Pluralism Project at 25: Diversity and Inclusion in the American Crucible (2016)

2016 marked the Pluralism Project’s 25th anniversary. We commemorated this anniversary with a conference, Pluralism Project at 25: Diversity and Inclusion in the American Crucible. Hosted by Harvard Professor and Project Director Diana Eck, this conference took place on Harvard’s campus on Wednesday, September 21st through Friday, September 23rd. Events included:

  • Welcome Reception, Photo Exhibit, and Student Panel, Harvard: From Diversity to Pluralism
  • Panel and Discussion: Challenges of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Keynote Dialogue with Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna
  • Panel and Discussion: The Campus Crucible
  • Panel and Discussion: Pluralism and the Practice of Peacebuilding
  • Co-sponsored event with Religions and the Practice of Peace Colloquium: Speaking the Sikh Experience: Visible Difference in the Crucible of Change
  • El Hibri Foundation Panel: Islamophobia in the Age of Interfaith
  • Concluding Dialogue and Discussion

We put together meaningful programming from key players in the world of interfaith, pluralism, and inclusion. Many of our panelists and attendees were alumni of our programs and internships who have become leaders and innovators in the field.

Photo Exhibit, Welcome Reception, and Student Panel

Harvard: From Diversity to Pluralism
Wednesday, September 21st from 6-7:30 pm
CGIS Knafel North Building, Fisher Family Commons, 1737 Cambridge St.

A welcome reception and student panel was held to kick off our conference, along with a 25th anniversary photo exhibit, Harvard: From Diversity to Pluralism. The student panel with the same title featured current Harvard students who spoke to their experiences within their own faith community at Harvard, their interactions with the Interfaith Forum, and their general experiences of diversity, pluralism, and difference on campus.

Panel & Discussion: Challenges of Diversity and Inclusion

Thursday, September 22nd from 10:30 am-noon
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School, 42 Francis Ave.


Moderator: Diana Eck, Harvard Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society, and Pluralism Project Director

Zaheer Ali: Named one of Brooklyn Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture” in 2016, Zaheer Ali is the Oral Historian at Brooklyn Historical Society, a nationally recognized urban history center founded in 1863. As Brooklyn Historical Society’s Oral Historian, he records, collects, archives, and curates the lived histories, testimonies, memoirs, and narrations of Brooklynites from all walks of life. In this capacity, he directs Voices of Generations: Investigating Brooklyn’s Cultural Identity, a project to digitize, process, catalog, and make accessible online nearly 500 interviews that are part of ten oral history collections; and he manages Voices of Crown Heights, a new multi-year oral history project on the history and future of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. Previously, he served under the direction of the late Manning Marable, as project manager and senior researcher of the Malcolm X Project (MXP) at Columbia University–a multi-year research initiative on the life and legacy of Malcolm X. Ali has taught college-level courses on Islam in Black America, Malcolm X, and African American studies; and at the time of this conference, he was an adjunct lecturer at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, where he was teaching American history.

Chloe Breyer: Since 2007, the Rev. Chloe Breyer has directed The Interfaith Center of New York, a nationally-recognized nonprofit that works with grassroots religious leaders to catalyze partnerships with civic officials to resolve social problems in New York City. Issues of concern include police reform, immigration concerns, and religious freedom and discrimination. Institutional partners have included the New York Unified Court System,Catholic Charities, UJA Federation, & the National Endowment for the Humanities. Programs include Re-entry Circles of Support (2011–), Catholic Muslim Service Partnerships (2010–), and the Rabbi Marshall Meyer Social Justice Retreats (1998–). An Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New York, at the time of this conference Breyer also served as Associate priest at St. Philip’s Church in Harlem. She is an author and op ed contributor. Her Ph. D. work is in Christian Ethics.

Nancy Khalil: At the time of this conference, Nancy A. Khalil was a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at Harvard University and a Graduate Student Associate in the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. She was writing her dissertation on the politics of American Islam with an emphasis on the profession of the Imam in America. Her doctoral work was being supported by the Social Science Research Council, National Science Foundation, Bucerius Zeit-Stiftung, Islamic Scholarship Fund, Muslim Students Association National, and Harvard’s Anthropology Department, Weatherhead Center, and Center for American Political Studies. Other research projects she has worked on include research on migrant and second generation political and civic engagement, Muslim students on U.S. college campuses, a transatlantic project on the impact of securitzation on migrant populations, as well as the Muslims in Boston Survey. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked as Muslim Chaplain at Wellesley College and Advisor to their Multi-faith Living and Learning Community. Most recently to this conference, Nancy assisted in co-founding and was serving as a board member of the Boston-based Muslim Justice League.

Dr. Harpreet Singh: Dr. Singh is a scholar of South Asian traditions and languages. His teaching responsibilities at Harvard have ranged from introductory courses on South Asian religions to advanced courses on religious nationalism and literary cultures. He co-founded the Sikh Coalition—the largest Sikh civil rights organization in North America—in the wake of hate crimes against Sikh-Americans after the September 11, 2001 attacks.  He received a PhD degree in South Asian Religions from Harvard’s Committee on the Study of Religion and a MTS degree from Harvard Divinity School.  At the time of this conference, Singh was currently serving on the Board of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life at Harvard; on the Board of Trustees at the Sikh Coalition and Sikh Scholarship Foundation; and on the Advisory Boards of Institute for Asian American Studies and the Sikh Research Institute. As a member of the Harvard Chaplains, his role is to foster Sikh intellectual life and provide a voice to Sikh community within academia.

Keynote with Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna

Thursday, September 22nd from 12-1:30 pm
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School, 42 Francis Ave

In this keynote co-sponsored with the El Hibri Foundation, Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna of New York University lead a dialogue on religious diversity and inclusion.

Panel & Discussion: The Campus Crucible

Thursday, September 22nd from 1:30-3 pm
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School, 42 Francis Ave.

Moderator: Anurima Bhargava, Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School and Fellow, Open Society Foundation
Greg McGonigle: The Reverend Greg McGonigle is a Unitarian Universalist minister and the University Chaplain at Tufts University. He earned an AB from Brown University in Religious Studies focused on South Asian religions and an MDiv from Harvard focused on American religious history and interfaith relations. He has served in ministry at the Boston Living Center, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the UU Church of Davis, California, the University of California at Davis, and Oberlin College. He is an Affiliated Minister in Harvard’s Memorial Church, a field education supervisor for Harvard Divinity School, and a member of the Harvard Board of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life and of the Yale Humanist Community Advisory Board. He is past president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains.

Janet Penn: Janet Penn is the Founder of Youth LEAD (Youth Leaders Engaging Across Differences), and was their Executive Director for over a decade. A the time of the conference, she was a Senior Fellow at CIRCLE (The Center for Inter-religious and Communal Leadership Education), a joint program of Hebrew College and Andover-Newton Theological School, and was writing A Nuts and Bolts Guide to Youth-Led Interfaith Encounter.

Brendan Randall: Brendan Randall is Senior Consultant, Campus Engagements at Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works with colleges and universities across the nation to promote interfaith cooperation as a social norm. A recovering lawyer and former Senior Research Associate with the Pluralism Project, Brendan has an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School and is pursuing an Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Brendan also is a former high school history teacher and thanks his students for sparking his interest in religious diversity and interfaith cooperation (as well as teaching him how to play cricket).

Neelima Shukla-Bhatt: Dr. Neelima Shukla-Bhatt is program director and associate professor of South Asian studies at Wellesley College. She has a B.A. and M.A. from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (India) and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Harvard. She is part of the teaching team for the HarvardX online course “World Religions Through Their Scriptures,” where she leads the Hinduism section.

Panel & Discussion: Pluralism and the Practice of Peacebuilding

Thursday, September 22nd from 3:15-4:45 pm
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School, 42 Francis Ave.

Preeta Bansal: Preeta Bansal is a leader whose career has been at the intersection of law, public policy, government, academia, and global business. She is President of Social Emergence Corporation, a not-for-profit corporation focused on empowering human networks at the base of global socio-economic pyramid. She is also a Lecturer at the MIT Media Lab and a Senior Advisor at MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines. Previously, Ms. Bansal has served as a global general counsel for HSBC Holdings plc in London; general counsel and senior policy advisor in the Obama White House (Office of Management and Budget); partner and practice chair of leading international law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in New York City; Solicitor General of the State of New York; and Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government human rights commission focused on religious freedom and interfaith cooperation. She is currently a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which is focused on addressing poverty and inequality. Ms. Bansal is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard-Radcliffe College and a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (1990-1991). She is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Chatham House. She has served on numerous nonprofit boards including as a commissioner on New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s bipartisan Election Modernization Task Force, as an Advisory Committee member of the Clinton Global Initiative, and as a Board Member of the International Center for Research on Women.

Patrice Brodeur: Dr. Patrice Brodeur is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair on Islam, Pluralism, and Globalization at the University of Montréal. He has studied interreligious conflict and dialogue, particularly in the context of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and is a long-time affiliate with the Pluralism Project and senior advisor to the KAICIID Dialogue Centre. Brodeur also works on integrating education about religion, ethics, and culture into secondary school curricula in Quebec. He has co-edited Pluralist Paradigm: Democracy and Religion in the 21st Century, Building the Interfaith Youth Movement: Beyond Dialogue to Action, and Religion as a Conversation Starter: Interreligious Dialogue for Peacebuilding in the Balkans, 1990-2008. In addition, Dr. Brodeur’s work has also included conducting workshops on multiple identities and power dynamics from an inter-worldview perspective in over fifty countries on all continents. In 2010, he received the “Interfaith Visionary” Award from the Temple of Understanding. Brodeur earned a BA and MA from McGill University and an MA and PhD from Harvard University.

Kathryn Lohre: Kathryn Mary Lohre is the executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations in the office of the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is the editor of the book, For Such a Time as This: Young Adults on the Future of the Church (Judson Press, 2013) and consulting editor of the book, Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves: A Lutheran Calling in a Multi-Religious World (Lutheran University Press, 2016). From 2012-2013 she served a two-year term as president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, as the first Lutheran and the youngest woman. From 2003-2011, she served as assistant director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Kathryn earned her BA in psychology, religion, and women’s studies from St. Olaf College in 1999 and her Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in 2003. In May 2011, the Graduate Theological Foundation conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity to Kathryn, “in recognition of her election as president-elect of the National Council of Churches and also in recognition of her contributions to women’s interfaith issues and pluralism,” Kathryn is married to the Rev. Tim Seitz and they have four children.

Melissa Nozell: Melissa Nozell is a program specialist for Religion and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Prior to joining USIP in August 2014, Melissa spent seven months in Amman, Jordan, volunteering with several organizations, including NuDay Syria and Mercy Corps, to help Syrian refugees through humanitarian aid efforts and mediation. She has experience conducting research on religious trends in the U.S. and Middle East through the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, where she focused on Arab Christian-Muslim relations and faith-based diplomacy, and the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, where she updated and composed reports for the online edition of On Common Ground: World Religions in America. She also worked as an educator in Abu Dhabi. Her interest areas include the implications of religious identity in pluralistic societies, and the ways in which religion can be used as a tool through which to teach human rights in conflict-prevention and reconciliatory capacities, particularly in the Middle East. Melissa holds a bachelor’s degree in Religion and Asian Studies from Colgate University, and a master of theological studies from Harvard Divinity School.

Speaking the Sikh Experience: Visible Difference in the Crucible of Change

Thursday, September 22nd from 6-8:30 pm
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School, 42 Francis Ave.
**This event was cosponsored with the Religions and the Practice of Peace Colloquium**

Presenters: Sarbpreet Singh is a playwright, commentator, and poet, who has been writing while pursuing a career in technology for several years. His commentary has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, The Boston Herald, The Providence Journal, The Milwaukee Journal and several other newspapers and magazines. He writes a weekly column for the popular culture magazine, He is the founder and director of the Gurmat Sangeet Project, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of traditional Sikh music and serves on the boards of various non-profits focused on service and social justice. He is very active in Boston Interfaith circles and was recognized for his interfaith work by the Boston Globe.

Valarie Kaur, an HDS graduate, is an award-winning film-maker, civil rights lawyer, activist, author, entrepreneur, Sikh thought leader and movement-builder who uses stories to drive social change. Her film Divided we Fall examines the Sikh experience after 9/11 and her film Oak Creek documents the aftermath of the Oak Creek shootings.

For more information, please see the HDS calendar listing.
This event is presented with generous support from the El Hibri Foundation.

El Hibri Foundation Panel: Islamophobia in the Age of Interfaith

Friday, September 23rd from 9:15-11 am
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School, 42 Francis Ave.
**This event was generously funded by the El Hibri Foundation**

Introduced by: Harvard Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures and Director, Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program

Moderator: Harvard Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society, and Pluralism Project Director Diana Eck

Parvez Ahmed, University of North Florida
Imam Hassan Selim, Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Taymullah Abdur-Rahman, Harvard University
Celene Ibrahim, Boston Islamic Seminary, CIRCLE/Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College, and Tufts University

Concluding Dialogue and Discussion
Friday, September 23rd from 11 am-12:15 pm
Sperry Room, Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School, 42 Francis Ave.