December 4, 2010

Dear Friends,

When I last wrote in early September, the anti-Muslim rhetoric in our media and society had reached a fever pitch. Much of our work these past months, like yours, has been focused on framing a compelling counter-narrative of pluralism. We have lifted up stories of interfaith bridge building and advocacy in our Religious Diversity News database; we have begun to research and develop new case studies on the real-life dilemmas of multireligious America; and we have convened academics, civic and religious leaders, and community activists in a variety of public events aimed at increasing dialogue.

In late September, I participated in a teach-in with my colleagues here at Harvard on the controversy over the Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan. I was reminded of the powerful role of education as activism: changing minds changes hearts. It can also help us to connect the local and global narratives, understanding our own dilemmas as part of a larger discourse. Earlier that same day, I had participated via video-conferencing in a panel discussion held at Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Jordan. The occasion was the launch of the Arabic translation of my book, A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation,” by the US Embassy in Amman, in cooperation with the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies. My co-panelist, Dr. Muhammad Rayyan, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Shariah at Jordan University, remarked, “This book and its translation have come at a critical time when extremist voices against Islam are rising…and this book is a building block in bridging the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them.’” As I have often said, we can no longer speak of the Islamic world as “somewhere else”; Islam is an integral part of the American religious landscape, as are the many other minority religious traditions we have studied over the years. What we say and do – the counter-narrative that we articulate – reverberates in our own contexts, and across the globe.

In closing, I want to share a story that has inspired us this fall. Shortly after Columbus Day we received a donation from two local children who had raked leaves in their neighborhood on their day off from school. They decided to give the money they earned to a charity they thought provided a new story about America. This gesture has reminded us of our collective power to work together, in whatever small ways we can, to build a culture of pluralism. We are equally inspired by your many gestures of support and collaboration over the years.

Wishing you peace this holiday season, and a happy new year!


Research Team 2010-2011

In September we welcomed a new research team, including research interns Kristen Arn and Isabel Hebert; community associate Alex Hernández-Siegel; and research associates Whittney Barth, Abbas Jaffer, Jaisy Joseph, Shenila Khoja-Moolji, Zack Ugolnik, and Lina Verchery. This group has undertaken research on topics such as immigration, gender and leadership within Islam, ecumenical relations, sacred space, and documentary film studies. We look forward to sharing their work with you as it unfolds.

New Affiliates

Please join us in welcoming our new affiliates:

  • Erin Biel and George Bodgen, Yale University

The Role of Religion in the Integration of Iraqi Refugees in New Haven, Connecticut

  • Dr. Pankaj Jain, University of North Texas

Studying the Religious and Ecological Practices of the Hindus and Jains in North Texas

  • Dave Sidhu, Esq., Consulting Fellow to the Case Study Initiative

Fall Events

Faith-Based Family Dispute Mediation and Arbitration

On September 17 we cosponsored a panel discussion on “Faith-Based Family Dispute Mediation and Arbitration: North American Muslim Contributions & Priorities” along with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program. The event sought “to connect scholars, students, and practitioners who have an interest in how communities of Muslims perceive of and adhere to select aspects of family law in the North American context.” Panelists included Dr. Zainab Alwani, the first female jurist to serve on the Fiqh Council of North America; Amin Kassam, member of His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili National Conciliation and Arbitration Board for the United States; and Intisar Rabb, a faculty member at the Boston College Law School, where she teaches in comparative and Islamic Law. The panel was moderated by Sarah Eltantawi, PhD Candidate in the Study of Islam at Harvard’s Committee on the Study of Religion.

Teach-In on the Muslim Community Center Controversy in Manhattan

On September 21, Dr. Eck participated in a public teach-in entitled, “Making Sense of the Controversy: Campus Teach-In on the Muslim Community Center Issue in Manhattan.” Other panelists included Dr. Ali Asani, director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program; and Dr. Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Panelists offered their reflections on the current controversy’s ramifications for religious pluralism and Muslim life in the United States. This event, which drew over 100 people, was sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and cosponsored by the Pluralism Project; the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program; the Harvard Foundation; the Middle East Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School; the Harvard College Education Society; the Islam in the West Program; the Middle Eastern Law Students Association; the Outreach Program Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies; the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East; and the Harvard Islamic Society.

30 Mosques, 30 States, 30 Days: Ramadan Road Trip Adventure

On October 19, we cosponsored an event featuring Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, following their “Ramadan Road Trip Adventure” through 30 states in 30 days. Their itinerary included visits to Muslim communities in places as diverse Augusta, Maine and Phoenix, Arizona, ending on Eid al-Fitr in Detroit, Michigan. Ali and Tariq became known for their initial experiment of visiting 30 mosques in 30 days in New York City in 2009. The event was cosponsored by the Pluralism Project, the Islam in the West Program, the Harvard Islamic Society, and the Islamic Forum at the Harvard Divinity School. A detailed blog of their adventures can be found at

Fremont, USA screened in Barnstable, Massachusetts and Kansas City, Missouri

On October 20, our documentary film Fremont, USA was featured as part of the Town of Barnstable’s Peace Week in a screening at the Cape Cod Community College.

On November 11, it was screened at the Plaza Library in Kansas City, Missouri. The event, part of the Cultural Conversations series, included a discussion relating the film to religious diversity in Kansas City.

Welcome to Shelbyville Film Screening and Panel Discussion 

On October 21, we screened the documentary film Welcome to Shelbyville, which “takes an intimate look at a southern town as its residents – whites and African Americans, Latinos and Somalis – grapple with their beliefs, their histories and their evolving ways of life.” A panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Eck, included Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries Executive Director Alexander Levering Kern, Agencia ALPHA Director of Programs Damaris López, and 2010 Summer Fellow Nancy Khalil, a member of the Muslim American Society Boston and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center Board of Directors. Cosponsors included the Center for the Study of World Religions, the Outreach Center at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Harvard Organization for Latin America (HOLA), United World College, the Harvard Islamic Society, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries (CMM), Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), Agencia ALPHA, Active Voice, and the BeCause Foundation.

OneJax Interfaith Conversation

On October 25, the Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida hosted a panel event entitled, “Can We Talk? An Interfaith Conversation to Celebrate the Oneness of Humanity.” The event was a collaborative effort by Baptist Health, OneJax and the Interfaith Council of Jacksonville. Research Director Elinor Pierce was among the panelists, along with Jack Logue, Director of St. Vincent’s Spirituality Center; Rev. Torin Dailey of First Baptist Church of Oakland; Rabbi Joshua Lief of Congregation Ahavath Chesed; and Mr. Ashraf Shaikh of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida. Celeste Krueger, the executive director of OneJax, moderated the discussion, exploring such themes as healthcare, business, education, religious leadership, and civic engagement.

American Academy of Religion 

On October 29, we hosted our annual reception at the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta, Georgia. The evening’s program explored new developments in the Case Study Initiative, which seeks to apply the case method to the disputes and dilemmas of multi-religious America. Highlights from our recent case study workshops, courses, and updates from our 2010 Case Study Summer Fellowship program served as a starting point for discussion for over 130 Pluralism Project advisors, affiliates, alumni, friends, and guests. The following day, Dr. Eck participated on a panel discussion as part of a Special Topics Forum entitled “Beyond the Rainbow Generation? Religion and Pluralism in a Globalized World.”

National Council of Churches & Church World Service Centennial Gathering

From November 9-11, the Centennial Gathering of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service took place in New Orleans. A celebration of 100 years of the modern ecumenical movement, hearkening back to its birth at the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, the event convened an array of national and international ecumenical partners to vision the future.  Dr. Eck provided leadership as chair of the NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission, and Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre provided leadership as president elect of the National Council of Churches.

Community Diversity Night at Brimmer and May

On November 10, Research Coordinator Erin Loeb participated in the Community Diversity Night at the Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. After two students offered reflections on the role of religion in their lives, Erin presented on the work and research of the Pluralism Project, our Case Study Initiative, and our World Religions in Greater Boston guidebook to approximately 100 teachers, parents, and students. The evening concluded with questions from the audience about religious diversity in Boston, and discussion on issues of religion in public life.

Religious Diversity News

Our new Research Associate Whittney Barth is doing an excellent job at coding news articles for our Religious Diversity News database. With archives dating back to 1997, you can focus your search by date, tradition, geographic region, or topic. Try exploring our key themes for articles on the same topic. For example, the Holidays/Worship key theme covers stories on celebrations of major holidays, worship festivals, or trends in observance; school holiday calendars; and debates over holiday observance, including “December Dilemmas.”

Pluralism Project Resources Holiday Sale

Looking for a holiday gift for your favorite pluralist? Our educational resources are available until December 31 at special rates. Email your order request to, and send your check, made payable to “Harvard University” to The Pluralism Project, 2 Arrow Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138. We regret that we cannot accept credit card payments. First class shipping is included in these prices:


We invite you to consider making a donation to the Pluralism Project. 100% of your tax-deductible gift will go directly to supporting the Pluralism Project’s mission, and will enable us to engage the next generation of student researchers. For more information, click here. A special thanks to our friends who have already participated in this year’s appeal.