RCLA Launches Initiative on Religion, Civic Leadership & Democracy

NYU Wagner’s Research Center for Leadership in Action is thrilled to announce the launch of the initiative Religion, Civic Leadership and Democracy in the Public Square: Exploring and Advancing the Role of Faith in Civility 11 Years Post-9/11.

Religious leaders have become significant teachers of civics and civic engagement in the United States, a role for which few have been trained. Given the polarization and violent rhetoric in America today over many divisive issues, this project seeks to work with religious communities to promote constructive dialogue and civil discourse.

The two-year initiative, directed by NYU Wagner Professor David Elcott and made possible through support from the Ford Foundation, will examine how civic and public issues are addressed within religious communities and the implications for broader civic discourse and democracy in the US. The initiative is designed to highlight the roles religious communities and their leaders play in American political life and to equip a new generation of religious leaders to constructively promote greater civil discourse and pluralist democratic values.

The Religion, Civic Leadership, and Democracy in the Public Square initiative will leverage civic and democratic values from within religious communities while simultaneously advancing inter-faith bridge building and conversation.

The project has three main aims:

  • Engagement through Active Inquiry: The initiative will explore how religious communities and their leaders address public civil discourse and democracy to determine the connection between religious rhetoric and teaching and the roles one plays as a citizen.
  • Analysis: Through collaboration with key religious leaders, the initiative will search for religious language particular to each religious community to enhance democratic discourse and focus Americans on common ground and on the common good.
  • Tools and Training: A main focus of the initiative will be to share actionable knowledge with political and religious leaders and activists, youth leaders and teachers who are concerned with enhancing civic dialogue.

David Elcott, who is leading the initiative, has 25 years of experience in interfaith and interethnic mediation and coalition building. Trained in political psychology and Middle East affairs at ColumbiaUniversity and Judaic studies at the American Jewish University, Dr. Elcott is the Taub Professor of Practice in Public Service and Leadership at NYU Wagner and an affiliated faculty member at RCLA. The initiative builds on RCLA’s participatory and democratic approaches to building knowledge and leadership with practitioners in the public service and social change arenas over the last decade.

Dr. Elcott noted, "For two over two decades I have worked to build interfaith coalitions committed to social justice while mediating conflicts within and among religious communities. This is an extraordinary opportunity to highlight the extensive involvement of religious leaders in the political life of America as teachers of civic values – and to locate more effective ways for these leaders to promote a healthier and more civil United States.”