At the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, we strive to disarm religious hatred and misunderstanding through education.
We foster difficult conversations across religious lines, bringing together Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others to acknowledge and understand our differences. Our goal is to build a culture of religious pluralism in Baltimore and beyond.
The ICJS is an independent, educational, and charitable 501(c)(3) organization.
We build learning communities where religious difference becomes a powerful force for good.
To make Baltimore a model interreligious city.
The ICJS was founded in 1987 by a group of Baltimore’s corporate and business leaders – both Jewish and Christian—who recognized that the city had no place for religious communities to explore the theology or practices of other faith traditions. They understood that religiously-divided Baltimore needed dialogue across religious lines if people were to work together, understand one another, and heal the deep divides that religious difference had historically fostered.
Gathering clergy and lay leaders, they established the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies (ICJS), rooting its mission and work in education and staffed with religious scholars. They expected the new institute to be temporary, as the group would study together for three years and complete their task.
“We had such grand and lofty and noble intentions,” recalls former ICJS Executive Director Christopher Leighton. “We didn’t thoroughly grasp the complexity of what we were facing. When the mission is as daunting and as ambitious as overcoming a legacy of 2,000 years of misunderstandings, distortions, and hostility, it requires a fair amount of chutzpah to take on a challenge of this magnitude. The kind of naïveté required to say, ‘Well, we’ll change the religious climate in three years,’ even though it took us thousands of years to get into this pickle, is a source of some humor for us.”
Indeed, the challenge of overcoming religious difference proved to be mighty, and the institute established a robust program of lectures, study groups, mini courses, and publications – all anchored in rigorous scholarship.
In 2013, the ICJS incorporated Muslim communities and the study of Islam into its mission and work. The organization changed its name at this time to the Institute of Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, but kept its moniker of ICJS.
While continuing to reach clergy and lay people in religious communities, the ICJS added new audiences in 2016, forming a fellowship program for civic leaders, called “Imagining Justice in Baltimore.” In 2018, the ICJS began a Teachers Fellowship program to equip teachers striving to teach religion in a pluralist society.