Our History

Founded in January 2004, Interfaith Philadelphia emerged as a regional response to the national tragedy of 9/11. The organization was formed by individuals from a wide diversity of backgrounds – including clergy and lay persons with experience in interfaith relations – who wanted to transform the tragic event  into a catalyst to affect positive change in this community.  To do this, they envisioned an agency that could facilitate reconciliation, mutual trust, and common action across religious communities and where cross-cultural and multi-faith education, dialogue, and collaborative endeavors could flourish.

 

Years later, this bold vision continues to evolve and unfold in exciting and innovating ways.  In its earliest days, Interfaith Philadelphia began its work by facilitating a host of community programs and dialogues. Ultimately, these evolved into more formal conferences and workshops and, over time, the scope of our work has broadened significantly to encompass a number of signature initiatives.

 

In our first 11 years, we have served over 30,000 individuals and partnered with more than 265 religious congregations and institutions, educational institutions, and civic and service organizations. To this day, Interfaith Philadelphia remains one of the few organizations of its kind across the country.  We’ve been called upon at the highest levels of city government and local business to help create programs that promote understanding, cooperation, and relationships between individuals of different faiths.  We at Interfaith Philadelphia teach more than mere tolerance; we believe that embracing diversity in our neighborhoods, institutions, and workplaces is the key to building a cohesive, compassionate, and thriving society – contributing to the kind of region and world in which we want to live.

Why Philadelphia?

Philadelphia is known throughout the country as the 'City of Brotherly Love.' It is also known by many as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States. Founded by William Penn, a Quaker, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was a bastion for all religious groups to find freedom to worship without fear of persecution or reprisal. Penn famously wrote:

 

For you are now fixed at the mercy of no governor that comes to make his fortune great; you shall be governed by laws of your own making and live a free, and if you will, a sober and industrious life. I shall not usurp the right of any...

 

And so, Philadelphia, its history firmly rooted in concepts of peace, understanding, and pluralism, continues to live out these ideals today. “Philadelphia is a living example of Penn's vision, from the downtown grid layout of streets and public squares he planned, to the tolerance and diversity of "the city of brotherly love" of which he dreamed.

 

"In busy downtown Philadelphia, the sounds of passing trains can be heard in the prayer hall of the Muslim Society of the Delaware Valley. In the leafy suburbs, the temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness attracts Euro-Americans, African Americans, and new Indian-American immigrants. A Korean Won Buddhist Temple is housed in what was formerly a white clapboard church in suburban Glenside. There is a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Lansdowne and a Thai temple in Bensalem." [1]

 

Home to a region rich in diversity of faith and heritage, Philadelphia provides fertile soil for the seeds planted by the Interfaith Center. Our region is home to more than 2.6 million religious adherents (out of a total population of 6.1 million) from more than 1,600 congregations representing 21 diverse communities of faith.  This makes Philadelphia one of the most religiously diverse cities in the country -- a unique characteristic that can be traced back to the city's founding and William Penn's "desire to create a space where people could freely worship," in addition to being one of the most ethnically diverse.

 

The Greater Philadelphia area can serve as a model of positive engagement of the (religious) "other" -- particularly in an age where the world's religious communities are coming to blows with alarming frequency.  Dr. Eboo Patel, a leader in this global movement, has stated that "the only way to overcome destructive fanaticism is to create communities where human connection transcends differences of race, religion, and culture." 

 

[1]“Religious Diversity in Philadelphia (2005), The Pluralism Project, http://pluralism.org/reports/view/75.

 

 

Organizational Timeline

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