Meryl Chertoff founded the Inclusive America Project in 2012 with a powerful vision—that religion could be part of the solution and not the problem, and that faith communities were essential to building resilient communities. As a practitioner of interfaith work at that time, I was thrilled to see the Aspen Institute take on this important work in a meaningful way.
When I joined the Inclusive America Project in 2016, our country was at an inflection point. The 2016 election had just taken place, exposing the deep schisms and polarization in our body politic. The Muslim ban was being implemented into policy, antisemitism was on the rise, and yet faith communities were needed more than ever in local communities. We knew that to respond to the forces of bigotry and hate, we would need an equally large response that was well coordinated and strategic. Perhaps most importantly, we sought to model the pluralism we aspired to create in the world. Meryl is Jewish and from a conservative political background, I am Muslim and from a progressive background. We certainly had our differences, but we also had enough trust to build common ground. In a hyper-partisan moment, building common ground was the harder thing to do, but we knew it was imperative for the long-term health of our democracy.
I am incredibly proud of my time leading the program. We built a program strategy that outlined an ambitious vision for religious pluralism, recruited a diverse set of funders, and connected a national network of faith leaders who live out the components of religious pluralism every day through their work.
In the two decades that I’ve been involved in the field of religious pluralism, the need to understand the connection between religion and society has only grown greater. And that is true of this moment, too. We must collectively look at all the solutions that we can bring to the challenges and threats to democracy that we face. I am so glad that the Religion & Society Program at the Aspen Institute will continue to lead the charge on this critical work.
Zeenat Rahman is the executive director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and former executive director of the Inclusive America Project.