The Tragic Loss of Brendan Randall, Long-Time Affiliate and Senior Researcher of the Pluralism Project

The Pluralism Project is devastated to learn of the death of Brendan Randall, a long-time affiliate and Senior Researcher of the Pluralism Project. He had a tragic accident while getting off a train in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 6 and passed away on Sunday, July 9. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Cathleen Randall, and his family. He was an energetic, brilliant, and accomplished scholar and teacher. He was also a wonderful colleague and cherished friend—truly kind, generous, thoughtful, and supportive.

Brendan’s loss is immense for the many communities of people with whom he worked—here at Harvard and more recently at the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. Brendan had an impressive array of Harvard degrees (A.B. 1988, M.Ed. 2007, M.T.S. 2009, Ed.D. anticipated 2018) in addition to a law degree from the University of Minnesota (1991). He had wide religious knowledge and sensitivities, as well as significant experience in education from his years at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York. He kept his legal eye sharp as ever as he plunged into the great civic controversies of our own critical era in the emergence of multi-faith America. We remember how he often humorously introduced himself as a “recovering lawyer” when he first came to Harvard Divinity School. At the Pluralism Project, Brendan worked closely with our case-study initiative in developing and teaching the cases that involve students in the on-the-ground dilemmas of our time. At the heart of his work was his concern with civic education for pluralism and how schools can prepare students to live in a religiously diverse democratic society. He was an invaluable, inventive, and beloved teaching colleague in my case-studies course in General Education at Harvard College, said by many of his students to be “the best teaching fellow I have had at Harvard.” Brendan was a person we trusted with the vision and future of the Project, even as he brought our work into the exciting network of the Interfaith Youth Core as their Director of Campus Engagement.

Brendan was a deeply humane thinker and teacher. Meira Levinson, his dissertation advisor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, sees his nearly-complete thesis as an outstanding synthesis of law, religion, political theory, and education. “Religious Belief, Free Expression, and ‘Lightning Rod’ Issues: Agonistic Pluralism and Civic Education in a Religiously Diverse Democracy” addresses both theoretical and practical challenges in creating respectful school environments in a pluralist society.  Brendan was especially concerned with strengthening schools’ capacities to protect gender-nonconforming students and others who challenged heteronormative discourse and behavior, while also protecting other students’ free religious expression. Brendan had the rare quality of taking all sides in the debate seriously, on their own terms, while also providing profound moral and legal guidance for schools, civic educators, and all who care about promoting mutual respect and inclusion in these polarized times.

Memorial services for Brendan are being planned for Minnesota in August and Cambridge, MA in October. Please join the listserv created here to be kept apprised of the plans for the Cambridge service and to connect with one another about how we can best remember Brendan and honor his work.


Diana Eck, Director of The Pluralism Project
Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies
Faculty Dean of Lowell House
Harvard University

Interfaith Youth Core has put together a lovely page of remembrances for Brendan. 

July 12, 2017