Panelists Discuss Faith and Activism at Harvard’s Institute of Politics


Religious leaders and activists spoke in praise of unity across diversity and tackled questions about the intersection of faith and activism at an Institute of Politics panel Wednesday evening.

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Cornell W. Brooks moderated the event, titled “Moral Resistance: When Faith and Activism Meet in the Streets." Panelists included Harvard Muslim Chaplain Khalil Abdur-Rashid; the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, professor of the practice of religion and public life at the Kennedy School; Brittany Packnett, vice president of National Community Alliances and Engagement for Teach for America; and Rabbi Jonah D. Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Despite hailing from different religious backgrounds, panelists said they were among friends and colleagues. Several said they had once fought together for causes such as racial justice and gun control.

Referring to a line in the Quran, Abdur-Rashid said inclusion serves as a crucial tenet in Islam.


“When you’re asked to make space in your places, make space in your places,” he said.

Hehir further emphasized, “God is universally inclusive.”

Brooks posed a question about how religious communities can better foster inclusion, especially during a time of growing extremism and rising hate crime rates.

He said the panel “occurs at a moment of unprecedented activism, but it is also a dangerous moment.”

Addressing the issue of division, Abdur-Rashid said he feels strongly about the need to advocate from one’s principles above all else.

“If we try to make connections and stand for what’s right, not what’s convenient, that goes a long way from my experience,” Abdur-Rashid said.

Packnett said she was inspired by the leadership of Reverend Traci Blackmon, a pastor at Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo. who was active during the protests in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014.

Blackmon "brought the church out to the streets of Ferguson" when some people did not feel comfortable attending the church, Packnett said.

—Staff writer Ruth Zheng can be reached at


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