adding the Muslim holiday of Eid to the Cambridge Public School system calendar. Dr. Willis Emmons of the C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard Business School facilitated this case study discussion. After the case study, Dr. Diana Eck moderated a panel discussion on teaching with case studies in religious studies and theological education. Panelists included Justus Baird from Auburn Theological Seminary, Shana Sippy from Carleton College, and Willis Emmons from Harvard Business School. The day concluded with a reception and further conversation about the case method.

Workshop with MIT Addir Fellows

The next weekend, Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre offered a case study workshop to the MIT Addir Fellows during their spring 2010 retreat. The MIT Addir Fellows are graduate and undergraduate students who commit to at least one year of weekly dialogue in small groups, monthly speakers’ presentations, and two mini-retreats over the course of the academic year. The program’s mission is “to equip individuals of different faiths with the skills to engage with and understand those from whom they differ; to enhance inter-group relations on the MIT campus, and to deepen individuals’ self-awareness.” The 25 fellows present for the retreat participated in a discussion of a case developed by former Senior Research Associate Polly Hamlen of a holiday decorations dispute at the Seattle-Tacoma International airport in 2006, and then applied those learnings to an unfolding case over “Adding Eid” in the Cambridge Public Schools.

Spring Conferences

Harvard College in Asia Program

In early February, the Harvard College in Asia Program hosted its annual conference on the theme of Social Entrepreneurship: Innovation, Service and Empowerment, which was co-sponsored by the Pluralism Project. The conference was attended by six student delegations from universities in Turkey, Singapore, Korea, Japan, China, and India, and is part of a larger exchange between Harvard students in HCAP and students from Asia. The Pluralism Project hosted a dinner discussion that explored “the role of diversity, pluralism, and globalization in how individuals can achieve social change.” Dr. Diana Eck, who is a faculty advisor to HCAP, moderated the discussion and invited reflections from the Project’s special guests: Rev. Kim, founder and priest of the Won Buddhism of Boston center in Somerville; Mr. Ibrahim Sayar, the director of the Boston Dialogue Foundation; and Fatih Degirmenci, the Vice President of the Harvard Dialogue Forum. Research Associate Sarah Harcourt, who is studying religious studies and education at Harvard Divinity School, regularly consulted with students as they undertook a project exploring the cultural values that would inform designing a charter school in their home contexts, and served as a judge for the final project presentations.

Religion Communication Congress 2010

In early April, we participated in the Religion Communication Congress held in Chicago, Illinois. The Congress, held once every 10 years, brings together hundreds of communications professionals in an interfaith forum to learn new skills, to network, and to creatively respond to the current challenges in the field. This year’s theme, “Embracing Change: Communicating Faith in Today’s World,” was explored by a number of plenary speakers, workshops, and special events. Diana Eck presented in the same plenary with Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America. Through an engaging PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Eck explored issues of communications as they relate to the challenge of religious pluralism. Pluralism Project Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre offered a workshop entitled “Tools for Communicating in Multi-Religious America.” Other conference themes are detailed on the website: http://www.rccongress2010.org/

CIRCLE Conference

BTI Award

In mid-April, we participated in a conference organized by the Center for Interreligious and Communal Leadership (CIRCLE) at Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College entitled “Educating Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Leaders for Service in a Multi-Religious World: The American Seminary Conference.” Organized by Andover Newton Theological School, Hebrew College, and the Boston Theological Institute, this national conference brought together veteran academics, new scholars, students, activists, entrepreneurs, and community members for conversations about the importance of interfaith understanding in the education of visionary religious leaders. Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre and Research Coordinator Erin Loeb participated in a breakfast roundtable discussion on Greater Boston Interfaith Initiatives where they presented several Pluralism Project resources, including World Religions in Greater Boston, the Case Study Initiative, and the Boston Workshop. At a luncheon, Dr. Diana Eck was honored with a Boston Theological Institute award for her scholarship, leadership, and continued dedication to interfaith understanding and religious pluralism. The full conference schedule is available at http://www.hebrewcollege.edu/interfaith.

Special Guests

Book Reading with Alumna Stephanie Saldaña

Stephanie Saldana

In mid-February, we co-sponsored a reading with Stephanie Saldaña from her recently published book, The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith. Stephanie is a recent alumna of the Pluralism Project and Harvard Divinity School. The book explores the year of her Fulbright fellowship in Damascus, Syria, where she sets out to explore the role of the Prophet Jesus in Islam against the backdrop of the US-led war in Iraq. As she struggles with her own sense of vocation, she meets a French novice monk who becomes her companion along the way. Stephanie read passages from her book, and conversed with the audience on the themes of hospitality, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, vocation, and love. The event, which drew nearly 50 people, was co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of World Religions, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies Outreach Center, Harvard Divinity School Alumni Relations, and the Pluralism Project.

Pluralism Project Welcomes Eisenhower Fellow Petra Bahr

Petra Bahr

In late April, we hosted a visit with Eisenhower Fellow Rev. Dr. Petra Bahr.  As the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs in Germany, Dr. Bahr represents the Protestant Church of Germany (EKD) to political leaders and the public. During her fellowship, she is seeking to learn more about the religious landscape in the United States, with a particular interest in how religion and public policy are related in this context. In several cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Houston, she will meet with religious and interfaith leaders, scholars, and think tanks. Our conversation with her focused primarily on the emergence of Muslim organizations that play a role in fostering greater civic engagement, as well as the range of grassroots interfaith organizations and initiatives that are cropping up across the nation. We also discussed the religious landscape and in Germany, and the real challenges that are unfolding with regard to public school curriculum, and the building of mosques and other religious centers.

World Religions in Greater Boston

High School Events

On March 26, two high schools in Greater Boston organized events to explore religious diversity – a coincidence as far as we can tell! We served in an advisory capacity to both events, providing contacts for speakers. For full listings of panelists for these events, click here.


Billerica High School Panel

At Billerica Memorial High School’s “E Pluralism Unum Day,” Dr. Eck offered a keynote address, and a panel of youth representatives from various religious traditions reflected on common misconceptions about their faith, the relationship between their faith and interreligious understanding in a pluralist society, and concluded by offering wisdom from each of their traditions for an audience of graduating high school seniors. This event was organized by the Billerica Public Schools and Billerica CARES.

At Boston’s Fenway High School’s World Parliament of Religions Day, fifteen representatives of various religious traditions participated in a panel discussion. For the first part of the day, each of the representatives met with students who had studied their respective traditions in their coursework. In a second session, representatives conversed with small group of students that changed every ten minutes in an exercise called “Speed Faithing.” The event concluded with an assembly on the theme of social justice. Susanna Hall, a Fenway High School Humanities Team Teacher and a long-time friend of the Pluralism Project, was instrumental in organizing the event.  

Lasell College Visit

In early April, our Research Coordinator Erin Loeb and Senior Research Associate Kimberly Richards presented the 5th edition of World Religions in Greater Boston to Dr. Dana Janbek’s “Intercultural Communication” course at Lasell College in Newton for an audience of nearly 50 undergraduate students. This was part of an extended outreach campaign for the online resource, which targeted communications professionals, chaplains, social workers, city leaders, and religion reporters.

Faith Acts Fellows

10net website

Our staff recently welcomed Jem Jebbia and Miranda Rosenberg, two Faiths Act Fellows, to the Pluralism Project for a presentation on their Boston-area initiatives. The Faiths Act Fellowship is a collaborative project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Interfaith Youth Core. Jem and Miranda have been hosted this year by Janet Penn and Interfaith Action in Sharon.

Their work this year has been to mobilize people of faith in Boston and around the world to support the UN Millennium Development Goals, especially Malaria eradication. On April 25, World Malaria Day, they launched the 10 Net Challenge, inviting schools, congregations, youth groups, and individuals to raise $100 for malaria eradication efforts in Mali. To participate (from anywhere) go to www.10netchallenge.com All funds raised will be matched by Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair!

Religious Diversity News Feature

RDN icon

The Nantucket Sound Wind Farm continuing story follows the ongoing controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s consideration of a proposal to develop a massive wind turbine project in the Nantucket Sound (Cape Cod), which Native Americans claim will violate a sacred spiritual site.

This story is likely to be developed as a case study by one of our summer fellows. Stay tuned!