Center Profile

The Interreligious Center on Public Life (2009)

197 Herrick Road, Room 29
Newton Centre MA 02459
Phone: 617-559-8639



The organization aims to provide a forum for public education and to inform public policy. Through its publications, workshops and conferences, the Center dedicates its efforts to the enrichment of public life and discourse and the furtherance of interreligious understanding.



"The Interreligious Center on Public Life [ICPL], established in 1999, is a forum for the dissemination of the principles and ideas of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as they relate to the great domestic and international issues of the day. A joint venture of Hebrew College and Andover Newton Theological School, the Center is the only entity of its kind to be created by a distinguished Protestant seminary and a leading academic institution of advanced Jewish study." (see website) This joint venture is aided by the fact that the two schools share a common campus. Hebrew College was originally located in an old mansion in Brookline, but outgrew the space by 1998. Hebrew College’s move came about due to the friendship and cooperation between its president, David Gordis, and Ralph Elliot, the former acting president of Andover Newton (since retired). Hebrew College purchased land from Andover Newton and completed their new campus there in 2001, the first of many cooperative ventures between the two institutions. Although the founding of an interreligious organization was not an original goal of the move to Newton, the interactions of the two universities quickly led to ICPL’s establishment.


The organization aims to provide a forum for public education and to inform public policy. "Through its publications, workshops and conferences, the Center dedicates its efforts to the enrichment of public life and discourse and the furtherance of interreligious understanding." (see website)

Organizational Structure

The Center is overseen by a director, an executive committee, and a governing board. Rabbi Sanford Seltzer is the current part-time director and the only paid employee of the project. The governing board consists of approximately 40 members who meet about three times a year. The board members represent a broad cross-section of lay leaders, clergy, and academics from the three Abrahamic faiths, many of whom are well-known leaders in their respective fields. The board elects an executive committee, which consists of about fifteen people. This group oversees the activities of the board of directors, policy-making, and the day-to-day operations of the organization. Included in the latter group are clergy such as Dr. Nick Carter, president of Andover Newton Theological School, Dr. David M. Gordis, president and professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew College, as well as professors, clergy, doctors, lawyers, community relations professionals, and others from Boston and beyond the region as well.

Projects, Events, and Activities

The ICPL has been involved in a wide range of activities over the years. In one such project, the Center hosted adult evening classes at Hebrew College and Andover Newton Theological School, which were taught by professors from various colleges in Boston. The classes included topics such as "Talmud 101" with Reuven Cohn from Hebrew College, and "Tolerance and Tradition" with Adam Seligman from Boston University. In the past, the ICPL has published a newsletter called Viewpoints (issues of which are available on their website), and occasionally releases public statements. One of these public statements was a joint letter from Nick Carter and David Gordis to the leaders of the Islamic Society of Boston and the David Project, urging both sides involved in the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center controversy to drop their respective lawsuits. (see Religious Diversity News for more information) The ICPL sponsors an average of two large conferences each year on topics of concern to the community. Events planned for 2008 include a conference for all people in the Boston area who are involved in interreligious work and a symposium on homosexuality and religious traditions. Past events have included an interfaith series called "In God's Name: Waging War for the Sake of Heaven,” which brought multi-faith speakers Reuven Kimelman, Colleen Keyes and Harvey Cox into dialogue. The Center often cooperates with other organizations from other sectors of society. For example, in October 2005, they hosted Carole R. Fontaine from the Women's United Nations Report Network who spoke on the topic, "Religion and Women's Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: From Exclusion to Inclusion." For a full listing of their past events, see The ICPL is also the only American co-sponsor of The International Summer School on Religion and Public Life (ISSRPL), an interreligious summer school that meets for approximately two weeks each year. The various locations have included Jerusalem, Boston (on the adjacent campuses of Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College), and Bosnia. By providing an international framework for students, civic leaders and prominent scholars to explore the intersection of religion and the public sphere, the ISSRPL aims to develop new strategies of tolerance and pluralism while maintaining a commitment to tradition and religious identity. The school's guiding belief is that, in order to build tolerance and understanding between groups and to shape a civil society, the perceived barrier between secular, modern and more traditional religious values must be broken down. The book Religion and Human Rights: Conflict or Convergence, edited and introduced by Adam B. Seligman, is a series of essays inspired by the experiences at the ISSRPL.

Date Center Founded

Their mailing list has about 1,000 people, and an average of 150-200 people come to ICPL programs. Rabbi Seltzer estimates that over 2,000 people have come to their various programs over the years.