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Cultural and Religious Pluralism Today: Building Civility & Unity

Salt Lake City Public Library
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Innovation Summary

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Salt Lake City Public Library brought over 1500 people together for four days of panels, lectures, workshops, films, and celebrations to help promote religious and cultural diversity and tolerance.

Problem Statement

In Salt Lake City, a variety of organizations were working to engage the public through education and conversations about religious and cultural understanding and tolerance. The Salt Lake City Library has played host to many of these organizations’ programs, and has held community celebrations of Diwali (Hindu), Eid al-Fitr (Muslim), Chinese New Year, and other cultural festivals in the past. However, there was a need to bring all of these voices and perspectives together for a broader and more meaningful dialog. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 provided a timely opportunity for this dialog. As we neared the anniversary of 9/11, we noticed that in the media and on the streets, people were talking about how things had gotten worse: airport security has heightened substantially, we were engaged in two costly military operations in the Middle East, and the public is still plagued with misconceptions about different religions and cultures. The conversations around us seemed to focus on what made us different rather than what brought us together.


Safi Safiullah, Program Manager for the library’s Exploring New Ideas initiatives, began working with almost 20 community partners to arrange a four-day conference called “Cultural and Religious Pluralism Today: Building Civility & Unity.” Cultural and Religious Pluralism Today invited everyone in Salt Lake City to participate in dialogue that explores and compares traditions and cultures, recognizes commonalities between faiths, affirms the right to express cultural outlooks and religious faith freely, fosters a respectful and peaceful society, and explores opportunities for cooperation between members of different cultures and faiths. Events included a panel of young leaders who shared their perspectives on how to share power, resources, and accountability in a pluralistic society, a screening of the film Out of Cordoba, a documentary exploring issues important to religious pluralism, with a discussion with the film’s director, a keynote address by Dr. Robert Hefner entitled The Challenge of Religious Pluralism and Democratic Citizenship Today, an Eid al-Fitr Celebration marking the end of Ramadan, a comedic presentation by YouTube sensation Baba Ali, and other lectures, panels and discussions.


Over 1500 people became a part of the dialog over the four days. In addition, the conference was included in local media coverage about the anniversary of 9/11, providing the Library an opportunity to be positioned as part of the long term solution-oriented conversation. Finally, Safi Safiullah was recognized by the Salt Lake City Interfaith Roundtable at their annual World Harmony breakfast for his efforts in bringing people together to be part of a dialog that fosters a respectful and peaceful society.