Edward Anderson is a native of Atlanta, GA and a recent cum laude graduate of Morehouse College with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science. Currently, he is a Master of Interreligious Studies student at Claremont Lincoln University in southern California. As a community organizer, grant writer, and public speaker, he seeks to be an agent for social justice and a pluralistic society. His interests include Christian mysticism, Sufism, philosophy, politics, pluralism, pop-culture, psychoanalytics, international relations and post-colonialism. He hopes that, through his writings, he inspires fellow millienals and world leaders to allow their passions to lead their ambitions and heal the broken body of the sacred. His passion for inter-faith work stems from his time as a Chapel Assistant at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and as Co- Founder of the M.O.V.E. Foundation. He is a proponent of the inward journey and believes that we must cultivate our interior lives through meditation before we can reach our actualized potential. He often states that it is within silence that one finds self resolve and strength, for it is within silence that contemplation and meditation take place. He is a true believer that contemplation is the precursor to an individual’s never ending journey to find self resolve. He also enjoys listening to Coldplay, Michael Jackson, and John Coltrane while enjoying the company of friends and nature. Tweet him @Rich_GuArdain.
Hasan Azad is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University with a focus on Islamic Studies. His academic interests include religious identities in secular societies, sufism, sharia and interfaith relations. Born and raised in Britain, Hasan obtained his BA in English and his MA in Islamic Societies and Cultures, both from the University of London. Hasan has travelled extensively throughout the Muslim world.
Martha Schwehn Bardwell is an MDiv student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. She grew up in Valparaiso, IN and attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where she studied religion and English. After college, she joined Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) and worked at a drop-in day center for people experiencing homelessness in Tacoma, WA. After a stint as a short-term recruiter for LVC, she worked as a cook at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center and year-round community in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, where she met her husband, Sam. Her love of community, social justice, studying the Bible, creation, and worship have all led her to pursue ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In addition to being a student, Martha is a musician and plays the oboe in a variety of genres, from bluegrass to Bach. Martha looks forward to building inter-faith friendships and partnerships and is honored to be part of this online community as a first-time blogger.
Rev. Jacob Bolton became the Associate Pastor at Huguenot Memorial Church in November of 2010 after serving as the Director of Family Ministries at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. A native of Michigan, he played intercollegiate baseball at Kalamazoo College and is a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Jacob has written for many church and nonsectarian publications, served on the 218th General Assembly Youth and Young Adult Ministry Task Force, is the peacemaking liaison to the Hudson River Presbytery Congregational and Mission Ministries Committee and the President of the Pelham Interfaith Council. He is currently studying to become a GreenFaith Fellow. His wife, Susan, works for the City of New York and their son, Joseph, was born in July of 2012.
David Bookbinder originally hails from sunny Los Angeles, California but now spends his time in New York as a second year student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbincal School. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he met his wonderful wife of 2.5 years, with a B.A. in Religious Studies. Currently he is a Rabbis Without Borders Fellows, a UJA/Federation of New York Weiner Fellow, as well as a board member of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. He spends his other free time at the social justice organization, Uri L'Tzedek, as the Chair of College Initiatives. Recently, he attended the Cambridge Interfaith Program Summer School, where 25 theologians from around the world gathered to engage in dialogue. He believes that the only way to truly create a just, stable, global society is through dialogue and openness. As our world shrinks it is no long an option to be ignorant of the religions of our neighbors and we must work to not only tolerate each other but accept each other. As a future Jewish leader David hopes to bring together people of all faiths and traditions as a united global community to fulfill the statement in Micah: to do justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Andrew Bowen, once a fervent enemy of religion, is now a perpetual student and champion for inter-religious peace and reconciliation. In 2011, Andrew created Project Conversion, a year-long personal immersion into the culture, practices, beliefs, and rituals of 12 belief systems from around the world as a personal intervention after years of animosity toward faith. His mission: Help create a seamless humanity. Coverage of his efforts has appeared in The Huffington Post, The American Baha’i, The Washington Post, Religion News Service, the Charlotte Observer, NPR’s Interfaith Voices Radio, the Vatican Insider, and more. His fiction and essays splash the murky waters of religion and spirituality, and have appeared in over a dozen venues such as decomP, Prick of the Spindle, Pulp Metal Magazine, and Charlotte Viewpoint. He now speaks and writes about his Project Conversion experience, teaches his personal philosophy, The Path of Immersion, and assists in the effort to end the war between, within, and outside the world of faith. Here, he will explore the dynamic nature of our increasingly pluralistic society as people across the spiritual/philosophical spectrum seek out and explore their own paths.Dawnn M. Brumfield is a native of Chicago, IL. Affectionately known as Rev. Dawnn, she has committed her life to constructing a continuity of care. She is intentional about creating and serving in ministry that integrates the mind, body and spirit. Her commitment to relevant ministry is evident in her ability to incorporate books, movies, music, stories and just about any sports analogy into her preaching, teaching and workshops. Her motto for creativity in ministry is “Make the connection!” She couples the gifts of prayer, administration and leadership with a heartfelt passion for people, especially youth and young adults. Dawnn received her Bachelor of Arts in Communications/Radio Broadcasting from Columbia College Chicago. Then having fulfilled the requirements for graduation from Vanderbilt Divinity School, Dawnn received her Master’s of Divinity in May, 2009. Her ministry focus is simple. She has a desire to prepare the church for ministry to ALL people regardless of race, gender, class or culture, sexual orientation, family design, and physical, emotional or mental conditions. This pastoral mission is lived out as she passionately preaches, teaches and facilitates seminars in parish, community, prisons and hospital settings.
Rebecca Cohen is a second year Master’s student in Historical and Systematic Theology at the Catholic University of America (CUA). She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University with a double major in Theology and Philosophy. As a Roman Catholic, Rebecca hopes to work for the improvement of interreligious relations from within the Catholic Church, with a particular concern for Jewish-Catholic relations. Since recognizing her calling, Rebecca has interned with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Church Relations, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. She has also had the privilege to take part in an undergraduate fellowship at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs to investigate the uses of new social media in interreligious dialogue and several national and international dialogues. Currently, she works as the Youth Director at the Interfaith Families Project and the Graduate Student Assistant at the Institute for Interreligious Study and Dialogue at CUA. Through State of Formation, Rebecca hopes to critically investigate issues pertaining to interreligious dialogue that arise in study and life, thus clarifying her own thoughts and hopefully those of her readers.
Michael VanZandt Collins is currently a 2nd-year M.A. candidate at Harvard University in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. Previously, he had graduated from Boston College with a B.A. and M.A. in Theology, concentrating his studies in social ethics and moral theology, and later taught religion at an urban Catholic high school whose mission is to provide college preparatory education for students of disadvantaged backgrounds. His current research focuses on medieval Islamic thought and the discourse between philosophers and theologians. Interested in points of comparison and encounter between medieval Christianity and Islam, Mike is most interested in how the orthodox sources of both religious traditions could contribute to the modern environmentalist discourse. Primarily, at this stage, his research has centered on subjects of mysticism, metaphysics, didactic literature, as well as the concept of Paradise (al-janna) in the medieval Islamicate. The premise of his research is that the way in which religious traditions view Paradise can inform scholars of the ways in which they envisioned this earth, being the landscape and other aspects of the natural environment. Hopeful of being an interlocutor between traditions, discourse, and disciplines, Mike will be living and studying in Amman, Jordan, as he seeks to develop those methodologies.
Charlotte Dando is currently studying for a Masters in Religions at SOAS, University of London. Even though she has had a life-long fascination of religion and spirituality it wasn’t until she was twenty four that she began to pursue this interest seriously through academia and interfaith work. It was then that she enrolled to study BA Religions in the Contemporary World at King’s College, London. She was amongst the founding members of the King’s College London Interfaith Network and graduated in 2011 with first class honours. Charlotte has spent much of her adult life working in the not-for-profit sector including a six month stint at a children’s development centre in rural Uganda. Her work has led her to develop skills and interests in training, facilitation, marketing and project management. Charlotte is passionate about inter-cultural and interfaith understanding and was a member of the 2011-2012 cohort of Faiths Act Fellows: an interfaith social action programme lead by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. She is a member of United Religions Initiative (URI) European Young Leaders group and works with Three Faiths Forum (3FF) as a freelance facilitator, working to develop interfaith learning amongst high school students. Charlotte self-identifies as a Liberal Quaker but draws inspiration from numerous religious traditions. She lives with her husband Jonathan in Brixton, south London (UK). Her writing is fuelled by a fine selection of loose leaf tea and home-cooked vegetarian cuisine. Contact Charlotte via Twitter: @CharlotteDando
Caitlin Michelle Desjardins is a 3rd Year M.Div Student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She grew up in Madison, WI attending a small Baptist Congregation, then a large Evangelical congregation. In college she attended a mid-sized Anglican Church and eventually found her home in the Mennonite Church! She has, on occasion, referred to herself as "Denominational", having discovered such rich gifts in each denomination she has been a part of. Though committed to membership and leadership in the Mennonite Church, she continues to explore different rich expressions of Christian faith both Catholic and Protestant. She has particularly enjoyed her exposure and participation in the Deaf Church and has a passion for lifting up Deaf leaders for the Church and fully integrating Deaf people into congregational life. Caitlin was a 2011 Fund For Theological Education Ministry Fellow. Her academic interests include Children's Spirituality, Death and Grief, Food Justice/Agrarian Issues, intersections of Literature and Theology, Contemplative Spirituality and Sexual Ethics. After spending a summer with the Sisters of Grandchamp, an ecumenical community of Sisters in Switzerland, she has a burgeoning interest in monastic expressions of faith. She's also enjoyes exploring the history and practices of Buddhism. Caitlin is a classical harpist, teaches gardening and writing in local elementary schools, and can often be found drawing with chalk or in the children's section of the library. She drinks copious amounts of tea. You can contact her via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Aleksandra Djurić-Milovanović is currently a PhD candidate in anthropology of religion at Faculty of Philosophy (University of Belgrade). Recently she finished her dissertation, entitled „Romanian neo-Protestants in Vojvodina (Serbia): between religious and ethnic identity“. Aleksandra holds a Bachelor of Science in Romanian and Italian philology from Faculty of Philology University of Belgrade where she graduated in 2007. She received Master’s Degree in 2008 in Theory of Culture at Faculty of Political Science, University of Belgrade. Aleksandra published more than 20 articles in local and international journals and participated on numerous conferences on religious topics. Her research interests are directed towards anthropology of religion, religious minority groups, religion in diaspora and fieldwork in religion. She is especially interested in religious pluralism and politics of identity, double minorities (ethnic and religious) as well as interreligious dialogue between different Christian communities in Serbia. From 2008, she works as research assistant at the Institute for Balkan Studies of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Belgrade on the projects funded by the Serbian Ministry of Science. Besides studying religion and anthropology, Aleksandra is interested in travelling, photography and yoga. She lives with her family in Belgrade, Serbia.
Nicole Edine is an interfaith advocate and social media and digital content producer based out of Brooklyn, NY. She graduated with a Bachelor of the Arts in Archaeology and Religion from Boston University and recently completed a Master of the Arts in Religious Studies from New York University. Her academic work focused on American religion and the politics of identity with a focus on South Asian religion in American diaspora. She has used her academic interests to contribute to interfaith service organizations serving as Vice President of the Boston University Woman’s Interfaith Action Group and as a social media intern for World Faith in New York City, and has contributed her work as a NYC regional blogger for Religious Freedom USA. She is presently involved in emerging spiritual movements including the REVEAL conference for young women’s spirituality and Ikonoclast, a post-emergent performance art collective. Her writing reflects her unique voice mixing a broad range of topics including her Catholic upbringing, her anthropological background, American identity politics, Eastern philosophy, interfaith advocacy, and interest in post-emergent Christian theology. You can follow Nicole on twitter @nme_421 where she will most likely address all of these topics at one point or another.
Kufre Ekpenyong is an undergraduate student at Brigham Young University and a full-time staffer at Sunstone Magazine, a periodical of Mormon experience, scholarship, issues, and art. He enjoys the pure experiential practice of living out his faith, but he also enjoys taking an active critical look at Mormonism’s history, contemporary state, and future. He sees something of a disconnect between the utopian, egalitarian character of early nineteenth-century Mormonism and the more-conservative, semi-bureaucratic character of modern Mormonism, but he also sees a remarkable historical continuity in terms of the movement’s continuing willingness to affirm the limitless potential and infinite worth of the human mind and personality. His awareness of the individual value of every person as a unique child of God motivates him to appreciate all varieties of human cultural expression, including the many varieties of religious belief. Kufre recently returned from serving in Salt Lake City as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has also served within the Church as an elders’ quorum president and elders’ quorum secretary, working in both cases to aid in the spiritual development of male peers within his congregation. Kufre's long-term career goal is to collaborate with periodicals devoted to issues in religious studies, literary studies, and/or cultural studies. In addition to his current work with Sunstone, he has also interned in the past with Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and has taken part in volunteer work for the Utah Humanities Council. Kufre welcomes email correspondence at kekpenyong[at]gmail[dot]com.
Ahmed Elewa is a graduate student at the Islamic American University where he is researching "responsibility" in Shariah and Islamic Jurisprudence. He is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where he studies early embryo development. Upon receiving his Masters Degree in Biomedical Sciences in 2007, Ahmed spent two years working as a community organizer and interfaith coordinator in Boston before moving to Egypt to pursue advanced religious studies. He is currently enrolled in the College of Shariah and Law at al-Azhar University. In 2010 Ahmed published his first novel in Arabic (alRawda) which highlights the paradoxes inherent in biculturalism. A year later he published a memoir, "Ground Zero Mosque: The confessions of a Western-Middle-Eastern Muslim" to narrate his personal encounter with these paradoxes. Using State of Formation as a medium, Ahmed continues to develop his thoughts on personal and social multiculturalism and how religion, science and history interact within individuals and societies. Follow him on twitter @albostoni.
Margaret Ellsworth is an MA student at Claremont School of Theology, studying worship, spirituality, and the arts. She received her BA in English Lit from Pacific Lutheran University. At PLU, Margaret led both the creative writing group and the contemporary worship band; the creative interplay between ministry and the arts has fascinated her ever since. She has worked as an intern and freelance editor with Augsburg Fortress Publishers and Clayfire, a web project designed to give leaders resources for creative, interactive worship. After finishing her MA, Margaret hopes to write and develop resources for congregations that help them tell the story of God in their own contexts. She also plans to continue her writing for general audiences. As a State of Formation scholar, Margaret looks forward to exploring the overlap between religion and culture, as well as the challenges and blessings she faces as a Christian marrying into a Buddhist family. Margaret lives with her husband Drew in Claremont, California. She tweets @ResoluteMag and blogs at Scribble Out Loud.
Miriam Farber is a third year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Reform Judaism's seminary, in Los Angeles, CA, and is a Wexner Graduate Fellow. Miriam graduated Magna Cum Laude from Brandeis University ('08) with degrees in Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies. Following graduation, Miriam worked as a Jewish Organizing Fellow, through JOIN for Justice, at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. She sharpened her community organizing skills and grounded them in a foundation of Jewish values, while working with synagogue lay leaders on a number of interfaith social justice campaigns. Miriam lived in Jerusalem for two years, studying classical Jewish texts at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies, beginning her rabbinical education at HUC's Jerusalem campus, and exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through Encounter's Advanced Leadership Seminar. Miriam's work with Encounter greatly influenced how she views and values building personal relationships across the lines of faith, class, and nationality. During her time at HUC so far, Miriam has served Jewish communities in Spokane, WA and Great Falls, MT. Miriam has worked with Jewish teens in informal education settings, including BBYO's Impact Boston and URJ's Camp Newman, and written for Rabbis for Human Rights and the URJ's 10 Minutes of Torah. Miriam is currently interning with Just Congregations in Los Angeles, through the Seminary Leadership Project of JOIN for Justice, working with synagogues across the LA area and the state of California to effectively organize around their justice values. Miriam lives in Los Angeles with her fiance, Beni, and two guinea pigs.
Christina Ferrari is a first year graduate student at Loyola University Chicago pursuing her M.Ed in Higher Education. Her interest in interfaith relationships began her junior year at DePaul University where she facilitated dialogues and led interfaith programs such as field trips to places of worship and immersive retreats. Throughout her undergraduate career, Christina developed a deeper relationship with her Catholic roots while simultaneously feeding her curiosity about other belief systems. She has had the privilege of traveling to a number of faith communities including the ecumenical Taize community in Taize, France, the Interfaith Leadership Institute hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core, and participating in World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain. Christina believes that learning from and engaging with people of different religions and philosophies not only contributes to personal growth and faith development, but also enhances one’s social responsibility and commitment to a just world. As a future student affairs professional, Christina hopes to assist college students’ identity development and to build a diverse, pluralistic community across college campuses. She aims to empower students to build bridges across lines of division in society and to be agents of change on campus, in the community, and throughout the world.
Christopher Fici is a writer/teacher in the bhakti-yoga or Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition of the Vedic/Hindu spiritual culture. Born and raised as a Catholic in Detroit, Michigan, Christopher encountered Eastern spirituality while doing his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan. After getting his Bachelor's degree in Cinema Studies in 2004, he had what could accurately be described as a "quarter-life crisis", and through that time of questioning, he became aware and convinced that his spiritual journey was of the utmost importance. In 2006, he moved to a Vaisnava community in West Virginia, where he began to train as a monk/minister, and assisted with the community's organic farm project, the Small Farm Training Center. In early 2009, he moved to the Bhaktivedanta Ashram monastic community at The Bhakti Center in the East Village of Manhattan. There Christopher became involved in outreach and educational programs at New York University and Columbia University, where he helped to teach courses on the spiritual art of vegetarian/vegan cooking, the philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, and the ancient yet timeless practice of mantra meditation. As a budding freelance writer, he began, and continues to publish, with the Huffington Post, Beliefnet, Elephant Journal, Good Business International, ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) News, and now State of Formation. Christopher also edits a blog on the bridge between spirituality and sustainability called The Yoga of Ecology. After retiring from his monastic journey in the summer of 2012, Christopher is now working for his Master's degree in interfaith studies/social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. He hopes to springboard off this experience into work in the fields of ecological justice and sustainability, particularly in the realm of food justice.
David Fisher is a 2012 graduate of Oberlin College with a degree in Jewish studies and environmental studies. He also completed extensive coursework in religious studies and peace and conflict studies. His experiences provide the foundation for working to establish a non-profit, interfaith social venture, Interfaith Appalachia. IA is an emerging organization that brings people together across differences of religion, politics, and environmental perspective for service, dialogue, and community development in the central Appalachian region. The main focus is immersive, interfaith service-learning through an alternative break model. As the founding Director for IA, David witnesses to the power of personal friendships forged across difference. He has held positions including a Dialogue Facilitator for the Auburn Seminary’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith program, a Research Fellow for the Sustainable Endowments Institute, Theatre Educator at Prozdor Hebrew High School, and several positions at Oberlin College’s Bonner Center for Service and Learning. David is a member of the Dalai Lama Fellowship’s Global Learning Community, Udall Scholars Alumni Association, AmeriCorps Alums, Interfaith Youth Core Alumni, and Arava Institute for Environmental Studies Alumni. He has published writing on the intersection of peacemaking, religion, and the environment, and received multiple grants for research in this area while an undergraduate. David now splits his time between Harlan County, Kentucky, and Boston, MA. Organizing Interfaith Appalachia, he enjoys focuses on collaboration with community groups while in Kentucky, and with colleges and universities through while working out of Hebrew College in Boston. He can be reached at David[at]InterfaithAppalachia.org
Hans Gustafson currently serves as the assistant director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, an academic center jointly endowed by Saint John’s University (Collegeville, MN) and the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN) where he teaches theology. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Theology from Claremont Graduate University as well as master degrees in both philosophy and theology. His dissertation explored the philosophical function of sacramentality and religious symbols as mediators, particularity between the fields of theology and the study of spirituality. His research areas include comparative theology and interreligious learning, pansacramental spirituality, and the philosophical theology and spirituality found in the indigenous roots of the world’s many religious, spiritual, and faith traditions. His most recent publications include, “Sacramental Spirituality in the Brothers Karamazov and Wendell Berry’s Port William Characters” in Literature and Theology (Oxford Journals, 2012), and “Collapsing the Sacred and the Profane: Pan-Sacramental Possibilities in Aquinas and the Implications for Spirituality” in The Heythrop Journal (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). After completing his undergraduate work at Boston College in both philosophy and theology and prior to pursuing a career in academia, Hans was a Jesuit volunteer in Juneau, AK where he served Southeast Alaskans living with disabilities with Outdoor Recreation & Community Access.
Daniel Hall is a staff member of the Soka Gakkai International-USA Buddhist Association where he directs awareness raising initiatives centered on the U.N. Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. In 2012, Mr. Hall received a Master of Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California and has since conducted research in this area as an independent scholar. His research interests center on the role of transnational non-state actors in global affairs - particularly the role of religion and media networks in developing international human rights norms. In 2013, Palgrave Macmillan will publish his article titled Pope John Paul II, Radio Free Europe and Faith Diplomacyas part of a new volume on religion and public diplomacy. Susan Harrison is a candidate at the Toronto School of Theology - Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. In addition to her current research in Christian Peace Theology and the Theology of Religions she teaches, participates in, and organizes Interfaith dialogue events. She has an MDiv and a ThM in New Testament and has found leading Scriptural Reasoning groups a meaningful way of connecting with people, building community, and learning about how scripture shapes lives and gives meaning to people. She has served in different capacities as a pastor, chaplain and a cultural exchange program coordinator. Some of her writing includes "Interfaith Friendship as a Bridge to Peace" in Windows to World's Religions (ed. Arvind Sharma) and articles for the Common Ground News; she is one of the editors and contributors to the book On Spirituality: Essays from the Third Shii Muslim Mennonite Christian Dialogue.Leslie Hilgeman is a fifth-year student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, to be ordained as a rabbi in June 2013. Since joining rabbinical school, her passion for inter-religious engagement has led her into inter-seminary workshops and classrooms, organizing inter-seminary student programs, internship work at the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, social-justice delegations to four countries, interfaith prayer and blessing circles, conferences and occasional blogging. Previous to her rabbinical studies, Leslie held a 15-year career as a foreign correspondent and editor, mostly covering business and technology in Latin America & the Caribbean.
Jason A. Hines was born in Philadelphia, PA. He was born into an Adventist Church and remains an Adventist to this day. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Connecticut in 2000 with a BA in political science. After receiving his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2003, Jason practiced commercial litigation in Philadelphia for five years and conducted seminars on religious liberty in his spare time. This gave him the opportunity to discuss issues of religious freedom with Adventists in churches all over the United States. In 2008, Jason decided to devote his career to work in religious freedom. To that end, he enrolled in the Seminary at Andrews University, where he is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Religion. He is also a PhD candidate in the Religion, Politics, and Society at the J.M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is planning to write about a theology of separation of church and state and its potential effect on democracy in the American political system for his dissertation. Right now he does more writing on the internet than anywhere else. In addition to State of Formation, Jason is the Associate Editor for ReligiousLiberty.TV an independent religious liberty website, he is a regular columnist for the Adventist blog Spectrum, and he regularly writes for his own blog HineSight. Jason is married to Lilly Archer and they live in Waco, TX.
Drew Jacob is a philosopher, adventurer and polytheist priest. Travel is his spiritual practice, adventure is his religion. He believes we can live for our ideals, chase a greater fate, seek out challenge and change the shape of the world. He's going 8,000 miles to try it out. You can share the journey at Rogue Priest.
Stefan Junaeus is a student at Claremont Lincoln University working towards his M.A. in Interdisciplinary studies. Stefan received his B.A. from Oral Roberts University in Theological and Historical studies in 2011. In the past few years he has actively pursued a career as a writer that runs parallel to his academic ambitions. Stefan worked as a historical editor for a number of Christian publishing houses. His first academic essay was featured in Spirit-Empowered Christianity in the 21st Century: Insights, Analysis, and Future Trends from World-renowned Scholars edited by Ph.D. Vinson Synan (2011). He recently published his first book entitled Mistaken For Strangers: A Book About Church, Culture, and the Fight for Our Identity that is on schedule to be released later this year. Due to Stefan’s upbringing, having A Swedish Lutheran father, a Native American Pentecostal mother, and having the experience of growing up in two countries at once, Stefan’s work pulls from a number of different streams of theological, political, and philosophical thought. Some of his intellectually inclined interest includes Christian theology, Continental Philosophy, Pop Culture, Social Psychology, and psychoanalytics.
Jem Jebbia is a first year M.A. student at the University of Chicago studying Islam and Ancient Near Eastern Religions. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Southern California. At USC, Jem was actively involved on the Interfaith Council and completed two fellowships for the Interfaith Youth Core, utilizing her personal faith practicing Mahayana Buddhism. At the University of Chicago, Jem hopes to continue her Interfaith engagement with the Spiritual Council. In particular, she is interested in bridging the scholarly study of religion with her own spirituality, as well as making ancient religious traditions relevant to the present.
Guru Amrit Khalsa is an MA candidate at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. She is in the U.S. Foreign Policy track, with an academic concentration in South Asia. Guru Amrit has studied Arabic and Urdu. She currently serves as the Secretary of the U.S. Foreign Policy Association at American University, and is a member of Interfaith Youth Core’s Alumni Speakers Bureau. Guru Amrit is completing an internship with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs this fall. She has previously completed internships at the Washington Post Express, Voice of America and the Middle East Institute. In the fall of 2011, Guru Amrit served as a facilitator for the Connect Program at Soliya, a New York – based nonprofit dedicated to increasing dialogue between youth living in the Muslim world and the West. Facilitators ran weekly discussions among youth living in the Middle East and the West on cultural and political topics via videoconference and social media in order to increase empathy on both sides.
Victoria Larson is studying for her Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Prior to entering seminary, Victoria graduated magna cum laude from Washington College in Chestertown, MD with a double-major in Drama and Humanities. She spent three years alternately working as an actress and travelling in Europe, working on organic farms through a program called World-Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming. Though she enjoyed the diverse experiences she garnered, like jousting at a Renaissance Faire in Pennsylvania or learning to make goat cheese in France, Victoria found herself drawn to answer a persistent call to theological study. She finds that those seemingly haphazard life experiences continually inform her theological formation; she has started a community garden at her seminary, and remains interested in the intersection between ecology and religion. She is also currently investigating whether improvisational theater could be an effective vehicle for starting conversations about ethics. Victoria is a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Her vocational musings, sermons, and the occasional harassed anecdote about her dog Barnaby can be read at lutheranmoxie.wordpress.com.
Hanniel D. Levenson was born in Haifa, Israel and raised in New York City. Hanniel majored in Religion at New York University and was awarded a Master of Science degree in Environmental Policy at Bard College. Hanniel is now in his last year of Rabbinical studies at The Academy for Jewish Religion. Interfaith dialogue, ritual architecture, sacred arts, mysticism, and environmentalism are paths that intersect on his journey. He is a painter, personal trainer, yoga teacher, and a competitive gymnast turned acrobat at The Metropolitan Opera.Rhee-Soo Lee is currently a Master of Divinity candidate at Harvard Divinity School. She discovered interfaith by chance during her sophomore year at Wesleyan University, and has been actively involved in interfaith activism and dialogue ever since. She majored in government and religion at Wesleyan, and wrote her senior thesis about French representations of religion in Algeria and Morocco. After graduating in 2011, she did a year-long fellowship with the Episcopal Service Corps in Boston and worked at a nonprofit in Dorchester doing community organizing and youth leadership development. At HDS, Rhee-Soo is interested in exploring issues surrounding religion and education. In her free time, she likes to read, watch Netflix, and go biking around Boston. is currently a Master of Divinity candidate at Harvard Divinity School. She discovered interfaith by chance during her sophomore year at Wesleyan University, and has been actively involved in interfaith activism and dialogue ever since. She majored in government and religion at Wesleyan, and wrote her senior thesis about French representations of religion in Algeria and Morocco. After graduating in 2011, she did a year-long fellowship with the Episcopal Service Corps in Boston and worked at a nonprofit in Dorchester doing community organizing and youth leadership development. At HDS, Rhee-Soo is interested in exploring issues surrounding religion and education. In her free time, she likes to read, watch Netflix, and go biking around Boston.
Bridget Liddell is a self-educated independent earth spiritualist engaged in a nonhierarchical, nature-based practice and philosophy. While an undergraduate student at DePaul University, in Chicago, she interned in University Ministry as a Student Interfaith Scholar for two years – the first safe space where she could speak openly about her non-normative beliefs and experiences. This community inspired her to pursue formal spiritual leadership in her faith area (as formal as earthy people get), which is grounded in self-education and direct experience. After graduating over a year ago, she departed conventional life and became a nomad, traveling solo in America and southern Asia (primarily India) up until August 2012. The point being to completely step back from leadership at that level, to take the space to articulate spiritual and intellectual ideas, to directly engage Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus in a self-designed interfaith immersion, and to develop personal strength through facing the adversity that comes with the task of long-term solo (especially solo female) travel. But the drive towards communal empowerment could not be denied, and she took an opportunity to apply her theories and experiences – collaborating with a local teacher on critical gender/sexuality awareness workshops for young Indian college students, to provide a safe, informed space where young people could engage highly charged social ideas which impact their daily lives. Now, back in the States, she is writing about her travel experiences and the corresponding social concepts, reconnecting to the seasonal rhythm, and exploring the potential integration of her academic and ministerial interests.
Jessica Minnen was born in Paducah, Kentucky and is the proud product of a blended interfaith family. She holds a BA with honors in English Literature and Gender Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and graduated from the dual Masters program at Baltimore Hebrew University where she completed her MA in Jewish Education and MA coursework in Bible and Near Eastern Studies. She has also studied in the Cours de Civilisation Francaise de la Sorbonne in Paris, and spent a year at Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. Jess spent over two years learning in Israel, primarily at the Pardes Institute and Machon Schechter, both in Jerusalem. For many years, Jess has worked as a staff member for the American Jewish Society for Service (AJSS), a social justice nonprofit that organizes domestic service learning trips for teens, and she now sits on the AJSS Board of Directors. She is also a Rabbis Without Borders fellow and a JOIN for Justice fellow. Through her work in these fellowships, she seeks to find the intersection between spirituality and social justice, do "the inner and outer work," and bring this learning to kids and adults in an experiential way. Jessica currently works as the Assistant Director of the Jewish Journey Project (JJP), a new Manhattan-based initiative in supplementary Jewish education. She is a senior Rabbinical School student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and will be ordained in May 2013. Upon ordination she plans to continue her work with JJP and pursue her doctorate in education.
Aidan McCormack is a chaplain, youth minister, writer, and community minister who works fervently to make the arc of the moral Universe bend more swiftly toward justice. Aidan seeks to counter oppression through pastoral engagement and compassion highlighting the common experience of embodiment and the inherent interconnections within the human experience. He is a Candidate for Unitarian Universalist Ministry and holds a Masters of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, where he was honored with the Charles F. Billings Preaching Prize. Raised and confirmed Roman Catholic he continues to identify with Catholic social justice and mystical teachings and rituals understood through the lens of Unitarian Universalist Christianity. Aidan is influenced by the mystical traditions of various faiths, the philosophies of American Transcendentalism and theologies of liberation including, most strongly, feminist and queer theory and theologies. Aidan identifies as queer man who is transgender. He is passionate about bridging the perceived gaps between the LGBTQ experience and the experience of being religious or spiritual. He works to make space for those who identify as LGBTQ to explore their spiritual identities and experiences. He is developing a curriculum called Trans/Spirituality to address these issues and has been a featured panelist for the American Medical Students Association for his expertise on how to meet the health concerns of LGBTQ patients. Aidan is also an active white ally countering racism. In addition to writing about LGBTQ spirituality, Aidan is also deeply interested in finding reverence in the truths of science. In his free time, Aidan occupies liminal spaces not only in theology and gender, but also between low and high brow culture. You’re as likely to find him at an art museum or the opera as you would in front of his Xbox or a marathon of Doctor Who.
Mark McCormack is a graduate from the Vanderbilt University Divinity School and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Vanderbilt’s Community Research & Action program. His research focuses primarily on the psychological study of interfaith relations, though he has also studied extensively and written on such topics as faith–based community development, congregational studies, religion & politics, and the history and sociology of religion in America. As a community psychologist, Mark hopes to engage in research and community action that not only broadens current understandings of interfaith work but also provides practical insights for community members and organizations actively engaged in this work and seeking to improve interfaith relations. His academic work has appeared in the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, the Journal of Religion & Society, and The Community Psychologist, and he has presented at numerous regional, national, and international academic conferences. Mark lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three boys. A life–long member of the United Methodist Church, he is currently pursuing ordination as a Deacon within the UMC and hopes to explore and expand the denomination’s involvement in interfaith programs and initiatives. He has been involved in various interfaith programs and events within the Nashville community and across the U.S. and hopes, among other things, to contribute insights from these experiences to the ongoing dialogue at State of Formation.
As an undergraduate at The George Washington University with disciplines in International Business, Finance, and East Asian Religions, Jai Mirchandani is currently working with professors and academics in the Washington, D.C. area to preserve and grow the voice of the Dharma in broader American society. In further service of the Dharma, he is gathering investor monies to manage a ‘Dharma Fund’, which will be employed both proactively and reactively for causes related to the Dharma.
Enver Rahmanov was born in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and studied in Kiev, Ukraine before moving to the United States to work at the United Nations in New York. Currently, he is a student in Interreligious Studies at the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, California) and the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. Enver is also a Graduate Research Assistant at the Mangalam Research Center for the Buddhist Languages, where his focus is on reception of Buddhism by the West. Working for the UN and volunteering with several faith-based organizations, including on a Navajo land in Arizona and Bodh Gaya, India, Enver has come to realize that the wisdom of peace, compassion and right actions is truly universal and has no borders but only different languages and interpretations. He is inspired by the Dalai Lama’s ethics beyond religion and “education of the heart,” a call to bring the indispensability of inner values of love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness into education. Enver promotes interfaith dialogue by building personal heart to heart connections across religious borders and through his facilitation of Beyond Words: An Interfaith Ritual for Peace. Enver enjoys meditation, yoga, dance, bicycling, hiking and travel.
Mani Rao (b. 1965, India) is the author of eight poetry books and a translation of the Sanskrit Bhagavad Gita published by Autumn Hill Books, USA (2010) and Penguin India (2011). She is a phD student of Religion at Duke University in the area of Hinduism focusing on vedic studies. Her poems and essays are in journals including Wasafiri, Meanjin, Washington Square, Fulcrum, West Coast Line, and Interim, and in anthologies including Zoland Poetry, W.W.Norton’s Language for a New Century, Penguin’s 60 Indian Poets, and the BloodAxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. She has performed at literary festivals including the Age Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Vancouver Asian Heritage Month, Chicago Humanities Festival, New York PEN World Voices, Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival, and Singapore International Poetry Festival. Translations of her poems are published in Latin, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, French and German. More information about her work can be found here. found here.
Attorney Wilfredo Amr Ruiz is also a Chaplain who obtained his B.A. and Juris Doctor from the University of Puerto Rico. Ruiz was a U.S. Navy JAG Corps Officer honorably discharged in 1997; who later engaged in his private law practice. Ruiz was admitted in the Hartford Seminary’s graduate program on Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations; and later joined the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program. Ruiz worked as a chaplain in the Connecticut Valley Hospital and various Immigration Processing Centers. In 2007 Ruiz performed the Hajj Islamic Pilgrimage. Ruiz is a regular columnist in different newspapers and electronic media outlets. He is regularly interviewed and consulted on a as an expert on foreign policy, politics of the Middle East and the Muslim World; Islam, and Christian-Muslim relations.
Amjad Saleem is currently working as Head of Communications for The Cordoba Foundation, a Muslim inspired Think Tank and Do Tank that provides an alternative communicative channel for thought leaders and policy makers; by facilitating a platform for intercultural and religious dialogue, understanding social justice issues and peace building between communities; in particular advocating for what Islam can bring to the common good and improving the understanding between the Muslim world and the west and vice versa. He is their lead on the ‘Conflicts, Development and Faith Program’ and a focal point for South Asia. His main interest is in building bridges between communities to help further respect, understanding and acceptance in particular working with many local communities in areas of conflict resolution and community cohesion. Amjad has an M.Eng from Imperial College, an MBA from Singapore and is currently pursuing a part time PhD from Exeter University on ‘Faith in Post Conflict Reconciliation – The challenges of the Muslim Community in helping to develop a post conflict identity for Sri Lanka’. He is a regular media contributor to online journals, websites and news programs and has edited a book published in 2008 entitled The Story of Aceh: Insights. He does some part time lecturing at the University of East London on ‘Introduction to NGO Management’ and ‘Islam and the Modern World’. He is an adjunct lecturer for Lawrence Tech University in Michigan, USA and has lectured in the past in Sri Lanka on Project Management & High Impact Leadership. He is currently UK director for Policy and Research for the Centre for the Study of Trans Atlantic Diaspora and a trustee of UK NGO, BUILD, which works on building partnerships in International Development.
Hilary J. Scarsella lives as a member of the Prairie Wolf Collective in northern Indiana with several dear friends and her partner Sam. Currently Associate for Transformative Peacemaking with Mennonite Church USA, she also works for Institute of Mennonite Studies and recently completed a Master of Divinity degree from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in theology, ethics, and peacemaking. Prior to her time in seminary she earned a degree from Indiana University in religious studies and philosophy, and she is currently looking toward beginning a PhD. Hilary’s deepest passion is for interrupting and healing systems of violence and oppression wherever they are found, be it in war zones, religious communities, private homes or public streets. She has been an active volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams for the last 5 years, periodically traveling to northern Iraq to support locals working for peace. In the U.S. Hilary’s work has centered on undoing racism, undoing patriarchy, walking with women striving to heal from the trauma of sexual violence and helping religious communities learn to be safe spaces for survivors. Hilary believes that prayer, worship and peacemaking are inseparable, and when done well they are indistinguishable. Her master’s thesis Sexual Abuse and the Lord’s Supper: A Ritual of Harm or Healing highlights her lasting interest in looking at ways to shape worship so that worshiping communities are inwardly formed to resist violence and become agents of peace, justice, and reconciliation.
Rev. Dr. Gary Schmidt was ordained in 2012 as an Interfaith Minister, a calling that supplements his lifelong career as a literary scholar and academic. A graduate of Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley. Gary has written, published, and researched extensively in the fields of English Renaissance literature and history (his book, Renaissance Hybrids: Culture and Genre in Early Modern England will be published by Ashgate Press in early 2013). However, he has always been most interested in the way myths and stories combine with psychology to give us insight into our deepest selves. His influences include Carl Jung, Hermann Hesse, Joseph Campbell, and Karen Armstrong. Gary has taught at Harvard University, the University of California, Boston University, Stanford University, and other prestigious institutions. He currently teaches English and Religion at Friends Academy, a Quaker college preparatory school just outside New York City. Gary is also a member of the Community of the Mystic Heart and runs the alumni book circle at his alma mater, One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. He can be found on Twitter (@revdrschmidt) and on his curated blog, Ultimate Concerns, which explores “the mysteries of psyche, soul, and the evolution of life.”
Syd Shook attends Fuller Theological Seminary where she is earning a Masters in Theology. She became interested in indigenous cultures and human rights issues during her time studying linguistics (B.A.) at The University of Oklahoma. In 2007 she was awarded a fellowship from Yale to study Nahuatl in the Balsas River Valley of Guerrero. While in Mexico, her love of indigenous art, literature and culture grew as well as her desire to work with underserviced populations. Syd is passionate about tangible Christian spirituality and loves working with others to create and enact that passion. In 2008 she and her husband, poet David Shook, partnered with Community of Faith and Amahoro Africa founders Claude and Kelley Nikondeha to form a non-profit (FBO) now called Communities of Hope. They worked with local leadership to mobilize leaders from the Batwa community of Burundi to create a successful community-based development partnership that utilized a combination of land loans, micro-finance and appropriate technology. Syd worked with Communities of Hope in similar capacities in Latin America and in Haiti. The organization continues to align itself with the dreams of those in underserved communities and offers them long-term, sustainable development options and support coupled with friendship. Syd attends Hollywood Adventist Church where she also serves as an Elder. In 2011 she participated in a fourteen-week, seven-discussion Standing Together group dialogue with her fellow church members and members of the Islamic Center of Southern California. She co-founded and co-edits The Hillhurst Review, an online platform for book reviews, interviews, opinion and creative pieces relevant to faith and spirituality. Syd teaches ESL part-time in Koreatown and writes poetry in her spare time. She lives with her husband, David, and Chihuaha, Okie Doke, in Los Angeles.
Andrew Twiton is the intern pastor at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis and a Master of Divinity student at Luther Seminary. He currently lives in St. Paul, MN with his spouse, Kristin. He received his Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy from Gustavus Adolphus College focusing on American Pragmatism and theories of social change. While at Gustavus, he participated in the Interfaith Dialogue Working Group for the college's most recent strategic planning process. After college, Andy spent two years in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC), first, in Berkeley, CA as a recovery counselor at a drug treatment group home for teenagers, and, second, in Minneapolis working for Lutheran World Relief in their public policy and advocacy department. It was during LVC that Andy began discerning a call to ministry and started the candidacy process for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In 2010, he was named a Volunteers Exploring Vocation Fellow by the Fund for Theological Education and began his seminary education at Luther. Andy is eager and excited to take part in the growing movement of inter-religious dialogue. You can connect with him on twitter @atwiton or through email atwiton001[at]luthersem[dot]edu.
Alex Weissman is a community organizer, performer, and rabbinical student. In addition to this rabbinical studies, he works as a hospice chaplain and a mentor to teenagers involved in multifaith dialogue. He has worked with Jewish and queer communities over the last ten years around issues of HIV/AIDS, domestic workers' rights, substance use, partner abuse, and queer youth homelessness. He believes deeply in sacred listening as a practice for healing, building relationships, and pursuing justice. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Alex has returned after ten years away to attend the Reconstrucionist Rabbinical College.