Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton has become the co-founder and co-chairwoman of New York University's Of Many Institute, an interfaith program for "multfaith leadership." Religion News Service reports that it is an interest that is close to home for Clinton:
Clinton is Christian and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is Jewish. She told Time magazine last year that she was interested in helping to create, support and sustain multifaith leadership.
“I find that really fascinating and fantastic … it’s something that’s quite close to home,” Clinton said in September. “It’s something that I personally care a lot about and I’m committed to helping people who are really doing the work make it happen.”
The Of Many Institute describes why their work is important in a religiously and politically divided world:
For many years now, global leaders – both religious and civic – have acknowledged the need for productive interfaith dialogue and multifaith relationships in order to bring together diverse religious traditions to create a more peaceful world. The September 11th attacks, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the Park 51 controversy are all occasions that required institutions in the US to lead nuanced public discussions guided by well-informed multifaith leaders dedicated to building bridges, promoting peace and coexistence and forging a shared future. From these times of crisis, far too few of these leaders have emerged as a sustained presence, and even fewer institutions have become equipped to support such multifaith action. The result has been ongoing misunderstanding, divisiveness, and outright hostility between faith groups worldwide.
This tension between religious groups has manifested across the country, including on college campuses. Healthy dialogue and action between diverse faith communities, as well as the widespread understanding of these relations, are important in order to protect and foster a flourishing student-life at institutions of higher education and across the US. Universities, where the leaders of the next generation are trained to shape the future, must enable and foster accepting relationships between people of different faiths so that students can carry this understanding and acceptance into the rest of their lives.
Recognizing the importance of this, President Obama issued a challenge to advance interfaith cooperation and community service in higher education. He invited representatives of different spiritual traditions to join together and engage in projects to enhance civil society. Through the development of the ‘Of Many’ Institute, New York University was one of the largest private research universities in the country to take this challenge head-on, creating one of the first community-based, university-wide multifaith efforts in the country.
Research shows that university students are eager to engage in this work. In a 2004 study of 112,232 national college students, 80% reported being interested in spirituality, with 47% saying that it is “essential or very important” to have opportunities to grow spiritually (Higher Education Research Institute, 2004). A study of 988 NYU students in 2004 reported that over half of those surveyed felt they had a strong sense of personal spirituality, and a remarkable 82.7% believed that they could best develop religiously through interactions with diverse religious groups (Lee, 2004). OM gives them multiple opportunities to do so.
Clinton has been associated with NYU since 2010, where she has been assistant vice provost for the Global Network University.