USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture & Inter-religious Council of Southern California

The Future50 Cohort initiative embodies broad themes familiar to the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California (CRCC): “Religion, civil society and government; religion and place; and, religious change.”[1] In July 2014, CRCC and the Interreligious Council of Southern California (IRC) selected fifty Los Angeles area leaders who are committed to religious pluralism and between the ages of 24-35 and who demonstrate great promise for positively contributing to civic engagement, “interfaith activism,” and “spiritual entrepreneurship” in the city.[2] The initiative seeks to both recognize the growing religious diversity of Greater LA and acknowledge that, in contrast to their peers of earlier generations, many of today’s leaders who are motivated by faith are often working outside the walls of denominations and congregations.[3]

The Interreligious Council of Southern California (IRC) began in 1969 as a coalition between Christians and Jews. Today, the IRC is comprised of over fourteen member organizations representing Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim groups.[4] The organization aims to promote “pluralism, diversity, and collaboration in Southern California.” In 2012, IRC launched the Civility Project, a series of web-based “public service announcements” featuring representatives from member organizations.[5] IRC recently raised over $10,000 for a local Habitat for Humanity build in celebration of its forty-five years of existence.

The Center for Religion and Civic Culture, founded in 1996 by John Orr and Donald Miller, faculty members at the University of Southern California’s School of Religion, began as a place to research “the civic role of religion in Los Angeles,” including the diversity of religious engagement in the wake of the 1992 LA riots.[6] Today, CRCC has expanded to become “a research and capacity-building organization that works at the intersection of the academy, community, and public policy,” according to Brie Loskota, CRCC’s Managing Director.[7]

Through events and mentoring the Future50 Cohort initiative attempts to connect this “new crop of leaders” to each other and to the IRC, explains Loskota. “The hope is that this conversation and interaction between all these different leaders will infuse IRC with the relationships needed to creatively move into this new period of leadership while maintaining its [forty-five]-year-old traditions,” she adds.[8]

Robert Williams and Judy Gilliland are the IRC’s Future50 Initiative co-chairs. They write that prior to the launch of the initiative, the Interreligious Council assessed “what core values and insights we could transmit to a new generation of faith-based leaders and, second, what key issues face Southern California in these times of rapid religious and social change.”[9] Reflecting on this process, Williams and Gilliland further acknowledge that “[t]he array of challenges ahead is complex, but now more than ever before, a commitment to promoting vibrant, civic-minded religious pluralism is the indispensible quality we seek in those who will take up our mantle.”[10]

Selected by application, the inaugural Future50 cohort includes local Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Evangelical Christian, Protestant Christian, and Hindu leaders who represent a cross-section of interfaith and humanitarian efforts as well as theological schools and institutes. They hail from organizations and institutions like Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, Fuller Theological Seminary, Vedanta Society of Southern California, Claremont School of Theology, NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, Union Rescue Mission, the USC Hillel Foundation, and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, among others.

Each member of the cohort is profiled in a report produced by the CRCC. Profiles include a brief bio and quotes from each leader on what inspires them to work toward a pluralistic society. Arin Ghosh, a youth leader at the Vedanta Society of Southern California, explains that to him

Interfaith work is not a tool for growing America; rather it is a stabilizing force. Through interfaith efforts we can create a culture and society of compassion—one that can overcome fears, hatred, racism and sexism.[11]

McKenzie Eggers, Public Affairs Director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Los Angeles, acknowledges that her sense of “civic responsibility” was learned from her parents and her church, a legacy she honors through volunteering. She goes on to note that

In the cacophony of discussion and disagreement, there must also be respect and learning. Recognizing there is a common thread, we can also accept that there is beauty in contrasting ideas, and hopefully learn something about ourselves in the process.[12]

The Future50 Cohort is a creative example of how a university and an interfaith organization can creatively partner to identify and learn from new voices. By doing so, community partnerships and institutional legacy are leveraged to promote innovation in an ever-changing landscape.

Click here to read CRCC’s full Future50 Report.

[1] Brie Loskota email exchange with author. September 2014.

[2] “CRCC and IRC Name Future50 Cohort.” Accessed September 2014.

[3] Brie Loskota email exchange with author. September 2014; Future50 Report, 6. Accessed February 2015.

[4] “Member Organizations.” Interreligious Council of Southern California. Accessed February 2015.

[5] “Civility in Public Discourse.” The Los Angeles Examiner. 17 September 2012. Accessed February 2015.

[6] USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Accessed September 2014.

[7] Brie Loskota email exchange with author. September 2014.

[8] Brie Loskota email exchange with author. September 2014.

[9] “Future50 Report,” 6. July 2014. Accessed September 2014.

[10] Ibid., 6.

[11] Ibid., 27.

[12] “Future50 Report,” 22. July 2014. Accessed September 2014.