Our History

In May of 1986, Baltimore was the site of a national interfaith gathering, called The 9th National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations. After the event, Christian and Jewish local lay leaders and clergy formed a planning committee for a new organization that would build on the widespread enthusiasm and interest generated by the workshop. In 1987, they founded the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies (ICJS) and hired Christopher Leighton as the founding director and Protestant scholar.

In its early years, the Institute was focused on combating anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in various Christian communities, and it faciltated dialogues primarily between Christian and Jewish clergy. Over time this work expanded into greater public programs. Most notably, in 1996 producer Bill Moyers launched a PBS series Genesis: A Living Conversation, and he selected the ICJS and Baltimore to develop a pilot project to host interfaith, multiethnic educational events using the Genesis series and viewers guide. Baltimore-area congregations were partnered up with one predominantly white church, one predominantly African American church, and one synagogue, all agreeing to meet together and discuss the Genesis curriculum over several years.

In the late 1990s, ICJS convened a working group of rabbis and other Jewish leaders, and in 2000 they produced Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity, a watershed document in Jewish-Christian relations. Dabru Emet (Hebrew for “Speak the Truth”) was published in the New York Times and was signed by more than 220 rabbis and other Jewish intellectual leaders.

For the first 20 years of its existence, the ICJS was housed in an auxiliary building of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill, but in 2008, thanks to the generosity of the board and other donors, ICJS opened the Bunting-Meyerhoff Center in Towson, which includes the ICJS offices as well as a large library and study center to host public programming.

Starting in 2013 the ICJS began a number of major transitions. After long consideration, the ICJS board voted to expand the work of the Institute to hire a Muslim scholar and to engage and include local Muslim communities and leaders in Baltimore. In 2016, the ICJS officially changed its name to the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, while maintaining the ICJS moniker.

Also in 2016, ICJS founding director and Protestant scholar Christopher Leighton retired, and the ICJS named Roman Catholic scholar Heather Miller Rubens as its second executive director.

Throughout its history, the ICJS has built and convened a wide variety of events and programs that serve and connect clergy and other official religious leaders from across these religious traditions. In 2013, a group of secondary school teachers approached the ICJS in hopes of creating greater professional development and training programs for teachers who teach about religion. In collaboration with Baltimore-area teachers, ICJS has created a variety of Educator Workshops to offer resources and cross-institutional opportunities for teachers on topics concerning religion from public schools, independent non-religious schools, and religious schools.

Starting in 2018, the ICJS has also built a one-year, cohort-based fellowship program for Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and non-religious teachers to help educators become leaders in raising interreligious literacy and innovating new pedagogy around religion in secondary schools.

In 2013, the ICJS also launched a new Emerging Religious Leaders program. In partnership with the Washington Theological Consortium and several rabbinical schools across the United States, the ICJS brings together Christian seminarians and Jewish rabbinical students from across the country for an intensive one-week dialogue course each summer. ICJS scholars, partnered with seminary and rabbinical school faculty serve as faculty and facilitators for this annual course. Plans are in the works to expand this program to include emerging Muslim religious leaders.

In the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 and the ensuing Baltimore protests, ICJS developed the Imagining Justice in Baltimore initiative and the Justice Leaders Fellowship to provide opportunities for diverse religious perspectives to address civic and social challenges in Baltimore. The Justice Leader Fellows spend a year studying and dialoguing together around a justice topic (different religious conceptions of justice in 2016, policing in 2018, water justice in 2020, etc.) and also facilitate a series of public interreligious community conversations for more than 150 participants.