Inclusive America Project History

Troubled by the rise of increasingly polarizing religious rhetoric in America, Justice and Society Program Executive Director Meryl J. Chertoff undertook to examine the issue. In March of 2011, in partnership with Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, JSP held a day-long conference, “America the Inclusive”. Encouraged by the high level of enthusiasm exhibited by participants in the initial conference, she launched the Inclusive America Project (IAP) officially in 2012. The project aimed to be a high-level nonpartisan project focusing on five key sectors: youth development organizations, higher education, media, religiously affiliated organizations, and government agencies.

With former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Harvard Kennedy School professor David Gergen serving as co-chairs, IAP brought together a distinguished panel of leaders in these five sectors for full-day meetings at the Aspen Institute headquarters in December 2012 and April 2013. Panelists collaborated to author a white paper on proven strategies to increase respect for diverse religious identities in the public sphere, foster positive interfaith interactions, and form productive partnerships among people of different faiths in the service of the common good. The report, titled Principled Pluralism, can be ordered here or accessed in PDF form here.

In 2015, IAP released two publications. The first, Interfaith Engagement in West Michiganis a detailed study of interfaith efforts in the region over the past 30 years and includes an analysis with insights about interfaith organizing gleaned from the West Michigan experience. The second was based on studies with Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and The Y of the USA to assess how growing religious diversity affects their programming. The resulting resource, Religious Diversity and Youth Development, describes eight real-life scenarios in which religious diversity creates challenges in youth development settings.

A New Chapter

The upheaval and intensified rhetoric of the 2016 election year drew JSP to dedicate more resources to the issue of religious pluralism and to IAP. We brought on Zeenat Rahman to direct the project, and Allison Ralph, first as consulting editor and eventually as Assistant Director.

IAP also followed up with a new collection of essays, Pluralism in Peril in February of 2018. This collection offers effective tools and strategies from community and interfaith leaders, philanthropists, and academics to build a more resilient, trust-based environment that fully incorporates American religious minorities. The collection also offers a vision for a truly pluralist future.

Since then, IAP has focused on creating a national infrastructure to foster multi-stakeholder and cross-sector connections, with the ultimate aim of building and sustaining the field of religious pluralism. Our most recent report, Conscience, Community and Citizenship, came out of our first multi-stakeholder gathering in 2018. It provides takeaways on the specific skills and competencies needed to engage in a pluralistic and democratic society.

In 2019, IAP shared the bittersweet news that our founder Meryl Chertoff would be leaving her role as Executive Director of JSP to become Executive Director for the new State and Local Government Law and Policy Program at Georgetown Law School.

Zeenat Rahman has led IAP’s developing initiative, the Religious Pluralism Funders Circle, which:

  • connects funders by creating spaces for them to meet, learn, and strategize,
  • educates funders on current thinking and practices by engaging across sectors,
  • encourages funders to collaborate by highlighting opportunities for collaborative investment,
  • and defines the field by creating common language and intellectual framework.

For more on this and other recent initiatives, see our main homepage.