IRCPL is home to a number of faculty-led projects and hosts several related research centers.


Mapping the Sacred: Supporting Indigenous Conservation Movements in India

The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life’s most recent project under the Columbia Catalyst Initiative will focuses on providing indigenous communities and conservation activists in India with resources, technical support, and mapping trainings to facilitate the conservation of the Devrai/ sacred groves in Maharashtra, the Mirzapur forest in Uttar Pradesh, and the Sundarbans in West Bengal. This project is a collaboration between senior faculty in Anthropology, Religion, the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, the School of International and Public Affairs and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Working in India, the research team will use remote sensing analysis, participatory mapping of sacred sites, and the ArcOnline platform to develop useful products for stopping against illegal logging and enhancing the ability of indigenous communities to monitor and protect these forests.

Toleration project

The Working Group on Toleration has set itself the daunting task of producing works to answer questions on what toleration is, how it has developed and it is practiced in various societies, and what contributes to its creation and its breakdown.  The group’s findings will be contained in a series of books that will be published through the Religion, Culture, and Public Life imprint at Columbia University Press. The group includes Columbia faculty Alfred Stepan (Wallace Sayre Professor of Government, former Dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs), Karen Barkey (Professor of Sociology and History, Director, IRCPL),  Akeel Bilgrami (Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy, member of Committee on Global Thought, Chair of Columbia University Press Advisory Committee), Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Professor of French and Philosophy, expert on Islam, Sufism and religious tolerance in West Africa), Ira Katznelson (Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, President, Social Sciences Research Council), Sudipta Kaviraj (Professor of Indian Politics and Intellectual History), Claudio Lomnitz (Campbell Family Professor of Anthropology, focusing on Latin America), Nadia Urbinati (Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory and Hellenic Studies), and Hossein Kamaly (Assistant Professor in Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, specializing in Middle Eastern history and Islamic Studies) have been working together to develop materials on toleration. The group has also engaged renowned scholars and experts like Peter van der Veer, Ian Buruma, Rajeev Bhargava (Director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, India),and Templeton Prize winning scholar Charles Taylor to collaborate on the project.

The group’s primary focus is the development of an ambitious volume called The Toleration Reader, which we expect to be about 1200 pages in length.  It is intended to be a definitive sourcebook on toleration from different traditions around the world spanning some two and a half millennia between roughly 400 BC and the modern era.  The volume will be edited by Karen Barkey, Akeel Bilgrami, Ira Katznelson, and Nadia Urbinati.  In addition to illuminating the long history of western toleration, the volume gathers less known materials on toleration from the Christian Orthodox world, the Ottoman Empire, China, India, and societies throughout the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa.  Overall, the volume will be presented as a conversation, organized temporally between various regions and cultures.  This conversation will reveal the highly diverse origins of toleration and the different contributions various cultures have made to our understanding of toleration over time.  We have confidence that this volume, which has no peer in scale and range, will become a classic.

Arabic Translation project 

In 2012 IRCPL teamed up with All Prints Publishers in Beirut to translate and publish a dozen important English language books on democracy and case studies on democratic transitions into Arabic for distribution throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The aim of the project is to make more accessible some of the nuanced literature available on varieties of representative government; democratization paths and pitfalls; and detailed case studies about democratic transitions in countries like Indonesia, Turkey, and Spain.

Our first three books in the series are:

Democracies in Danger, edited by Alfred Stepan (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009)

On Democracy, by Robert Dahl (Yale University Press, 2000)

Patterns of Democracy, by Arend Lijphart (Yale University Press, 2012)


The Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion was founded in 2006 through a grant from the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs. CDTR conducts research and training on the interfaces of and tensions between religion, toleration, and democracy in the world.  Information about its three current projects can be found on CDTR’s website here.

Harlem has long been the subject of African American cultural and political history, yet a comprehensive account of Harlem’s religious milieu (historical and contemporary) has yet to be developed.  With the help of Columbia University students, and under the guidance of Professors Obery Hendricks and Josef Sorett, the Religions of Harlem project uses written research, photos, and video to provide a unique view of the wide range of religious expressions, leaders, and communities that have been and continue to be central to the cultural worlds of Harlem.

The Center for the Study of Religion and Sexuality was created in 2013 under the direction of Professor Katherine Ewing. The center aims to provide forums and resources for the interdisciplinary study of the rapidly evolving and often troubled intersections of religion and sexuality across the world.