May 14, 2011

Greetings from the Pluralism Project. Spring has kept all of us busy in Cambridge and beyond. Two weeks ago, I went to the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York to deliver the Stuber Lectures, focusing on “Faith and Interfaith” in the very local context of our own cities and towns and the national context of the US, as we try to make good on the promise of religious freedom and dignity for all people. It was a very receptive and large audience, over the course of two days. Last week, I also spoke to the Methodist conference interfaith officers as the National Workshop on Christian Unity convened in Pittsburgh.

In both contexts, I focused on the crisis I think our nation is facing as our Muslim neighbors are increasingly targeted by extremist groups that have created a toxic and exploitative mix of fear and far right political expediency. I think it is important that we all be quite alert to this. The Peter King hearings on Islamic radicalization have come to represent this moment in America’s homegrown Islamophobia. To a great extent, the hearings backfired, however, in that they brought together a coalition of many people and groups concerned with growing, rather than curbing, Islamophobia in the US. From my perspective as a teacher, it is also heartening that students have taken up the critical investigation of groups like ACT! for America, Stop the Islamization of America, and Jihad Watch.

It has been extremely rewarding to explore these issues by teaching my semester-long course with the case method. It has stretched my own skill as a teacher to move beyond a lecture format to a discussion-based class. It has been one of the best moves I have ever made! We have used the whole range of cases produced by The Pluralism Project, including the recent case “A Nomination to Controversy” about the nomination of Parvez Ahmed to the Jacksonville, Florida, Human Rights Commission and the controversy that ensued (see below). This and other cases enable students to experience the dilemmas and demands of this chapter of America’s religious history.  Some of the term papers, which I am now reading, are themselves case studies.

Here at Harvard, the exam period is over and Commencement will take place on May 26. I wish all of you a green and glorious summer ahead.

2011 Annual Photo Contest

We invite you to participate in our second annual Pluralism Project Photo Contest. We are looking for high-resolution digital images that convey the vibrancy of religious diversity in the USA, especially:

  • Religious practices and rituals
  • Religious centers, including festivals, center openings, and parades
  • Participation of religious groups in American civic life
  • Interfaith encounter or social action
  • Women’s leadership and participation
  • Emerging leadership within Muslim and Sikh communities
  • Historic and present day images of the Atheist/Humanist, Bahá’í, Confucian, Native American, Shinto, Taoist, and Zoroastrian communities in the US

One grand-prize winner will be selected: the winning photographer will receive a $250 cash prize and an extended exposé in the spotlight on our homepage. For details about participating, see:

Religious Diversity News Reader

We invite you to subscribe to our Religious Diversity News feed in any RSS reader. (What is RSS and what are RSS readers? For a helpful overview, click here.) To view a list of all our news feeds, click here.  An archive of Religious Diversity News, from 1997–2011, is available online.

AAR Save the Date

This year we will celebrate our 20th anniversary at our reception at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Please save the date: Friday, November 18, 2011, 9-11 PM.

Pluralism Project Staff News

We would like to congratulate our student researchers who are graduating: Whittney Barth, Abbas Jaffer, and Jaisy Joseph. Thanks to all of our 2010-2011 student interns and researchers for your contributions to our collective work.

After two years of exceptional service as our research coordinator, Erin Loeb accepted a position as staff assistant within the Education Department of Harvard Art Museums. We are delighted that she is now working with long-time Pluralism Project Affiliate Ray Williams, who is the Museum’s director of education. We are indebted to Erin, and excited about this new chapter in her professional life.

In early May, Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre was awarded a Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, and inducted as an Honorary Fellow of the Graduate Theological Foundation (GTF) in Mishawaka, Indiana. This honor was “in recognition of her historic election to the Office of President of the National Council of Churches…and in appreciation for [her] service as a leader in the Pluralism Project.” The GTF, which is both ecumenical and multi-faith, “is a learned society of ministry professionals committed to continuing professional education.”

Case Study Initiative

  • MIT Addir Fellows Workshop

Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre offered a case study workshop to the MIT Addir Fellows during their spring 2011 retreat in April. The MIT Addir Fellows are graduate and undergraduate students who commit to 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.” Participants engaged in discussion of “Driven by Faith or Customer Service? Muslim Taxi Drivers at the MSP Airport,” which explores the dilemma faced by the Airport Director in 2006 when Muslim taxi drivers refused to transport passengers carrying alcohol.

  • “A Nomination to Controversy” in Jacksonville, Florida

In early 2011, Research Director Elinor Pierce completed the most recent addition to our case study collection, “A Nomination to Controversy,” which explores the controversial appointment of Dr. Parvez Ahmed to the Human Rights Commission in Jacksonville, Florida. Some alleged that Ahmed had links to terror; others thought it was an issue of growing Islamophobia and “guilt by association.” How would Ahmed – and other civic and religious leaders – respond? The same week that the case was taught by Dr. Eck in her spring course, “The World’s Religions in Multicultural America – Case Studies in Religious Pluralism,” the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida sponsored “An Evening of Gratitude” for those who had supported Jacksonville’s Muslim community in 2010. Prominent figures in the case, including Mayor John Peyton, University of North Florida President John Delaney, the interfaith organization OneJax, and The Florida Times-Union were among those honored.

  • Partnership with Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for Multifaith Education

The Pluralism Project’s Case Study Initiative has enjoyed a long-standing partnership with Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for Multifaith Education. Directed by Rabbi Justus Baird, the Center offers case study minimesters for seminary students. “Auburn has also introduced the pedagogy to a variety of educational settings, including the dozens of scholars and seminary faculty at the 2009 AAR/Luce Summer Seminars in Theologies of Religious Pluralism and Comparative Theology, the Christian-Jewish Scholars Group, Fordham Law School, American Jewish World Service Rabbinic alumni, and rabbinical schools including the Jewish Theological Seminary and Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.” For more information, including a video overview, see:

For more information about our Case Study Initiative, please email Elinor Pierce, or call 617-496-2481.

Interfaith Initiative

We are well into the first stage of our research for the Arthur Vining Davis interfaith pilot project we announced in our last e-newsletter, “The Interfaith Infrastructure: Citizenship and Leadership in the Multireligious City.” We have collected demographic data on interfaith organizations and initiatives in 10 cities: Atlanta, Boston Cleveland, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Omaha, Richmond, San Diego, Syracuse, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Last week we sent out an e-survey to 200 organizations, and we have already received 57 responses. Thanks to all of you who have participated! We look forward to analyzing this data in order to develop a better understanding of interfaith typologies. The survey also solicited information about promising interfaith practices and the challenges of interfaith engagement. Over the summer we will be using this data to develop interactive, multimedia GIS maps. A second set of 10 cities is currently being selected for the next stage of demographic research.

Additionally, we have begun to engage in fieldwork for this project, which will result in cities-based case studies. Marcia Sietstra, a DMin student at Andover Newton Theological School, and a research affiliate of the Pluralism Project, recently conducted a series of interviews related to the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha, Nebraska, an innovative partnership between Temple Israel, The Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture. The Tri-Faith vision is to plan a religious neighborhood development, the first of its kind in the world, “which will house a mosque, a temple and a church plus a shared facility on adjacent properties.” We look forward to lifting up other examples of the “interfaith infrastructure” in various cities as our work unfolds.

Interfaith Training Opportunities

  • Religious Leadership in an Interfaith World, June 6-10, Hartford Seminary

In a culture marked by religious diversity, effective religious leadership must include awareness of, and engagement with, faith traditions other than one’s own. Made possible by a generous grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, this Hartford Seminary seminar will provide religious leaders of all faiths – clergy, educators, administrators, chaplains, and others – an introduction to religious diversity in the American context, methodologies for interfaith engagement, and resources for further exploration. For information, please call (860) 509-9501 or email The registration form is located at:

  • IFYC Interfaith Leadership Institutes (ILIs) in Chicago, IL and Washington, DC

This summer, IFYC will be bringing back its Interfaith Leadership Institutes (ILIs) to offer college students, faculty and staff the core skills necessary to build the movement for interfaith cooperation across America.  ILIs are critical to developing student-led interfaith efforts on campus – while growing campus’ capacity to respond to the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. The first summer ILI will be offered in Chicago, at Dominican University, on June 28-July 1, followed by a second ILI in Washington DC from July 25-28. Applications are open through May 20.

International Initiative

  • “Multi-Faith Spaces” Research Project at the University of Manchester

In April, Research Director Elinor Pierce participated in the advisory council meeting of “Multi-Faith Spaces: Symptoms and Agents of Religious and Social Change” at the University of Manchester. As noted on the project website, “This project investigates Multi-Faith Spaces (MFS) not only as symptoms of socio-religious change, but also in terms of their ‘agentic role’ as spaces with the potential to influence and modify relations between religious and secular worlds/worldviews. …Do MFS encourage pluralism or merely house difference? Are MFS positive social investments? How might MFS be better designed and built? What are the likely societal effect[s] of these spaces?”

Dr. Ralf Brand and Members of the Project Team will expand this research to the US in August 2011, and will offer a seminar at Harvard on September 6, 2011. Please mark your calendars, and see our summer e-newsletter for additional information.

  • Interfaith Coalition for Peace in New Delhi

In May, we received a visit from Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood, president of the Interfaith Coalition for Peace (ICP) based in New Delhi, India. ICP is “a secular non profit organization enabling people to achieve the full realization of their rights as human beings” which is “simultaneously involved in non-formal interfaith, academic courses and advocacy of community care.” For more information, see:

Affiliate News

We are pleased to welcome three new research affiliates:

  • Shana Sippy and Michael McNally, Carleton College

 Global Religions in Minnesota: Minnesota’s Changing Religious Landscape

  • Vanessa Munari, Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy (student)

Double Invisibilization and Religious Pluralism in the North East of Italy: A Visual Approach

These affiliates have recently developed new aspects of their work:

  • Greg Emery

Affiliate Project: The Pluralism Project at Ohio University

Report: A Collection of Research on the Practices of the Hindu Community of New Vrindaban

  • Pankaj Jain

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

Book: Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities

  • Ahmed Krausen

Affiliate Project: Mosques in Europe – People and Architecture

Photography Exhibit: Islam’s Trip to Denmark

  • Paul Numrich

Affiliate Project: The Mosques of Metropolitan Chicago, 2010

(Please also see his prior affiliate project on Buddhist Chicago.)

Documentary Films

  • Fremont, USA: A City’s Encounter with Religious Diversity

On June 16, the Tri-City Interfaith Council of Fremont, Newark, and Union City California will host a screening of our documentary, Fremont, USA. The film explores how the city of Fremont, California – the most religiously diverse city of its size in the US – responded in an extraordinary way to the tragic murder of Alia Ansari, a Muslim woman, in 2006. The screening and interfaith panel discussion will be hosted by Centerville Presbyterian Church at 360 Central Avenue in Fremont, California – the same church that hosted a citywide interfaith memorial service after Ansari’s death almost five years ago. For more information about the screening, please contact Rev. Jeffrey Spencer at Information about Fremont, USA, including a downloadable order form, can be found at:

  • Welcome to Shelbyville Broadcast on PBS 

Welcome to Shelbyville is the story of how one Bible Belt community in Tennessee responds to its new immigrant neighbors, including a growing Latino population, and hundreds of Muslim Somali refugees. The film will have its broadcast premiere on PBS on May 24. Please check your local listings for times. Shelbyville Multimedia is inviting people and organizations to consider hosting a screening and potluck on the nights of the broadcast — or the week following via the PBS Player. More information can be found on their facebook event page.  The Pluralism Project is a friend of Shelbyville Multimedia.

  • Holy Kitchens: Karma to Nirvana

Last week the second installment of Holy Kitchens, entitled Karma to Nirvana had its world premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival. Holy Kitchens is a film project undertaken by Chef Vikas Khanna “to explore the symbiotic intersection of food and religion.” Karma to Nirvana “focuses specifically on Hinduism, Lord Krishna’s spiritual practices, and the principles of karma and nirvana as set forth in the Bhagavad-Gita.” More information about the film can be found at: Among those featured in the film is Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu America Seva Charities, a Pluralism Project partner organization.