Religions for Peace USA

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 21 August 2015.

Phone: 212-338-9140
A Forty-Year Legacy Religions for Peace USA began in the early 1970s as an office within its parent organization, the World Conference of Religions for Peace (now, Religions for Peace International). Although it was created solely to support the work of the international organization, the U.S. office steadily began developing its own programming independently of, but in coordination with, the international body. In 2000, the U.S. office decided to establish itself as an independent chapter, The United States Conference of Religions for Peace, in order to develop a mission that was more focused on domestic initiatives. The organization’s name was changed in 2004 to Religions for Peace USA (RfPUSA), and a new mission and vision took hold. Today, RfPUSA’s official headquarters are in the Church Center for the United Nations, where the organization works alongside its parent body. Diverse Leadership The governance of the organization is carried out by three councils: the Council of Presidents, comprised of senior religious leaders; the Executive Council, including interreligious affairs officers and advocates; and the Advisory Council, made up of scholars and issue-based experts. RfPUSA describes itself as “the largest and most broadly-based representative multi-religious forum in the United States” and over fifty religious communities, including a number of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu groups, are represented in the organization’s governing bodies.[1] On a day to day basis, Executive Director Aaron Stauffer leads a small staff of young adult interns, seminarians placed at RfPUSA as part of their field education, recent college graduates, and volunteers. Stauffer also emphasizes the essential role of staff located in specific geographic areas RfPUSA has targeted for new initiatives.[2] These individuals help the organization execute local initiatives and maintain roots within the communities in which they work. Programming and Areas of Focus Religions for Peace USA’s programming is shaped by its three areas of focus: building interfaith community, interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding, and understanding the global context. Building Interfaith Community Through its programming RfPUSA aims to build community not only between cities, but also among leaders within the interfaith movement. For this reason, RfPUSA has been reaching out to other interfaith organizations for cooperation and collaboration. RfPUSA, for example, acted as a liaison between the North America Interfaith Network and the National Association of Ecumenical and Interreligious Staff for a 2004 NAIN/NAEIS Connect Conference in New York City. RfPUSA also collaborated with the United Religions Initiative (URI) to plan a 9/11 interfaith Unity Walk. Additionally, RfPUSA’s monthly interfaith newsletter is distributed via The Interfaith Observer and reaches close to 20,000 domestic and international subscribers.[3] In 2003, RFP USA undertook a large-scale initiative called Building Interreligious Councils. The project was an effort to develop three new interreligious councils where an interfaith structure was lacking, providing technical assistance for organizers through the development of a guidebook and formal training process. The project was initially piloted in three locations—Fresno, California, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Kansas City, Missouri—and since it has since successfully expanded to places like southern Nevada. RfPUSA also publishes an inter-chapter newsletter to connect the regional and national chapters of Religions for Peace International. In this way, chapters can share successful practices with one another and strengthen their effectiveness as they address peace and justice concerning in their parts of the world. Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding Central to the organization’s programmatic goals is a focus on interfaith dialogue. Since the adoption of a new strategic focus on interfaith discussion in 1984, RfPUSA has facilitated more than thirty formal dialogues. One of the organization’s most wide-reaching dialogue initiatives was the two-year Diversity and Community Project between 2001-2003, where RfPUSA representatives held local dialogues in eleven communities to discuss the changing face of the American religious landscape and the issues that resulted from this change. RfPUSA worked with over fifty-five local interfaith groups and representatives from coast to coast as part of the Diversity and Community Project. In 2004, RfPUSA also facilitated The People Speak, a project under the auspices of the United Nations Foundation, which included forty local dialogues that discussed America’s role in the World from a faith perspective. From 2006 forward RfPUSA has developed and expanded programming to counter Islamophobia. In 2012, RfPUSA, in partnership with a group of national partners, found the Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative, with its pilot site in Nashville, TN. Today, the Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative remains a RfPUSA program coordinated by a Nashville-based non-profit, the Faith and Culture Center | Our Muslim Neighbor initiative Nashville. The Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative hosts community dinners as well as conferences, clergy training on interfaith relations, and media trainings for community leaders.[4] When a gunman, who identified as Muslim, killed four servicemen in Chattanooga in July 2015, the Faith and Culture Center and Religions for Peace USA tapped their networks to raise $22,500 in less than a month for the families of the victims.[5] Efforts are currently underway to expand OMN to other locations like the Twin Cities in Minnesota. This initiative has experienced great success and is the product of one of RfPUSA’s main values: to do work that takes its lead from the priorities of the religious groups involved. According to Stauffer, the interfaith dialogue component of RfPUSA’s vision has transitioned over the years from consisting only of dialogue to including “interfaith action” inspired by dialogue. Specifically, Stauffer says that recent dialogues have focused on using interfaith dialogue and theological discussions as a basis for “creating alternative conceptual paradigms that allow us to create political alternatives.”[6] For example, in March of 2015, RfPUSA hosted a conference for its Council of Presidents with grassroots organizers discussing issues of structural racism and religious prejudice. Understanding the Global Context RfPUSA’s third area of focus is fostering understanding of the global context. At the time of this writing, RfPUSA’s primary global initiative is “Climate Change: Our Voices Campaign” which seeks to educate and mobilize interfaith and youth leaders around issues of climate change. In December 2015, RfPUSA will send several representatives to the Paris 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21. RfPUSA has a global vision and the benefit of an extensive network of staff, partner clergy, and community leaders at local, statewide, and national levels. In addition, RfPUSA is part of what Stauffer calls “a family in ninety different places” and maintains regular contact with RFP International, keeping RfPUSA “deeply connected to the global context.”[7] Through these partnerships, RfPUSA hopes not only to foster interfaith dialogue but also to use dialogue to help local leaders make positive changes in their communities. [1] “Mission, Vision, & History.” Religions for Peace USA. Accessed August 2015. [2] Aaron Stauffer. Interview with author. 2 July 2015. [3] Aaron Stauffer. Email correspondence. 21 August 2015. [4] “About.” Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative. Accessed 20 August 2015. [5] “Muslims Lead Donations to Families in Chattanooga Shooting.” The Tennessean. 17 August 2015. Accessed 19 August 2015. [6] Aaron Stauffer. Interview with author. 2 July 15. [7] Ibid.