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Pepperdine University

Program on Global Faith and Inclusive Societies

Knox Thames and Dean Pete Peterson

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 and Inclusive Societies, launched in April 2023, is a new research program pioneering innovative solutions to contemporary persecution impacting people of all faiths and none. Based out of Pepperdine University’s Washington, DC campus and funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, Knox Thames directs the program with support from the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law, School of Public Policy, and Center for Faith and the Common Good. 


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Program Research

The program focuses on three primary lines of research:

  • Develop best practices for expanding respect for freedom of religion or belief, collaborate with governments, legislators, and civil society activists, and train future advocates to defend religious freedom worldwide.
  • Expand appreciation of religious pluralism through sacred heritage sites by emphasizing historic pluralism in a variety of mediums to promote diversity, pluralism, and respect for the rights of others. 
  • Broaden knowledge of pluralism in popular culture through graphic novels and films, articles and books, and theologically-oriented publications for Christian audiences that increase understanding and inspire action

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Research Team


Knox Thames

Knox Thames

Program Director

Knox Thames is an internationally recognized human rights lawyer, advocate, and author who has devoted his career to advancing human rights, safeguarding religious minorities, and combating persecution. With more than two decades of service in the US government, Thames has held several pivotal roles advocating for freedom of religion or belief, including positions at the State Department and two federal government foreign policy commissions. He possesses extensive expertise in areas including South/Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and US foreign policy pertaining to human rights.

Serving in the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, Thames has worked at the intersection of global affairs, religion, and human rights.​ Known for his nonpartisan approach to advocacy, both the Obama and Trump administrations appointed Thames as the special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia at the State Department. The first to serve in this special envoy role, Thames received a civil service appointment to lead State Department efforts supporting religious minorities in these regions.


Emily Cole

Emily A. Cole

Research Analyst

Emily A. Cole is a lawyer with regional experience in Latin America. Her work is primarily focused on engaging with the Organization of American States (OAS) and civil society groups to promote and expand understanding of religious pluralism within the human rights framework. Cole's research includes blasphemy laws in Pakistan and anti-conversion laws in India. She is also helping grow the Program's Christians Against All Persecution (CAAP) network. A 2017 Fulbright scholar to Ecuador, Cole received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin Law School and Bachelor's degrees in Political Science and Spanish from Eastern University.

Emily Scolaro

Emily K. Scolaro

Senior Research Analyst

Emily K. Scolaro is a Senior Researcher with Pepperdine University’s Program on Global Faith and Inclusive Societies. She holds a Master’s in Social Anthropology from Oxford University and is currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Scolaro's research focuses on cultural heritage preservation, repatriation, and the illicit antiquities trade in Cambodia.

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Contact Us

To connect with the program about its work or potential collaboration, please contact program director Knox Thames.