Meet the 2012 NAIN Young Adult Scholars

by Jason Smith, NAIN Board member and Young Adult Co-Chair

We look forward to interacting with these Young Adult Scholars in Atlanta.

Quaiser D. Abdullah is a graduate of Temple University with a dual degree in Political Science and Religion along with a Masters in Adult and Organizational Development. He is presently pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, with a focus on leadership, identity, communication and conflict resolution. Quaiser is a member of Quba, Inc. and works with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia with the Zones of Peace, Walking the Walk and Religious Diversity in the Workplace initiatives.

Liza Anderson is a Ph.D. student and Jacob K. Javits Fellow at Yale University. Her research focuses on the ancient and medieval history of Christianity in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and the history of relations between Christianity and other religious traditions. She holds degrees in religion and theology from Swarthmore College, Trinity College Dublin, and Harvard Divinity School, and has taught at seminaries in Ukraine and Iraq. She has worked, studied, and traveled in nearly fifty countries, including researching contemporary Muslim-Christian relations in the Philippines, Denmark, and Egypt. Liza is also active in the Episcopal Church and in the ecumenical movement. She is a fellow of the Episcopal Church Foundation and has served on a diocesan interfaith commission, as a member of her parish vestry, and as a deputy to General Convention (the governing and legislative assembly of the Episcopal Church.) Upon completing her studies, she hopes to become an Episcopal nun.

Karin Firoza joined Youth LEAD in 2011 as the Youth LEAD Sharon Program Director. Karin is from Queens, New York and is a 2010 graduate of Wellesley College, with a double major in religion and economics. At Wellesley, she was a fellow with the Interfaith Youth Core and an activist, striving to bring faith- inspired students together to promote social justice causes on campus. Following graduation, Karin was a resident organizer with the Jewish Fund for Justice’s Community Organizing Residency (COR) and spent a year as a union organizer in Baltimore, MD. Karin oversees and coordinates the Sharon-based Youth Leadership Program and its annual TIDE Conference, now a national draw for the weekend long event. She is also a certified Youth LEAD trainer. Karin is also playing a key role in the development of the MY LEAD (Muslim Youth Leaders Engaging Across Differences) Initiative.

Vanessa Gomez Brake, M.S. is the Director of Operations & Outreach at The Chaplaincy Institute for Arts & Interfaith Ministries (ChI) in Berkeley, California. ChI is an interfaith seminary re-visioning theological education to serve a pluralistic world. For several years, Vanessa has also served as Research Assistant for the Abrahamic Family Reunion, a project that offers ways to use psychological and spiritual approaches in reconciling conflicts among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. She is active in the Bay Area as a community educator, peacemaker and participant in a variety of interfaith activities. She also sits on the Board of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, in San Francisco. Vanessa obtained a B.A. in Religious Studies and Psychology from Arizona State University. From there she went on to the Institute for Conflict Analysis & Resolution at George Mason University to receive a M.S. As a graduate student she worked at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy & Conflict Resolution. Her capstone project was a collaboration with the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and dealt with the creation of an interactive curriculum for middle school students in DC area, based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Six Principles of Nonviolence.’ Her studies of religion and interfaith work have taken her across the US and internationally to Japan, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Australia.

Katherine Allen King became interested in interfaith issues at a very early age. Growing up in a family composed of practically every faith tradition dotting the American landscape, from Protestant to Orthodox, Roman Catholic to Reform Jewish, even Islamic (from Turkey) to Islamic (from Iran), interfaith dialog wasn’t a foreign concept reserved for the ivory towers of academia. It was nightly dinner conversation. Raised a liturgical Christian in the Episcopal church, she attended 12 years of Catholic school where she was introduced to a love of liberation theology and church history. She also developed a particular passion for sacred music that was fostered during years of studying the violin. She has studied at the Brevard Music Center, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts, the North Carolina School of the Arts, as well as Furman University where she received degrees in both music and religion. It was during her college years when she was given the opportunity to more broadly investigate world religions while studying abroad in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Italy. Although a native of Charleston, she currently resides in Greenville, South Carolina where she is an owner and manager of Kings Cross Consulting, a technology and online services business. She performs with the Foothills Philharmonic and Carolina Pops orchestras and is a member of the board of the Roper Mountain Science Center. On both the local and the state levels, Katherine works with many others to encourage interfaith understanding, respect, and cooperation in pursuit of a just society. Within the Greenville community, she serves as the Chair of Programming and President-Elect of the Interfaith Forum. And she travels monthly to South Carolina’s capital to serve on the steering committee of the Interfaith Partners of South Carolina. In this role, she was excited and honored to organize the interfaith service for the annual conference of the International Association for Religious Freedom held in Hilton Head, South Carolina, this year. A self-described progressive traditionalist, she finds her current spiritual home in a Baptist congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists. In all of her spare time, Katherine also enjoys the adventure of raising her two young and curious sons, Henry (5) and William (8).

Mark McCormack, a native and current resident of Nashville, TN, is a graduate of Belmont University (B.A. in Religious Studies) and the Vanderbilt University Divinity School (M.T.S.), and is currently working as a doctoral student in Vanderbilt University’s Community Research & Action program. His primary research focus as a doctoral student is on interfaith relations and local interfaith organizations, and on utilizing the disciplines of community psychology and action research in order to better understand and help address the unique issues and challenges faced by these organizations. Additionally, he has been involved in various interfaith initiatives in the Nashville community, serving as a committee member for Vanderbilt’s Project Dialogue and as a member of the Nashville chapter of the Compassionate Cities project. A longtime member of the United Methodist Church, Mark is currently seeking ordination as a United Methodist Deacon and hopes to advance the involvement of the United Methodist Church in interfaith work.

Haidar Reda Mohamad, originally from Iraq, pursued a B.A in political science at Baghdad University and M.A. In political science at India. he is currently a scholar in the International Peacemaking Program at Hartford Seminary. His interest is to study other religions and to find the common ground with his own. One of his research topics is that of the Yazidi of Iraq. Many Muslims believe that Yazidiya worship Satan, but in his research he found that they in fact believe in one God just as the majority Muslim population. As a result of these misunderstandings, over 1,000 people have been killed in Iraq over the past few years. In an effort to change this, he published his research in an Iraqi magazine (Mesopotamia), and he has also published many other research papers. He has conducted research about the Sabian Mandaeans, and recently spoke about this minority religion of Iraq at Hartford Seminary. Many people in Iraq believe that Mandaeans worship planets and stars. Even in high school text books such untrue statements are propagated about them, and there is no clarification that in fact they do worship one God like Jews, Christians, and Muslims do. He has been involved with interfaith work from the time he was living in India, where he participated in church services during Christmas and delivered a speech about Muslim-Christian common ground in addition to many other presentations in the United States about non-violence, interfaith work, and religious understanding.

Sana Saeed is the National Youth Program Coordinator – LEADD at Interfaith Alliance in Washington DC. LEADD(Leadership Education Advancing Democracy and Diversity) is a program promoting active citizenship in a multi-faith society to high school age youth. Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Saeed is also the Director of Youth Ministry at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, where she has worked with middle-school and high-school youth programming for three years. Prior to this, Saeed was Program Manager of the Interfaith Youth Action Group, whose aim is to empower high school students from diverse backgrounds to become leaders in interfaith dialogue and service, guiding them to create their own year-long community service initiatives with both a local and global expression, using the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals as their platform. Saeed has a B.A. in Government & International Politics, as well as a M.S. in Conflict Resolution from George Mason University.

Antonette “Toni” Sacco is originally from Rochester, NY. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a Bachelor’s in Religious Studies and Hebrew. She served as the Program Coordinator at InterAct Cleveland for three years where she developed and facilitated interfaith dialogue and service programs for youth and adults. She now works at the American Red Cross of Tompkins County and is involved in community interfaith initiatives in Ithaca, NY.

Srujesh Shah is a World Religions and Philosophy Instructor in the Chicagoland area. He is also a member of Yogi Divine Society, a non-profit organization that supports interfaith work and pluralism.

Comments are closed.