The Pluralism Project, an organization that researches religious diversity in the United States, celebrated its 25th anniversary last week with three days of panels and discussions.
In 1991, Diana L. Eck, a professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, and 25 students in her course set out to document the religious diversity of Greater Boston. These initial efforts led Eck to found the Pluralism Project, which has continued to explore religion across the country for the past 25 years.
To mark the milestone, the Pluralism Project organized a conference, which included a student panel, and discussions with Pluralism Project alumni who have continued to pursue work in the field. The conference brought together scholars and interfaith leaders to reflect on the past, present, and future of religious dialogue and diversity.
In an interview, Eck said the Pluralism Project seeks to gather and disseminate research that helps Americans better understand different religious communities in the United States and their interactions. Through its research, the organization also seeks to better define religious pluralism.
Rather than a being a synonym for religious tolerance, Eck said she views pluralism as “being able to engage with diversity.”
“It is premised on dialogue, on the give and take, the traffic of people talking about things,” she said.
Looking ahead, Eck said she hopes to empower another generation of researchers to take the initiative in new directions.
The Pluralism Project has developed case studies on issues of religious diversity, and Eck said they are an important part of the group’s teaching effort. Eck uses many of them in her General Education course, United States in the World 32: “The World’s Religions in Multicultural America: Case Studies in Religious Pluralism.” She said she hopes to further promote the case study method in teaching religious studies in the coming years.
One of the student panelists at last week’s conference, Halah Y. Ahmad ’17, a former summer research intern with the Pluralism Project, called the course’s case studies “key resources for interfaith religious knowledge-building.” Now president of the Harvard Islamic Society, Ahmad worked on mapping minority neighborhoods in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wis.
The Pluralism Project is also considering developing an online course about the religious diversity of America to reach many universities and students, and to “teach America through the lens of its Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, Islamic, Jain, Hindu, Sikh, Native people communities,” according to Eck.