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NCSS 2019 Religious Studies Summer Institute

July 9, 2019 to July 11, 2019


Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute
Washington, DC 20001

Join us at the NCSS Religious Studies Summer Institute to:

  • Increase professional competence related to the disciplinary concepts and tools of religious studies as an academic discipline.
  • Increase personal confidence in teaching about religion in constitutionally appropriate ways that engage key stakeholders in your school context.
  • Develop working relationships with leading religious studies subject matter experts and curricular resource providers.


  • NCSS Members–$239 per person
  • Non-Members–$349 per person

Registration includes:

  • 15 professional development hours
  • Wednesday breakfast and lunch
  • Thursday breakfast and lunch
  • Transportation between program events

Download the 2019 Summer Religious Studies Institute draft Agenda

Register soon! This event is limited to 50 participants.


Note: Travel and hotel are not included in registration. Participants are responsible for making their own travel and hotel arrangements. The DC area has many lodging options available to suit your schedule and budget needs – especially if you are planning an extended stay in the area for sightseeing or other activities after the Institute. Some meals (Tuesday dinner and Wednesday dinner) are on your own.


Who Should Participate?

This event is open to all (NCSS Members & Non-Members) with an interest in integrating the study of religion into existing curricula or developing new standalone religious studies courses. It is specifically recommended for NCSS Board of Directors, Affiliated Council Leaders, Special Interest Community Chairs and Committee Chairs. Teams of participants from Associated Groups, Affiliated Councils, Special Interest Communities, and Committees are highly encouraged, subject to space availability.

Arrival and Departure Times

The program will begin at 1:30 PM on Tuesday, July 9 and end at 12:00 PM on Thursday, July 11. Please plan to arrive in Washington, DC by 12:30 PM to take advantage of lunch and networking with other participants.


All lodging will be the responsibility of participants. The DC area has many lodging options available to suit your schedule and budget needs – especially if you are planning an extended stay in the area for sightseeing or other activities after RSI.


Airport to Washington, DC - Transportation Comparison Chart (based on SuperShuttle one-way shared ride)




Travel time


DCA $16 15 minutes 5 miles
BWI $38 50-60 minutes 40 miles
Dulles $30 40-50 minutes 30 miles


The following presenters are confirmed:

  • Scott Abbott, Office of Teaching and Learning at District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Benjamin Barer, Georgetown University
  • Gay Byron, Howard University
  • Susan Douglass, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University
  • Kristen Farrington, Freedom Forum Institute Institute/Religious Freedom Center
  • Usra Ghazi, America Indivisible
  • Charles Haynes, Freedom Forum Institute/Religious Freedom Center
  • B.N. Hebbar, Georgetown University
  • Eric Lewis Williams, Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • Benjamin Marcus, Freedom Forum Institute/Religious Freedom Center
  • Lata Nott, Freedom Forum Institute Institute/First Amendment Center
  • Melissa Rogers, Brookings Institution
  • And more to be added soon!



Scott Abbott currently serves as the Director of Social Studies within the Office of Teaching and Learning at the District of Columbia Public Schools, overseeing K-12 support for social studies through curriculum development, professional learning, assessments, and partnerships. He is the President-Elect of the Middle States Council for the Social Studies, a regional affiliate of NCSS supporting social studies in DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, and PA and he co-chaired the Local Arrangements Committee for the 2016 NCSS Conference in Washington, D.C. Scott began his career as a high school social studies teacher in Charlotte, NC and he has also worked as an instructional coach, curriculum designer, and assessment writer. He earned a BA (History) and MAEd (Secondary Social Studies Education) from Wake Forest University, and a MA (Leadership) from Georgetown University. Scott lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife Kristin, son Lincoln (7), and daughter Violet (4) and his family enjoys visiting museums and historical sites and taking informed action in support of DC Statehood.


Rabbi Benjamin Barer is a Jewish Chaplain at Georgetown University, and was ordained from Hebrew College Rabbinical School in 2018. Benjamin is passionate about teaching and emphasizes the spiritual potential of engaging honestly and rigorously with the Jewish textual tradition. Benjamin is committed to building interfaith partnerships so that he can demystify the religious other and learn across religious boundaries, modeling interfaith collaboration that crystallizes our unique commitments and reminds us of how much we have in common. Benjamin aspires to a Judaism that is creative, non-dogmatic and attuned to human flourishing. He lives with his wife, Deborah, in Washington, D.C.


Dr. Gay L. Byron is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC. Her scholarship focuses on the origins of Christianity in ancient Ethiopia, with special emphasis on the Axumite Empire and Ethiopic (Ge`ez) sources for the study of the New Testament and other early Christian writings. She is the author of Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature (Routledge Press) and co-editor of Womanist Interpretations of the Bible: Expanding the Discourse (SBL Press). She lectures and leads workshops throughout the country on topics dealing with race, ethnicity, and the Bible; African American and womanist biblical hermeneutics; Ethiopic manuscripts; and early Ethiopian Christianity. She is also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and involved in a number of ecclesial communities to broaden the scope of her research and writing. She holds degrees from Florida State University (B.S.), Clark Atlanta University (M.B.A.), and Union Theological Seminary in New York City (M.Div. and Ph.D.).


Susan Douglass
Dr. Susan Douglass joined CCAS in June 2014 as the Center’s Education Outreach Coordinator. She received her PhD in world history at George Mason University in 2016, and has an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University and a B.A. in History from the University of Rochester. Dr. Douglass has developed the education outreach program for the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in 2007, served as Senior Researcher for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and managed several grant projects for the Ali Vurak Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University. She has contributed to curriculum projects such as World History for Us All and Children and Youth in History, and she has designed and developed online teaching resources such as "The Indian Ocean in World History" and "Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean." Douglass’ major publications include World Eras: Rise and Spread of Islam, 622-1500 (Thompson/Gale, 2002), the children’s book Ramadan (Carolrhoda Books, 2002), and the national study Teaching About Religion in National and State Social Studies Standards (Freedom Forum First Amendment Center and Council on Islamic Education, 2000).


Kristen Looney
Kristen Farrington is executive director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute which is located in the Newseum. Kristen works to fulfill the mission of the non-partisan center which is twofold: to educate the public about the history, meaning, and significance of religious freedom and to promote dialogue and understanding among people of all religions and none.  Before joining the Religious Freedom Center in 2016 Kristen was the head of programs and partnerships for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in the United States.  For the past 13 years Kristen has been involved in education as teacher, administrator, trainer, and consultant.  



Usra Ghazi is director of policy and programs at America Indivisible and a senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute. At America Indivisible, she works with local, municipal, state and federal agencies to strengthen connections between them and religious minorities in the U.S. She has served as a policy adviser and Franklin Fellow at the U.S. Secretary of State's Office of Religion and Global Affairs and as a policy fellow for the City of Boston in the Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement. During her time at State, she was a strategic designer at The Collaboratory, the design and innovation hub of the U.S. Department of State's Education and Cultural Affairs Bureau. Previously, as an Interfaith Youth Core staff member, she managed a strong partnership with the President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. She earned an MTS as a Presidential Scholar at Harvard Divinity School and a BA from DePaul University.


Dr. Charles C. Haynes is the founding director of the Religious Freedom Center. He writes and speaks extensively on religious liberty and religion in American public life. Haynes is best known for his work on First Amendment issues in public schools. Over the past two decades, he has been the principal organizer and drafter of consensus guidelines on religious liberty in schools, endorsed by a broad range of religious and educational organizations. In January 2000, three of the guides were distributed by the U.S. Department of Education to every public school in the nation. (See also “A Parent’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools,” “A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools,” and “Public Schools & Religious Communities.”) Haynes is the author or co-author of six books, including First Freedoms: A Documentary History of First Amendment Rights in America, and Religion in American Public Life: Living with Our Deepest Differences. His column, "Inside the First Amendment", appears in newspapers nationwide. He is a founding board member of the Character Education Partnership, and serves on the steering committee of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools and the American Bar Association Advisory Commission on Public Education. He chairs the Committee on Religious Liberty, founded by the National Council of Churches. Widely quoted in news magazines and major newspapers, Haynes is also a frequent guest on television and radio. He has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal and on ABC’s “Evening News.” In 2008, he received the Virginia First Freedom Award from the Council for America’s First Freedom. Haynes holds a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate from Emory University.


Dr. B. N. Hebbar is a Religious Studies teacher at George Washington University. He teaches Religions of the East and a variety of specialty courses such as Indian Philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Shintoism, Doctrine and Debate in World Religions, Minor Religions of India, South Asian Buddhism etc. He had his traditional and academic education in India and lived for sometime in Sri-Lanka and Thailand studying Theravada Buddhism. He received his bachelors and masters degrees from George Washington University. He taught at the University of Maryland Honors Program for a decade. He has lectured on Eastern religions at the Virginia Theological Seminary, the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program and at the Johns Hopkins Osher Program. He has briefed Fairfax County high-school teachers on how to teach the Eastern religions. He has advised the Pentagon Board of chaplains in Hindu religious matters during the First US-Iraq War. As an advisor to the International Buddhist group, he has received awards from the Cambodian and Korean Buddhist communities.  He is currently the Executive Vice-President of the International Buddhist Association of America (IBAA).


Benjamin Marcus
Benjamin P. Marcus is the religious literacy specialist with the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute, where he examines the intersection of education, religious literacy, and identity formation in the United States. He has developed religious literacy programs for public schools, universities, U.S. government organizations, and private foundations, and he has delivered presentations on religion at universities and nonprofits in the U.S. and abroad. He has worked closely with the U.S. State Department, Interfaith Youth Core, the Foundation for Religious Literacy, and the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme in the United Kingdom. In February 2018, Marcus was accepted as a Fulbright Specialist for a period of three years. As a Specialist, he will share his expertise on religion and education with select host institutions abroad. Marcus chaired the writing group for the Religious Studies Companion Document to the C3 Framework, a nationally recognized set of guidelines used by state and school district curriculum experts for social studies standards and curriculum development. He is a contributing author in the Oxford Handbook on Religion and American Education, where he writes about the importance of religious literacy education. In 2015 he served as executive editor of the White Paper of the Sub-Working Group on Religion and Conflict Mitigation of the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group. Marcus earned an MTS with a concentration in Religion, Ethics, and Politics as a Presidential Scholar at Harvard Divinity School. He studied religion at the University of Cambridge and Brown University, where he graduated magna cum laude.


Lata Nott
Lata Nott is executive director of the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center, which has offices at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C.; and at the John Seigenthaler Center, on the Vanderbilt University campus, in Nashville, Tennessee. Nott formerly was the assistant director of admissions at the Georgetown University Law Center, where she implemented strategies to increase diversity, promote the scholarship program for high-need students, and integrate technology into the Law Center’s recruitment efforts. Prior to that, she was a litigator in New York City at the law firms of Proskauer Rose and Chadbourne & Parke. In addition to her commercial litigation practice, she maintained an active pro-bono practice focused on asylum cases, and developed a proficiency in legal issues surrounding the Internet, data privacy, and cybersecurity, frequently contributing to Chadbourne & Parke’s technology law blog. She graduated from the University of California, Davis, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with a Bachelor of Arts in international relations. She earned her Juris octor from Columbia Law School in 2010. At Columbia, she was a staff editor on the Human Rights Law Review and chair of the South Asian Law Students Association. She remains an active member of the New York Bar and the American Bar Association.


Melissa Rogers
Melissa Rogers is a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. She recently served as special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, during the Obama administration. Melissa previously served as chair of the inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Prior to that she was director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She has also served as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Her area of expertise includes the First Amendment's religion clauses, religion in American public life, and the interplay of religion, policy, and politics. Rogers co-authored a case book on religion and law for Baylor University Press, Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court (2008). She holds a J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. from Baylor University.


Dr. Eric Lewis Williams currently serves as the Curator of Religion for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He is also an ordained minister of the Church of God in Christ. He has taught history, religion and African-American studies at several institutions across the country. His current research examines the meaning of religion within Africana histories and cultures and the role and influences of African religions in the Atlantic world. Additional research and teaching interests include Black Christian thought, American religious history, religion and material culture, African diasporan religions, Pentecostalism and phenomenology of religion. Williams’ research and studies have taken him around the world. He considers himself a transatlantic commuter, a collector of words and an emergent jazzman in the world of ideas.
Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute
555 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001