Organizational History

In 2010, Tom Farr and Kent Hill conceived a university-based project on religious freedom. At the time Farr directed a program on religion and U.S. foreign policy at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, and Hill was a vice president at the John Templeton Foundation.

The outcome was the Religious Freedom Project (RFP), established in 2011 at the Berkley Center and funded by Templeton. Tim Shah immediately joined the Project as Associate Director. In 2013, Byron Johnson, Director of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, brought Baylor on board as a strategic partner.

Since 2011, the RFP has been the world’s only university-based center for the study of religious freedom. Its scholars investigate the role religious freedom plays in advancing societal flourishing and undermining violent religious extremism, and its work has been highly successful. In five years of operation, the Project has executed numerous high-impact initiatives, including international academic research projects; public conferences and symposia; private briefings for government officials here and abroad; media appearances and public addresses; Congressional testimonies; publications; student internships; graduate fellowships; and fellowships for associated scholars. The Project’s cutting-edge research, high visibility, and convening power in the nation’s capital have won the respect of academics, policymakers, religious leaders, and diplomats.

The leaders of the Georgetown Project, Tom Farr, Tim Shah, and Byron Johnson, have now been joined by Kent Hill to create a new religious freedom organization THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM INSTITUTE (RFI). As a non-profit, the RFI will take the learning generated by the Georgetown Project and “put it on the ground” in order to advance religious freedom around the world, and to help people who are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs.

Research and teaching around religious liberty will continue at the Berkley Center under the auspices of the Religious Freedom Research Project (RFRP). The RFRP will continue the scholarly work of the RFP and extend its successful efforts to establish religious freedom as a field of interdisciplinary inquiry. The research generated by the RFRP will be employed by the RFI in its work. In addition, the RFRP will collaborate with the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, as well as the RFI, on projects of mutual interest.