The Interfaith Leadership Institute - Chicago, IL

The Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI) is the largest gathering of students and educators with a vision for interfaith cooperation in America. Each year, hundreds of people who care about the future of our religiously diverse society converge in Chicago to learn, train, share, and get inspired to bring the movement for interfaith cooperation back to their campuses and communities.  

At the ILI

Undergraduate students train to be interfaith leaders who build relationships across identities, tell powerful stories to bridge divides, and learn about ways to mobilize their campuses.

Educators (campus professional staff, faculty, and graduate students) share best practices about how to best support student leaders, advance interfaith cooperation strategically across campus, and network with other educators.

All participants get a chance to test their newfound skills, forge lasting relationships, and share ideas with other people from across the country who are passionate about interfaith work.

Learn More About the ILI

Check here for more information about the ILI.

The ILI is unique among leadership conferences, bringing together a diverse community of undergraduates and educators representing a wide range of worldviews, regions, and types of campuses. Together, they explore the complex forces that are shaping American life and the role that interfaith leaders play in building an indivisible society - starting on campus.

With a range of learning tracks to choose from - fledgling leaders to advanced interfaith work - attendees get the knowledge, skills, and plan to break barriers and build bridges across difference back on campus. Highlights of the ILI experience include:

  • Students and educators alike learn about different faiths, traditions, and worldviews; identifying the shared values and common ground that provide opportunities for meaningful engagement and cooperation.
  • Attendees hear from inspiring interfaith leaders who share their stories of creating change. In turn, participants learn to share their own stories as a means to create connections across difference and form bonds of respect with those of other worldviews.
  • Individuals and campus teams participate in collaborative, hands-on training, from key approaches to interfaith work to developing a vision for interfaith cooperation on campus with a plan to make it happen.

People leave the ILI equipped with the skills to advance the interfaith movement back home, and the knowledge, friendships, and resources to support lifelong leadership. Whether you’re a student or educator, religious or non-religious, a seasoned pro or just curious: you’ll walk away from the ILI as a stronger leader and citizen.

This moment in history needs interfaith leaders. This movement needs you. Join us this summer.

See What the ILI has in Store for You

Featured Speakers

Eboo Patel

- Eboo Patel / Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core read more read less
Eboo Patel / Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core

Eboo Patel is a leading voice in the movement for interfaith cooperation and the Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a national nonprofit working to make interfaith cooperation a social norm. He is the author of Acts of Faith, Sacred Ground and the recent Interfaith Leadership: A Primer. Named by US News & World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, Eboo served on President Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council. He is a regular contributor to the public conversation around religion in America and a frequent speaker on the topic of religious pluralism. He holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship. For over fifteen years, Eboo has worked with governments, social sector organizations, and college and university campuses to help realize a future where religion is a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division.

Vanessa Zoltan

- Vanessa Zoltan / Co-host of Harry Potter & the Sacred Text, Research Assistant at Harvard Divinity School read more read less
Vanessa Zoltan / Co-host of Harry Potter & the Sacred Text, Research Assistant at Harvard Divinity School

Vanessa Zoltan is the co-host of the podcast, Harry Potter & the Sacred Text. She is also a research assistant at Harvard Divinity School. She graduated with her BA in English Literature and Writing from Washington University in St. Louis, her MS in Nonprofit Management from the University of Pennsylvania and her MDiv from Harvard Divinity School in 2015. She is working on a book about treating Harry Potter as a sacred text. Her work with Jane Eyre and Harry Potter has been written about in The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly and other outlets and covered on CNN. Vanessa blogs for the Huffington Post and has written for several other outlets. She lives with 24 Harvard freshmen and her dog, in Cambridge, MA.

What Attendees are Saying

Anusha Abbas

- Anusha Abbas / Arizona State University Class of 2015 and Medical Student at Western University of Health Sciences read more read less
Anusha Abbas / Arizona State University Class of 2015 and Medical Student at Western University of Health Sciences

Being a part of IFYC has served as one of the most defining and transformative experiences in my character development. I was born in Pakistan, raised in America and come from a minority sect in Islam. As a Shia Muslim and an immigrant, I have always had to face the feeling of being "different" and it wasn't until my time with IFYC that I learned how to use that as a strength and advantage. IFYC became a catalyst to bring interfaith leadership to the forefront of my passions and tie them all together, leading to one step after another in the right direction towards my vision. I attended an ILI my sophomore year in college which ultimately led me to starting a Better Together movement at Arizona State University known as "Sun Devils Are Better Together" with my colleagues and mentors. Quickly, the student organization we started gained momentum and our passion for interfaith spread like wildfire. It was extremely challenging but teamwork and a shared common ground helped us thrive as interfaith leaders while inspiring others to be the same.

As a Better Together Coach, I was trained in various skills ranging from public speaking, conflict management, healthy communication, community mobilizing, religious and cultural competency (and the list goes on). Not only did the training I received from my mentors at IFYC make me a better interfaith leader, they made me a more successful person in all my pursuits. I took those lessons with me in all the opportunity I've had since IFYC including my journey towards becoming an Osteopathic Physician and attending medical school.

Our society is taught to see difference of opinion as "conflict" and we are often taught from a very young age to shy away from difficult conversations that may cause "tension." Yet, IFYC taught me to see the beauty in our differences in a way that brings us closer as humanity, regardless of our race, religion, or personal beliefs. It taught me how to express the diversity of my own identity without suffocating that of others. It taught me how to be an authentic human being, how to work better in a team, how to handle difficult people and many other challenges that come with growing into who we are as individuals. I have been passionate about interfaith, humanity, medicine and social justice since as early as I can remember - but IFYC gave me a platform to cultivate the skills it takes to become a leader in those goals of mine while giving me a safe space to share my voice. It helped me realize I am not alone, and that together we can go very far.

Through IFYC, I learned that the power we hold as individuals to create our own positive narrative is much louder than any negative rhetoric out there that is set to divide us and leave us feeling "othered". It is up to us to shift our perspectives, have real conversations and bridge the gaps in our communities towards our common ground. For each negative news headline we see, there is a thousand personal stories of love, interfaith and humanity that we never hear of. IFYC is a great way to hold onto your faith in humanity, and wake up to our power together in a world where it's becoming increasingly harder to do that.

Aminata Diallo

- Aminata Diallo / Susquehanna University Class of 2019 read more read less
Aminata Diallo / Susquehanna University Class of 2019

It was my first year in college, and as one of the few Muslims at my Lutheran university, I had a hard time navigating and finding a supportive community. It was also that year I had the privilege of attending an Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI). I immediately jumped at the opportunity not really knowing what to expect. Not to mention, I had no previous knowledge of the interfaith movement, or even knew that there was such a thing as an interfaith leader. Looking back at it now, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life!

From the second I walked into my first ILI, I just felt this incredible energy in the air. The environment was lively and just filled with eager, happiness, and genuine smiles. Truth be told, the exciting and welcoming energy was quite contagious. After my first ten minutes of being there, I completely forgot that I was clueless and nervous. I spent so much time hearing stories from individuals who were just starting their interfaith journey, and people who’ve been involved in the interfaith movement for decades. I was moved by all of the different ways in which interfaith leaders engaged within and outside of their respective faith communities.

At the end of the ILI, I walked away with three things. First and foremost, I made connections and friendships that I know will last a lifetime. Secondly, I walked away very informed and resourceful about the movement and how incredibly imperative it is; especially at a time where many groups feel divided. Last but certainly not least, I came to the realization that interfaith cooperation is all around us, and there isn’t one singular way of being an interfaith leader. You do not have to be the president of an organization, or know every single thing about the interfaith movement in order to be a change agent. The ILI thought me that although there are many interfaith heroes we admire and learn from, interfaith leadership can take many forms.

To share a little bit more about my interfaith journey post-ILI, I was one of the founders of the Better Together Club on my campus. However, my interfaith leadership style was more visible outside of our Better Together Club. I was inspired to use my position and platform in our student government to push for a more inclusive and interfaith community not only on the student level, but on a faculty and administrative level.

Christy Lohr Sapp

- Christy Lohr Sapp / Associate Dean for Religious Life Duke University read more read less
Christy Lohr Sapp / Associate Dean for Religious Life Duke University

Duke University’s participation in IFYC ILIs is all about community – building community both within Duke and with partner schools. The ILIs have provided a ready-made interfaith retreat for Duke student leadership that has been better than anything I could have organized alone. Nothing builds camaraderie like a road trip, and I have been grateful to have been able to drive students to the ILIs for several years. This has allowed for participation from a greater number of students which, in turn, has also helped to create a sense of community among those looking to engage in interfaith collaboration on our campus. Students deepen friendships on a long van ride where they also have time to explore personal stories of shared commitment and action. On these trips, they also encounter students from a variety of backgrounds who are interested in connecting across lines of difference, and this inspires them to draw the interfaith circle even larger when we return home.

ILIs have inspired my students such that they have come back to campus ready to enact change and build bridges. One year, participation prompted a name change to the student group that organizes interfaith service. Students brainstormed new names for their club on the seven-hour ride home, and finally settled on Voices for Interfaith Action (VIA). This simple name change helped the students better articulate what their interfaith endeavors on campus and the community were all about – amplifying their voices for common action around shared values. 

Pedagogically, ILIs have also helped to underscore the theme of service. By introducing inspired social justice heroes and heroines throughout the leadership institutes, students who have taken my courses on the ethic of service have had the course themes reinforced at an ILI. Others have been inspired to take my courses thanks to ILI “prompts”. In my experiences, students have become even more excited about interfaith engagement when it connects directly to their course curriculum.

Adah Shair

- Adah Shair / University of North Florida Class of 2015 read more read less
Adah Shair / University of North Florida Class of 2015

How a single event stands out in the course of one’s life – a well known cliché yet still holds true for me.

Attending my first ILI in Atlanta in 2014 shaped up my current interfaith life. It is there I realized the importance of interfaith work and the resources available should I choose to pursue it. It is there I realized how deeply affected I was by the ongoing crisis over religious differences and what I could do on my part to counteract. It were the little things at ILI that got to me- as I walked to get some lunch from the buffet and read the sign ‘Chicken (Halal)’, I welled up a little. That was the first time I had seen Halal food at a place other than designated Halal restaurants. The sessions I attended provided hands on strategies for organizing fellow college students towards creating an inclusive and pluralistic campus. I went back to University of North Florida with newly found leadership skills and successfully organized interfaith events and dialogue on campus.

I continued my relationship with Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and joined the Better Together Coach program. The week long intensive training I had with IFYC in Chicago to this day reminds me of who I intend to be – a conscious leader. My work with IFYC not only facilitated development of skills like leadership and public speaking, it helped me become a person who strives to understand and engage constructively. I have since been a part of interfaith efforts being held in synagogues and temples, participated in their services and with an unwavering belief that these experiences don’t take me away from my own faith; instead they have brought me closer to my true identity.

Even after graduation and joining the ‘real world’, I have continued my commitment to interfaith work and now lead the Young Professionals Interfaith council in my city. Even to this day, IFYC continues to help me with my current endeavors through their Alumni network.  All the successes and experiences I have had as an interfaith activist began with that ILI in Atlanta; it was my gateway to the world of all things interfaith and am I glad that I decided to join the UNF delegation to ILI on that rainy day In January.

Clare Stern

- Clare Stern / University of North Florida Class of 2016 and former Better Together coach read more read less
Clare Stern / University of North Florida Class of 2016 and former Better Together coach

My first ILI was June of 2012 and I was really excited for it. I heard pockets of conversations that had my introverted heart soaring. I finally found my tribe. People who wanted to have complex conversations and were not afraid to state what they thought with the understanding that others around them my not share the same idea. The creativity, the dialogue, the exchange of ideas was amazing! I came back saying that while the ILI is very high energy and can be tiring to an introvert it was better than Disney World! Parts of the ILI required me to dig deeper into why I believed and acted on certain things.

After transferring to another school I become very involved with the Better Together chapter as a way to make friends at my new school and continue my journey as an emerging leader. Little did I know that getting involved would change my life so much. After being involved with the UNF campaign, I decided I wanted to tackle leadership studies and added a Leadership minor onto my degree. This minor helped me think critically about what it means to be a leader and how I could serve more effectively as a resource, mentor, and most importantly a learner to those in the interfaith movement. It also helped me recognize that despite my growth areas in public speaking and my more introverted nature, I could still be an a strong leader. Which lead me to apply to be a Coach. Through interfaith work I found a voice and courage because of this very important notion of “respecting the spectrum of story.” I realize that no one can take my story from me and I cannot take their story from them. Once I realized that I started daring greatly and found both my passion and purpose, to be involved in interfaith cooperation, service, and education.

I recently graduated in December of 2016 and have recently been hired by the Faith Always Wins Foundation, LLC. as their Director of Interfaith Youth Engagement. I will be working with high school students on starting the interfaith conversation of values, action and education. I am a firm believer that the more we invest in our youth in both education and leadership development the stronger their voice will be in college and later on the work force. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” This is why I want to teach and be an activist. To empower them to believe in themselves the way my mentors at IFYC did for me and continue to do.


Christian Van Dyke

- Christian Van Dyke / Utah Valley University read more read less
Christian Van Dyke / Utah Valley University

I have just finished sitting as one of the co-presidents of our Interfaith Student Council, and during that time I had the privilege of attending two ILI’s. My biggest take away from each of them was that my campus is not facing unique challenges. It was amazing to be able to sit down with students from around the nation that were just as passionate, if not more, as I was and put our heads together to hasten the progress of Interfaith work. As the world continues to become more polarized interfaith cooperation provides a meaningful skill set in navigating issues students face.

Not only did the ILI allow me to make meaningful connections with students from across the nation, I have access to variety of resources that have been helpful in our interfaith events at UVU. Two of the most popular events we run on campus, talk-better-together and speed faithing, came from our participation in an ILI. Something our campus is trying to do is make our events more organic and less intense, because of the grassroots nature of IFYC they are a perfect example to look to in creating an environment at an event that is organic and non-intrusive while maintaining a serious attitude that can create genuine connections between students from different religious/non-religious worldviews and be the catalyst for meaningful change. Attending an ILI has been incredibly impactful in shaping my future as a student and as an interfaith leader, for the reasons I’ve listed and many more.  

See the ILI in Action

Eboo Patel, Founder and President of IFYC, giving a keynote at the 2017 ILI in Atlanta, GA.

Breaks are interspersed throughout the day, which allow for attendees to mingle and meet fellow interfaith leaders from all over the country.

Notetaking during all sessions is encouraged! There is a lot of information to absorb and process.

Students meet religiously diverse peers from all over the country.

Students navigate conversations around religious diversity

Diverse students engage with others from across the country

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