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Year in Review


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Director's Note

Creating a preeminent university research program on international religious freedom and promotion of pluralistic societies

I am proud of the progress we've made since our inception in April 2023. Ending religious persecution and fostering coexistence in diversity will be central challenges of the 21st century. Yet, within academia, there is a scarcity of stand-alone programs dedicated specifically to international religious freedom and promoting pluralistic societies. We are forging a new approach.

Thanks to the support of Pepperdine University and the Templeton Religion Trust, we are responding to the pandemic of persecution impacting all faith communities worldwide. The Program works to develop human rights best practices to combat religious persecution and end violence and discrimination based on religion or belief. In addition, we are researching positive approaches to pluralism at the grassroots level to counter the mentality that leads to violence or indifference.

We chose Stauffer Chapel's stained glass window as the Program's theme, as it demonstrates how distinctly colored pieces of glass can come together to create something beautiful and deeply spiritual. In the same way, the Program on Global Faith & Inclusive Societies works to advance pluralistic communities that respect diversity and freedom of thought and belief. We research ways to advance respect for pluralism and others' beliefs to ensure everyone can pursue truth as their conscience leads and contribute to their communities without fear of discrimination or violence.

The following outlines the Program's work and research over its first year and areas of future activity.

Knox signature

Knox Thames
Director and Senior Fellow

Program Overview

Diversity is a 21st-century reality. While people from different faiths, backgrounds, and ethnicities intermix as never before, studies indicate that almost two-thirds of humanity live in environments that restrict the free practice of faith. Too often, fear of the “other” leads to division, hostility, human rights abuses, and mass violence.

Each day, millions of people endure such persecution due to their beliefs. Perpetrators range from authoritarian governments apprehensive about independent activities, to extremists driven by sectarian animosity. Addressing this challenge necessitates new research initiatives that identify ways to uphold the principles of pluralism, harness the advantages of diversity, and foster respect for freedom of conscience, religion, and belief.

The Program on Global Faith & Inclusive Societies, launched in April 2023, researches innovative and practical solutions to contemporary persecution impacting people of all faiths and none. Knox Thames directs the Program and research team from Washington, DC. The Program is funded by the Templeton Religion Trust and Pepperdine University, with support from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law (CSOL), School of Public Policy (SPP), and Center for Faith and the Common Good.

Program Team

Knox Thames

Knox Thames
Director and Senior Fellow

Emily Scolaro

Emily K. Scolaro
Senior Program Analyst

Emily Cole

Emily A. Cole
Program Analyst

Strategic Approach

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Reinforcing Impact

The Program works to improve our multi-faith future by developing new ways to network three strategic areas of engagement:

  1. advocating for human rights and religious freedom with governments
  2. promoting respect for diversity, pluralism and others' beliefs at the community level through sacred sites
  3. inspiring the church to pray and advocate for all who confront persecution

Research Lines of Effort

To meet the challenge of 21st century religious persecution, the Program on Global Faith & Inclusive Societies maintains three primary lines of research and activity.



Develop Best Practices

Develop best practices for expanding respect for freedom of religion or belief, collaborate with governments, international organizations, legislators, and civil society activists, and train future advocates to defend religious freedom worldwide.



Appreciation of Pluralism through Sacred Sites

Expand appreciation of religious pluralism through sacred sites by emphasizing historic pluralism to promote diversity, pluralism, and respect for the rights of others; develop relationships with grassroots organizations on the intersection of religious and cultural rights and create a community of practice.



Broaden Knowledge

Broaden knowledge of pluralism in popular culture through speaking, articles and books, graphic novels and films, and theologically-oriented publications for Christian audiences that increase understanding and inspire action.

Key Highlights

April 2023-2024

Highlight Date Detail Picture
Launched Speaker Series on International Religious Freedom April 2024 With SPP and CSOL, hosted former religious freedom ambassadors to discuss bipartisan approaches to global advocacy website announcment
Hosted the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance at the Château d'Hauteville March 2024 Diplomats from 20 countries collaborated with religious groups on advocacy strategies group at the Chateau d'Hauteville
Convened “Sacred Sites Promoting Pluralism” conference at the Château d'Hauteville March 2024 First-ever meeting of heritage preservationists, religious freedom advocates, and interfaith proponents about how to use sacred sites to promote diversity and human rights conference at the Chateau
Brought together NGOs focusing on human rights in the Western Hemisphere at DC building March 2024 Increasing engagement with Organization of American States (OAS) embassies and activists on freedom of religion or belief DC building collage
Initiated and taught new seminar at CSOL on “International Religious Freedom Law and Diplomacy” February 2024 Eleven CSOL students and two SPP students took the class and all participated in a UN Human Rights Council simulation pepperdine campus collage
Organized with SPP an event with META Oversight Board February 2024 Full room at the Army - Navy Club in downtown DC to hear discussion on AI threats to freedom of expression and religion event with the School of Public Policy
Launched Christians Against All Persecution (CAAP Network) January 2024 New effort to inspire Christians to advocate for anyone facing persecution, both Christians and their non-Christian neighbors logo for Christians Against All Persecution
Program website launched under Center for Faith and the Common Good January 2024 Provides information about Program activiies screen shot of website
Convened roundtable on religious freedom in the Western Hemisphere January 2024 In partnership with BYU and USIP, convened meeting for diplomats accredited to the Organization of American States (OAS) conference collage
Addressed religious freedom ministerial conference in Prague November 2023 As a member of the Council of Experts, spoke about religious freedom best practices speaking collage
Established MOU with U.S. Institute of Peace October 2023 As a non-resident Senior Visiting Expert, helped plan and spoke at a major event on international religious freedom logo for United States Institute of Peace
Sacred Sites partnership with Adyan Foundation July 2023 Developed funding concept paper for Sacred Sites Promoting Pluralism in Lebanon Sacred Sites location collage
Hired researchers June - September 2023 Team supports Program activities and grant research CFCG staff group photo
Represented Pepperdine and expanded presence May 2023 As a Pepperdine Senior Fellow, participated in a diplomatic delegation to Lebanon and inter- parliamentary meeting in Kenya multi-photo collage
Launched program April 2023 Based out of Washington, DC, but engaging with Malibu and Vevey campuses campus locatio collage


The Program has developed strategic partnerships that advance grant priorities and promote religious freedom for everyone everywhere. More potential collaborations are on the horizon in 2024-25.


  • United States Institute of Peace
  • BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies
  • International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance
  • International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief
  • Adyan Foundation - Lebanon
  • Good Faith Partnership - UK
  • Christianity Today
  • Dallas Baptist University
  • Religious Liberty Partnership

Publication Highlights

Over the year, opportunities arose to write in a variety of publications about promoting global religious freedom and combatting religious persecution in a holistic and nonpartisan way.

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Upcoming Activities

2024-25 will remain busy as the Program continues to grow and expand. Here are some activities on the horizon thus far, with more to come.



ABA American Bar Association | Rule of Law Initiative

June 2024

Leading ABA ROLI training of Sudanese lawyers in Uganda on religious freedom principles and advocacy strategies.


Ending Persecution Book Launch with NDU Press

September 2024


Meeting with Abrahamic Family House in the United Arab Emirates

September 2024

Meeting with Abrahamic Family House in the United Arab Emirates about a potential collaboration with our Sacred Sites project.


CAAP Network event with Dallas Baptist University

October 2024


Advising coalition of governments

November 2024

Advising coalition of governments regarding an international religious freedom conference in Berlin.


Book Release

March 2025

Graphic novel released about Pakistani religious freedom advocate Shahbaz Bhatti, who paid the ultimate price to fight for religious freedom.

Contact Information