In 2011, Dr. Diane L. Moore proposed the creation of the Religious Literacy Project (RLP) to sustain Harvard Divinity School’s legacy of enhancing the public understanding of religion through education. Thanks to the support of Deans William Graham and David Hempton, the Religious Literacy Project and its website was launched in the spring of 2015.   

As demand grew for the RLP’s approach to advancing the public understanding of religion, the program has continued to expand its offerings and activities.  

In 2016, the RLP launched a two-year symposium series on Religious Literacy and the Professions, including humanitarian action, entertainment media, journalism, and government. The RLP also opened a joint research project with Oxfam to advance religious literacy in humanitarian action, resulting in a groundbreaking report on empowering local faith actors in humanitarian response. 

In 2017, the RLP deepened the reach of its work with high school and community college educators, starting a week-long summer institute for educators. This was followed in 2018 with a fellowship program to allow pioneering educators to develop curriculum using the RLP approach to teaching religion.  

Also in 2018, the RLP launched the Religion, Conflict, and Peace Initiative jointly with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, creating new space for the RLP to engage with practitioners building peace and advancing social justice through a fellowship program and by providing students across Harvard  immersive learning opportunities, including courses on campus and in the field, and field-based internships. The RLP also expanded its work with professionals in the fields of journalism, humanitarian action, business, and government, recruiting professional fellows in their fields to mentor, teach, and help broker internships for HDS students.  

Seeking to further expand HDS’s role in advancing the public understanding of religion, in 2019, Dean Hempton tasked a faculty advisory group led by Dr. Moore to consider ways to further advance the HDS mission for the future. The resulting vision focused on leveraging Harvard Divinity School’s historic strengths in scholarship and ministry studies to provide a third arena of curricular and programmatic focus through a new program: Religion and Public Life.  

The new program integrates a number of existing HDS programs (including the Religious Literacy Project and Religions and the Practice of Peace) along with seminars, conferences, and other activities initiated by faculty. The result is a more focused, cross-disciplinary canopy that coordinates and amplifies Harvard’s global reach, diverse community, and convening power in order to strengthen the public understanding of religion across multiple sectors, toward a more creative, just, and peaceful future.