National and International Initiatives
The first World’s Congress of Religions convened in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and is often cited as the “birth of formal interreligious dialogue.” In 1988 the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions was founded to organize a centennial celebration of that historic gathering. Subsequent Parliaments of the World’s Religions were convened in Chicago, USA (1993), Cape Town, South Africa (1999), Barcelona, Spain (2004), Melbourne, Australia (2009), Salt Lake City, USA (2015), and Toronto, Canada (2018). The Council, through the hosting of Parliaments and other forums for promoting interreligious harmony, continues to bring together religious leaders, scholars, students, and activists in an effort to provide “a framework for expressing many visions of a just, peaceful and sustainable future.”
Family Promise (formerly “Interfaith Hospitality Network”) opened its doors in 1986 under the direction of Karen Olson, a former marketing executive. Olson’s encounter with a homeless woman led her to found IHN as a response by faith communities to the crisis of homelessness and poverty. Today, nearly 200 national affiliates in 43 states –including Family Promise of Las Vegas, profiled in this pilot study– bring together diverse religious communities “to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence.”
The Gülen Movement is perhaps the most unique, and least understood, of interfaith efforts in the U.S. The “movement” is a loosely-affiliated group of organizations inspired by Imam Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim scholar, educator, and peace activist. Internationally, the Gülen movement is known for its educational efforts, with more than 1,000 schools in some 130 countries. In the U.S., in addition to more than 150 charter schools, many interfaith and intercultural groups are affiliated with Gülen; some choose to make this connection explicit, while others do not. These groups may take on different names, whether the Amity Turkish Cultural Center in Jacksonville, the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue in Austin, or the Niagara Foundation in many Midwestern cities. Gülen-affiliated groups share an emphasis on Turkish culture and interfaith dialogue.
The Interfaith Alliance advances religious freedom “by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism.” To work toward this goal, Interfaith Alliance promotes national policy initiatives, volunteer-based activism, sound election practices, and interfaith and political education. The organization is comprised of 13 state-based affiliates with over 185,000 individual members nationwide representing 75 faith and secular traditions.
Interfaith Power & Light (IP&L) began in 1998 when San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral and a number of other Episcopal churches aggregated to purchase renewable energy. By 2000, Interfaith Power & Light had expanded to become a statewide effort that grew into a successful organizational model for encouraging congregations and individuals to be “faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.” Today, 36 states and the District of Columbia have IP&L chapters, each reflecting aspects of their local context, including the Utah Interfaith Power & Light, a chapter influenced by the state’s rich Mormon traditions.
Founded in 2002 by Dr. Eboo Patel, the Interfaith Youth Core seeks to “build an interfaith youth movement using service as the bridge.” The organization has seen exponential growth in the last decade and today is internationally known for its youth-led service campaigns on college campuses. IFYC partners with organizations such as the Search Institute to support nationwide programs; one such program was “Inspired to Serve,” a 2006 pilot campaign that provided the impetus for the St. Paul Area Council of Churches’ launch of the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition, as profiled by the Pluralism Project. In 2010, IFYC served in an advisory capacity to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for the launching of President Barack Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is a national organization founded in 1996 that calls upon “religious values in order to educate, organize, and mobilize the religious community in the United States on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits, and conditions for workers, and give voice to workers, especially workers in low-wage jobs.” IWJ’s network consists of over 60 interfaith committees, workers’ centers, and student groups across the nation. The organization seeks to leverage these partnerships between the labor movement and religious communities in order to address issues of workplace justice.
The North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) seeks to bring together leaders of interfaith organizations and agencies in the United States, Mexico, and Canada “to provide a coalition model of cooperative interaction.” This is done through online networking and an annual conference, both of which aim to support the work of member organizations. The first NAIN Connect conference was held in 1988. The 2019 the annual NAIN conference was hosted online for the first time as a part of Interfaith Awareness Week.
Juliet Hollister founded the Temple of Understanding in 1960 to “educate youth and adults both cross-culturally and inter-religiously for global citizenship and peaceful coexistence.” The organization, which began with support from notable public figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Pope John XXIII, Anwar al-Sadat and the XIV Dalai Lama, sponsors lectures, workshops, performances, dialogues and is a participant in the Committee of NGOs at the United Nations.
United Religions Initiative (URI) is a global interfaith network chartered in 2000 that seeks to “cultivate and connect grassroots change-makers across religious, cultural and geographic boundaries” and encouraging “collective power to take on religiously motivated violence and social, economic and environmental crises that destabilize regions and contribute to poverty.” Over 1050 Cooperation Circles (small, independent groups of interfaith activists) in over 100 countries are addressing diverse issues such as environmental concerns, labor rights, rescuing child soldiers, ending gun violence, and reforestation. Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Syracuse are home to URI Cooperation Circles, one of which—Women Transcending Boundaries—is profiled in this pilot initiative.
Below you'll find a growing and multidisciplinary list of research organizations which study aspects of religion in the United States. While this list aims to be comprehensive, it is not exhaustive. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions for adding to this resource.
The American Religious Experience Project
West Virginia University
The Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life
Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism
St. Mary’s College of California
Center for Religion and Civic Culture
University of Southern California
Centers for the Study of American Culture
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Center for the Study of World Religions
Harvard Divinity School
Hartford Institute for Religion Research
- “Lobbying for the Faithful”: A study of the growth of religious advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C.
- “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey”: A survey of 35,000 adults that “details the religious makeup, religious beliefs and practices as well as the social and political attitudes of the American public.”
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
Religion and Public Life
Harvard Divinity School