The Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion has launched a five-year strategic plan to continue its work to study, learn from, and collaborate with religious communities worldwide.
The plan, which was recently announced at a public gathering on the University of Notre Dame’s campus, envisions the institute as a “crossroad of religions” where voices from multiple faith traditions can engage with one another, and with secular actors and institutions, in respectful dialogue that will help to build a better world.
“The Ansari Institute amplifies a range of religious voices and perspectives, including those that are broadly recognized as institutionally authoritative within religious traditions, those of everyday practitioners, and those coming from the margins,” said Mahan Mirza, the institute’s executive director, as he read an excerpt from the plan. “Within this range of possibilities, the institute endeavors to elevate voices and perspectives that are deeply rooted in the genuine promise for a better world that faith provides. Faith traditions rooted in the true, the good, and the beautiful are received sources of wisdom that deserve a place at the table in scholarly debates about global affairs.”
An Overview of the Plan
Highlights of the plan include:
Research: The institute supports research informed by an array of ethnographical, social scientific, historical, and theological methods of inquiry regarding both the leading ideas and lived experiences of religions around the world. By 2026, it commits to dedicating a line of research funding for scholars, practitioners, and policymakers.
Outreach: The institute will continue to engage religions on their own terms, and to enhance, religious literacy through public education. As its resources grow, the institute will add two faculty positions to strengthen its capacity in outreach, research, and teaching.
Education: In addition to providing educational content for Notre Dame students, the institute offers classes and seminars tailored for the local South Bend community and general public, as well as specialized online courses targeting national and international audiences. It will also facilitate workshops in religious literacy for multiple audiences, including academics, journalists, and faith actors. From 2021 to 2023, the institute is organizing such workshops with support from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.
Signature strategic initiative: The institute will cultivate a “fellowship of faiths,” consisting of individuals whose faith is a centering feature of their identity. This will enable it to provide a platform for a public conversation on “the world as it should be,” as envisioned and contested the world’s diverse religious and wisdom traditions.
The Importance of Engagement
The institute’s strategic plan places a premium on engagement—facilitating encounters and conversations that bring together people from different traditions so that they can learn from each other and ultimately work together on global challenges. Such a focus is particularly timely given the immense challenges the human family faces today—among them conflict, inequality, and climate change, Mirza said.
Others echoed these sentiments in responding to the launch of the plan. Scott Appleby, Marilyn Keough Dean of the Keough School of Global Affairs, noted that addressing humankind’s greatest challenges required religious traditions to engage with each other and with those from other philosophical traditions. Appleby thanked the institute’s benefactors, Rafat and Zoreen Ansari, for supporting “a community company of like-minded scholars, educators, and advocates who believe that the sacred traditions offer the world a much-needed measure of hope and resilience.”
Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland and chair of the institute’s advisory board, also praised the institute’s vision. Having lived through conflict of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, McAleese said she appreciated its focus on engaging with different traditions. McAleese recalled seeing this emphasis since the Keough School first began envisioning the institute: “I feel so very privileged to have watched the Ansari Institute go from an imagined idea to a wonderful idea.”
Carolyn T. Brown, board chair of the Fetzer Institute, underscored the timeliness of the institute’s vision. “At this time of converging global crises, I do believe that the human family needs wise and thoughtful voices that arise out of the deep wisdom of the world's religious traditions,” she said. “Somewhere embedded in each faith tradition are resources to help us through this moment, to invoke a sacred vision and offer a path toward hope.”
Clair Brown, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that the institute is “ideally situated” to “use its knowledge and resources to bring together like-minded groups that want to create a sustainable equitable flourishing economy and society.”
Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion, philosophy, and Asian studies at St. Olaf College and Co-President of Religions for Peace, welcomed the institute’s appreciation of engaging with the other: “Multifaith engagement and interfaith dialogue are central in the plans of the Ansari Institute, and I look forward to new opportunities for learning for sharing for building relationships in my journey with all of you.”
Going forward, Mirza said, the institute’s approach will help it contribute to the Keough School’s mission of integral human development—a holistic view of human flourishing that can help humankind respond to today’s greatest challenges.
“The Ansari Institute seeks to draw upon the wisdom curated by the great religious and spiritual traditions of the world in reckoning with our past, assessing the causes for our fragile present, and contributing toward a shared and resilient future,” he said.
To learn more about key themes and goals, download a copy of the strategic plan.
A key highlight of the strategic plan launch was the announcement of the Randa and Sherif Nasr Book Prize on Religion & the World.