August 8, 2011

Dear Friends,

I have just returned from a week at the Congregational Summer Assembly in Crystal Lake, Michigan, where I had the opportunity to preach at a Sunday service and, later, to talk about the work of the Pluralism Project. It was immensely heartening to experience the enthusiastic response to our work, even though we have been at it now for some twenty years!

There has been much in the past month that has been disheartening, however. Like you, I have been challenged to understand the senseless, premeditated violence of the killings at Utoya in Norway.  The victims were young, politically active, and committed – like so many young people involved in summer trainings and internships. Breivik’s video manifesto, and its 1500 page counterpart, is chilling – giving frank, graphic expression to the very opposite of pluralism. The fear of diversity, anger at immigration and multiculturalism, and a contempt for dialogue are its repeated themes.

What is most troubling is that a more muted articulation of this same fear and anger can be heard in mainstream debates across Europe and in the US around issues of immigration. In both contexts, intolerance, xenophobia, and especially Islamophobia are on the rise, fueled by sensationalist media. The extremist rhetoric of groups like Jihad Watch, Act! For America, and Stop the Islamization of America is not without consequences, and needs to be recognized as the incendiary force that it is.

When we foster healthy pluralism, enabling people of diverse religious, cultural, and political persuasions to thrive in a shared society, we foster global security. I am proud of the work that our staff, fellows, and summer interns have accomplished to this end over the past few months.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I am aware that many of you are planning interfaith events and compiling resources for others to use. We would certainly like to share that information with this network, as well. I invite you to email us at staff@pluralism.org so that we can do so.

Summer Programs

Over the summer months, we have conducted two simultaneous programs: a fieldwork internship program in five US cities, and a Presidential Information Technology Fellowship (PITF) program based at Harvard. The fieldwork interns (in Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Richmond, and and San Diego) have been conducting interviews on the ground in order to develop city portraits of the interfaith infrastructure, profiles of promising interfaith practices, and multimedia projects for an online storybook. The IT Fellows have been developing interactive GIS maps using the detailed data we compiled on the interfaith infrastructure and religious landscape in 20 US cities, complete with layers of relevant 2010 Census data. Thank you to Liza Carens, Skyler Oberst, Francesca Chubb-Confer, April Palo, Rachel Templeton, Megan Odell-Scott, Allison Solso, Whittney Barth, Abbas Jaffer, Josh Whitson, and Brendan Randall for their excellent work. Thanks also to Rev. Marcia Sietstra for her fieldwork in Omaha, Nebraska. We will publish these materials online later this year.

An American Mosque 

We celebrated the completion of our summer programs with a film screening and reception at our Harvard Square office; in addition to our current student researchers, several local alumni and friends joined us. The featured film was the fine cut of David Washburn’s new documentary, An American Mosque. The 26-minute film tells “a small town story with larger implications about whose history, whose religion, and whose sanctuaries are considered part of our national identity. The story revolves around the Muslim farming community in Yuba City, California, and the devastating arson in 1994 that destroyed its local mosque. The film’s narrative unfolds through a series of storylines: the building of the mosque, the fire and investigation, the community and media reaction, and the mosque’s rebuilding and future role for the community.” The film will begin screening in 2012. For more information, visit http://anamericanmosque.com/

Fremont, USA

The Poway Interfaith Team (POINT) in Poway, California launched their Interfaith Summer Nights film series with a screening of Fremont USA. The screening was followed by a round table discussion.

North American Interfaith Network

In July, Assistant Director Kathryn Lohre attended the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) annual Connect conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The theme was “Many Lands, Many Faiths, One Common Principle – The Golden Rule.” The conference was hosted by the Arizona InterFaith Movement (AIM), whose mission is to “build bridges of respect, understanding, and support among diverse people of faith through education, dialogue, service, and the implementation of the Golden Rule.” AIM, which was instrumental in making Arizona the first “Golden Rule State” in the nation in 2003, offers specialty license plates to AZ residents which serve to both generate funds for the organization’s work and to spread its mission far and wide. Ethiopian activist and international advocate Mussie Hailu was honored by AIM at NAIN; he offered the keynote address, articulating a vision for global interfaith harmony.

Center for Public Leadership Blog

Several Pluralism Project students, affiliates, and partners have written posts for a new blog post partnership with Harvard’s Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership. These posts seek to articulate the particular challenges of minority religious leadership and interfaith collaboration in light of current events. Currently posted are blogs written by Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, and Whittney Barth, a research associate at the Pluralism Project.

Advisor and Affiliate Updates

We recently received a visit from long-time advisor Dr. Pravin Shah of the Federation of Jain Associations of North America and the Jain Study Center of North Carolina. The purpose of his visit was to discuss developments within the Jain communities in the US and to develop plans for updating our research on Jainism in America.

Based on the research of his student research affiliates Heidi Bamberg and Michael Giuletti, Dr. Pankaj Jain added over 50 profiles of Hindu, Jain, and Sikh centers to his research project, “Studying the Religious and Ecological Practices of the Hindus and Jains in North Texas.”

We welcome former research associate Katie Merriman as a new student affiliate. She will present a paper entitled, “Beyond Park51: Mosques and Muslim Communities in New York City Post 9/11” at the 40th annual Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS) Conference this fall.

In May, student affiliate Shenila Khoja-Moolji presented a paper at “American Bodies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Modes of Power,” the Fourth International Graduate Conference at Freie Universität in Berlin. She drew on her Pluralism Project research to present key findings on Muslim women’s contributions to public leadership through the institution of Muslim chaplaincy. Her full research report can be accessed at: http://pluralism.org/affiliates/student/khoja-moolji/

Lilly Endowment Inc.

We are pleased to announce that we have been selected by Lilly Endowment Inc. to receive a grant to complete the enhancement and migration of our award-winning CD-ROM, On Common Ground: World Religions in America (OCG) to web. Through this project we will develop new content reflecting the most critical developments of the past decade; incorporate the best of our research over the past 20 years using new multimedia technologies; and publish OCG 2.0 on our public website in 2012. Funding from the Endowment was critical to the development of the CD-ROM in 1997; we are grateful to the Endowment to be able to bring this award-winning project to you through an open source web-based platform.

Save the Date: Multi-Faith Spaces Panel, September 6

On the afternoon of Tuesday September 6, the Pluralism Project will host a panel discussion at Harvard University with guests from “Multi-Faith Spaces – Symptoms and Agents of Religious and Social Change,” a research project at the University of Manchester (UK). Pluralism Project Research Director Elinor Pierce is a member of the project’s advisory council. At the event, Principal Investigator Dr. Ralf Brand, along with his colleagues, will share the findings of their research to date, and invite colleagues in other contexts to offer reflections and insights from their own work on multi-faith spaces.

Save the Date: American Academy of Religion (AAR) Reception, November 18

Our annual reception honoring Pluralism Project friends, affiliates, and advisors will be held at AAR 2011 in San Francisco on Friday, November 18 from 9-11 PM in Room 2011 at the Moscone. This year’s program will feature a presentation of our pilot project “The Interfaith Infrastructure: Citizenship and Leadership in the Multi-Religious City.” We will also highlight new features and content developed for On Common Ground: World Religions in America 2.0, the online edition of our award-winning publication developed by our 2010-2011 Postdoctoral Fellow Ryan Overbey, set to launch in 2012.