The Guibord Center Advisory Council
John Ishvaradas Abdallah
Founder and Executive Director, World Without Borders Sufi Ashram
John Ishvaradas Abdallah (meaning “servant of God” in Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Muslim traditions) is the preferred pen name of Syed Riyaz Mahdi. A speaker and writer and an independent activist Sufi, he is the author of A Sufi’s Ruminations On One World Under God. He also is the Founder and Executive Director of World Without Borders Interfaith Sufi Ashram, which is based on and draws its inspiration from the book.
“Sufi John” is passionately involved in interfaith dialogue, conversation and movement promoting a theology of love, peace and freedom through active nonviolence. He currently serves on the boards of the Christian-Muslim Consultative Group, Southern California Committee for a Parliament of World’s Religions, South Coast Interfaith Council, and Muslims for Progressive Values Los Angeles chapter.
Cindi Moar Alvitre
Historian and Lecturer, California Indian Heritage
Cindi Moar Alvitre has dedicated her life to the preservation and protection of California Indian culture. She has been a cultural and environmental educator for over three decades and currently is a PhD candidate in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Culture and lecturer at California State University, Long Beach.
A descendant of the Tongva, the original inhabitants of Los Angeles and Orange Counties and the Southern Channel Islands, Cindi served as the first female chair of the Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council. She is a task force member for the State of California and California Indian Heritage Center, and a board member of the California Council for the Humanities.
Laura Lafoia Ava-Tesimale
Founder and President, One Global Family Foundation
Laura Lafoia Ava-Tesimale is a Pacific American businesswoman, humanitarian, community organizer, and interfaith peace activist. Since 2001, Laura has been CEO of Ava Consulting & Management. She also is Founder and President of One Global Family Foundation, which partners with organizations locally and globally to serve underprivileged and disabled children and families, homeless communities, and refugees. Currently, Laura also serves as Director of the Pacific Region for GiveLight Foundation; a Global Ambassador for the Free Wheelchair Mission; and on several interfaith council boards.
Maneck Bhujwala is a speaker, writer and representative of the Zoroastrian community. A volunteer priest to Parsi and Iranian communities, he speaks at schools, on radio and television, and at Zoroastrian and interfaith conferences.
Maneck has co-founded Zoroastrian associations in Southern and Northern California and is also active in the interfaith community. He serves on the boards of the South Coast Interfaith Council, the North American Interfaith Network, and World Zoroastrian Organization, and Co-Chair of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America’s Interfaith Activities and Research/Preservation committees. Previously, he was a Stanford University Associated Religions board member and president of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council. Born in India, Maneck holds an MS in electrical engineering, an MBA, and a master’s in Interfaith Action.
Rev. Angie Buchanan
Founder and Spiritual Director, Earth Traditions
Rev. Angie Buchanan is a founder and the spiritual director of Earth Traditions, a Pagan church, and of Gaia’s Womb, an interfaith spirituality group that has produced women’s spiritual retreats for over 20 years. A certified death midwife, she developed and teaches a certification course that provides hands-on, intensive training for compassionate end-of-life care and information on ecologically sensitive funerals (www.deathmidwife.org). She currently serves as the pagan student spiritual advisor at the University of Chicago.
Rev. Angie has been involved with numerous organizations that promote interfaith dialog and peace. In addition, she is a longtime activist for religious freedom, women’s rights, and First Amendment protections. In 2014, she was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr., International College of Ministers and Laity, at Morehouse College.
Venerable Bhante Chao Chu
Abbot, Rosemead Buddhist Monastery
Bhante Chao Chu is Abbot of Rosemead Buddhist Monastery and president of the Los Angeles Buddhist Union (LABU). Born in Sri Lanka, he was ordained in the Buddhist monastic order in 1964, graduating from the Buddhist College in 1970. Since coming to the United States in 1981, he has been involved in numerous Los Angeles interfaith and inter-Buddhist activities, including as president of the Center for Buddhist Development, executive committee member of the World Fellowship of Buddhists and World Buddhist Sangha Council, and vice president of the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California. He also is founder of the Bosath Children’s Education Foundation, which offers underprivileged children computer and English learning.
Bhante Chao Chu received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles and a master’s degree in Buddhist studies from the University of Kelaniya. Fluent in Mandarin, he lectures extensively throughout Asia.
Choctaw Elder, Author, Native American Educator
Steven Charleston is currently Visiting Professor of Native American Theology at the Saint Paul School of Theology, Oklahoma City University. He previously served as Bishop of Alaska, President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and National Director for Native American Ministries in the Episcopal Church.
A citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Steven comes from a family with a long history of Native American community service. Following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather and grandfather, ordained pastors who preached in their native language throughout the state, Steven was ordained on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation at Wakpala, South Dakota. He is an internationally known author and advocate for indigenous people’s rights, spiritual renewal and reconciliation, and environmental justice.
Sister Joan Chittister, OSB
Author, Speaker, and Founder, Benetvision
Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister, an internationally known speaker and spiritual leader and an award-winning author of over 40 books. She is founder and executive director of Benetvision, a center for contemporary spirituality in Erie, PA.
Sister Joan currently serves as co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner organization of the UN. The recipient of numerous awards for her work for justice, peace and equality, especially for women in the Church and in society, and 12 honorary degrees from US colleges and universities.
Sister Joan received her master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and her doctorate from Penn State University in Speech Communications Theory.
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Musician and Songwriter
Neil Comess-Daniels retired as rabbi of Temple Beth Shir Shalom, where he brought a passionate expression of Judaism and strong sense of social justice. With his congregation, he facilitated Jewish community and spiritual discovery, working toward Tikkun Olam – “healing the world.”
A founding member of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), he has chaired the Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition and the Interfaith Holocaust Service. With his musical and writing talent, Rabbi Neil communicates the Jewish tradition’s riches and composes for people of all spiritualities. He recently released an album for children, “On This Day and All the Time,” and published “I Miss You,” a book of poems, prayers, songs and guidance for adults helping grieving children. A graduate of UCLA, he was ordained in 1979 at the Hebrew Union College.
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Sura Das has represented the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and been fervently active in the interfaith community for many years. Currently Vice President of Culver City Interfaith and the Interreligious Council of Southern California, he is also involved with the Hindu-Episcopal Dialogues and Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (SCCPWR). Sura is a head priest of ISKCON and works in management for Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the Society’s publishing house.
In 1999, he started the Temple Bhajan Band, which introduces the public to kirtan music and ancient Vedic chanting at yoga studios, houses of worship and festivals nationwide. An ISKCON member since 1973, Sura previously served as temple president in Missouri for nine years and international president of the publishing house in Los Angeles for seven years.
Spiritual Assembly of the Baháís of Los Angeles
Randolph Dobbs was elected to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baháís of Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and currently serves as its full-time Secretary. He also serves on the Regional Baháí Council of the State of California, an administrative position responsible for Baháí development in the region.
A contributor to Beliefnet.com, Iranian.com, Examiner.com and other websites covering religious matters, Randolph is active in the interfaith community. He serves on the Executive Board of the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California, as a Religious Director in the Office of Religious Life at USC and on the Board of Directors for the University Religious Conference at UCLA. Randolph attended Hartnell College in Salinas, California.
Dr. Diana Eck
Founder and Director, Pluralism Project at Harvard University
Dr. Diana L. Eck is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society at Harvard University. She founded and directs the Pluralism Project, which documents the growing presence of Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, Sikh, Jain, and Zoroastrian communities in the US. The project grew out of her 1991 class “World Religions in New England” – a result of her interest in America’s changing religious landscape as seen in Harvard students.
Dr. Eck serves on the Committee on the Study of Religion in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. A member of the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and the Faculty of Divinity, she is also Master of Lowell House, an undergraduate residence. Among many honors, Dr. Eck has served on a State Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, received the National Humanities Medal from President Clinton, and received the National Endowment for the Humanities for her work on American religious pluralism. She holds an MA in South Asian history from the University of London and a PhD in comparative religion from Harvard University.
Founder and Artistic Director, Flying Limbs Productions
Jennifer Jessum, MFA, is Founder and Artistic Director of Flying Limbs Inc., Productions. An award-winning director, choreographer, producer and cinematographer, she has held numerous commissions, presented and taught throughout the U.S. and abroad. Jennifer’s two award-winning feature documentaries, Holy Man: The USA vs. Douglas White, narrated by Martin Sheen, and Finding God in the City of Angels, have received critical acclaim.
A founding member of the Off Center Dance Collective, she has performed with choreographers nationally. Teaching credits include Princeton, New York University, City University of New York Queens College, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Jennifer holds an MFA in film production from USC and an MFA in dance from New York University.
His Grace Bishop Demetrios Kantzavelos Bishop of Mokissos
Since March 2018, Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos has been serving as an auxiliary bishop in the Greek Orthodox Church of Archbishop Demetrios of America. He previously served as assistant and deacon to the bishop, as associate pastor of Annunciation Cathedral of Chicago, and Chancellor of the Metropolis of Chicago. A Chicago native, Bishop Demetrios was ordained to the Diaconate in 1989 and to the priesthood in 1992. In 2006, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople unanimously elected him as Bishop of Mokissos, to serve as an auxiliary bishop of the Holy Archdiocese of America.
His numerous ecumenical and interfaith commitments involve areas of social justice, advocacy and interfaith relations. In 1992, Bishop Demetrios established the Bishop’s Task Force on AIDS, the first formal Orthodox Christian response to the pandemic in the western hemisphere. A board member and two-term president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, he has advocated extensively against capital punishment and for individual death row inmates.
Nirinjan Singh Khalsa
Executive Director, California Sikh Council
Nirinjan Singh Khalsa has publicly represented the Sikh Community for more than 30 years. Executive director of the California Sikh Council, he is a cultural intelligence educator and advisor to the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Los Angeles and Orange County Sheriffs Departments, and other public and private organizations.
Nirinjan also serves as a commissioner for the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, sits on the steering committee of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Clergy Council, and is former Chair of the Los Angeles Police Department religious forum.
Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray
Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray is John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics at the School of Religion, University of Southern California and a senior fellow at USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. He has lectured and served as adjunct professor at Iliff University, Seattle University, Claremont School of Theology, Fuller Seminary and Northwest Theological Seminary.
From 1977 to 2004, Dr. Murray was pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal, the oldest Black church in Los Angeles. During that time, he led the church’s growth from 300 active members to more than 17,000, with multi-million dollar programs that have brought jobs, housing, social services and community development to many South Los Angeles neighborhoods.
Dr. Murray holds a doctorate in religion from the School of Theology at Claremont and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Hebrew Union College. He served 10 years of active duty with the U.S. Air Force, receiving the Soldier’s Medal of Valor in 1958.
B.K. Sister Gita Patel
Lead Coordinator, Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center, Los Angeles
Sister Gita Patel is the lead coordinator of Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center in Los Angeles and travels extensively to promote the work of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. Having been exposed to spiritual truths from an early age, Sister Gita had found her calling and decided to focus on what mattered most in life – the development of her soul journey.
For the past 37 years, she has studied the gentle art of Raja Yoga meditation and continues to promote a peaceful, natural and satvic vegetarian lifestyle. Many of Sister Gita’s thoughts are inspired by Brahma Kumaris teachings.
Sister Gita feels fortunate to have a blend of both Eastern and Western cultures. Born in Tanzania, East Africa, she earned her bachelor’s degree in India, has worked in London and has lived in various parts of the world. She travels regularly to India.
Executive Director, Art of Living Foundation
Rajshree Patel is executive director of the Art of Living Foundation (AOLF) in Los Angeles and South America. A nonprofit educational and humanitarian organization founded in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, AOLF is guided by his philosophy: “Unless we have a stress-free mind and a violence-free society, we cannot achieve world peace.”
One of the first AOLF instructors, Rajshree has traveled extensively for the past 25 years, speaking to hundreds of thousands of people about faith, human values, purpose and fulfillment. She popularized the Art of Living course and Sudarshan Kriya (a breathing technique that calms and energizes the body, mind and emotions) in over 35 countries and has trained hundreds of AOLF instructors. Prior to joining the Art of Living Foundation, Rajshree worked as a prosecutor for the federal government and the Los Angeles district attorney’s office.
Dr. Joseph Prabhu
Author; Professor of Philosophy and Religion, California State University, Los Angeles
Dr. Joseph Prabhu is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at California State University, Los Angeles. A scholar and interfaith activist, he serves on the Advisory Board of the Toda Institute for Peace Research, associated with Soka Gakkai International. He is co-chair of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (SCCPWR), and a member of the American Academy of Religions Special Advisory Committee.
In addition, Dr. Prabhu serves on a panel advising the UN High Commission for Human Rights and International Security Forum. He has lectured and taught at more than 50 universities worldwide. His many awards include CSULA’s Outstanding Professor Award and the Soka Gakkai USA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dr. Prabhu has authored and edited a number of books, most recently “Raimon Panikkar as a Modern Spiritual Master.” Two books are in process: “Raimon Panikkar, Prophet of an Interreligious Age,” due in 2019, and “Liberating Gandhi: Community, Empire and a Culture of Peace,” due in 2020.
Spiritual Director, Ananda Los Angeles
Together with his wife, Nayaswami Dharmadevi, Narayan serves as a Spiritual Director of Ananda Los Angeles. This community is one of nine worldwide dedicated to the teachings of the great yogi-saint, Paramhansa Yogananda. As a NYC businessman, Narayan discovered Yogananda’s autobiography, which inspired him to learn kriya yoga and explore spiritual community. An ordained minister, Narayan has also served at Ananda as a meditation teacher, yoga instructor, and publishing manager. He also co-founded Ananda Virtual Community–an interactive, online community with classes on yoga, meditation, and spiritual living.
Spiritual Director, Vedanta Society of New York
Swami Sarvadevananda has been a monk of the worldwide Ramakrishna Order of India since 1994. This monastic organization is dedicated to the teaching of Vedanta and humanity’s worship of God, and respects all religions as paths leading to the truth.
Swami promotes this message of harmony through spiritual ministry, social service and interfaith dialogue. After completing monastic training, he served for 20 years at the Saradapitha education and technical training institute, Kolkata, imparting Vedantic spiritual values to high school and university students. As head of the Ramakrishna Mission at Sikra, West Bengal, Swami served residents facing homelessness and need. In 1993, he became minister of the Vedanta Society of Southern California, where he served for 24 years. Swami joined the Vedanta Society of New York as spiritual leader in 2017. He is also one of three Hindu monastics in residence at Harvard Divinity School.
North American Coordinator, United Religions Initiative
Tahil Sharma is an interfaith activist who was born to a Hindu father and a Sikh mother. He is the North American Coordinator for the United Religions Initiative, the world’s largest grassroots interfaith network, and a Guibord Center Advisor. Tahil also serves with a range of other organizations promoting interfaith cooperation and pluralism.
Co-Founder and Director, Hindu American Foundation
Suhag Shukla, Esq., is Managing Director, Legal Counsel and a co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in Washington, DC. As Managing Director, Suhag builds strategic inter- and intra-faith relations. In her Legal Counsel role, she provides analysis on key issues such as separation of church and state, equal protection, religious discrimination and immigration reform.
Suhag also focuses on improving public portrayals of Hinduism, such as in school textbooks. A board member of the Nirvana Center, a Bhutanese resettlement center, and the YWCA of Minneapolis, she also serves on the Council on Foreign Relations’ Religious Advisory Committee and is involved with Chinmaya Mission. Suhag holds a BA in Religion and a JD from the University of Florida.
Father Alexei Smith
Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith is Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He serves as a resource to the Archbishop and other Archdiocesan offices on ecumenical and interfaith matters. In addition, he is a representative to various Christian, Jewish and other faith communities, coordinates dialogue in the Archdiocese, and serves on the Archdiocese’s Spirituality Commission. Earlier, Father Alexei was pastor of Saint Andrew Russian Greek Catholic Church and administrator of Saint Paul Melkite Greek Catholic Mission, both in El Segundo. Elected to the Archdiocese’s Council of Priests for six years, he was vice president and committee chair during his last two years of service. Father Alexei also served as president of the Interreligious Council of Southern California for five years.
A University of Southern California graduate, Father Alexei worked in industry prior to entering Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Boston in 1983. He earned a master of divinity with high distinction in 1987.
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson
President, General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, United Methodist Church
Mary Ann Swenson is a lifelong United Methodist and progressive Christian who has taken a conscious stand for justice and inclusiveness. Ordained a deacon and an elder in the United Methodist Church (UMC), she served California and Washington churches and as superintendent of the Puget Sound District, Pacific Northwest Conference. After her 1992 election to the episcopacy, she became Resident Bishop of the Denver area and, in 2000, in Los Angeles.
An outspoken leader on issues of inclusiveness and violence, Bishop Swenson was one of 15 bishops who signed a 1996 statement expressing pain about the UMC’s ban on gays and lesbians in the church and ministry. Currently President of the UM’s General Commission of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, she has been active with the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). Bishop Swenson received her BA from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and her DMin from Claremont School of Theology.
Bishop John Harvey Taylor
Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles
The Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor began ministry as seventh bishop of the six-county Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 2017 having served since 2004 as vicar of St. John Chrysostom Church and School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. He invites the diocese’s 65,000 parishioners, 400 clergy, 130 congregations, 30 schools, and affiliated social-service agencies to join him in the mission of “feeding hungry hearts.”
Chief of staff to former President Richard M. Nixon from 1984 to 1990, he was thereafter executive director of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, San Diego, and a master of divinity from the Claremont School of Theology and Bloy House. He is a graduate of Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.
A lifelong Episcopalian, Bishop Taylor was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1954, the son of journalists. He married Kathleen Hannigan O’Connor in 2002. They reside in Pasadena, and their family includes four adult children and two grandchildren.
Chaplain Brenda Threatt
Chaplain, California State Military Reserve
Chaplain Brenda (B.J.) Threatt is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Mentored and employed by the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray at First AME Church, Los Angeles, she now serves at Bryant Temple AME Church and as a chaplain at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base. Chaplain Threatt previously worked for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the South Los Angeles Director and Veterans Outreach Coordinator and is known for her community organizing skills and public speaking. She earned a BA degree from California State University and an MDiv from San Francisco Theological Seminary.
President, Bayan Islamic Graduate School
Jihad Turk is the founding president of Bayan Islamic Graduate School in Claremont, California, and a nationally known leader and public speaker. Previously, Jihad served for many years as Religious Director of the Islamic Center of Southern California, the oldest and largest mosque in the Los Angeles area.
Born to a Palestinian Muslim father and an American Christian mother, Jihad spent his college years exploring his Islamic roots. He studied at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia, and the University of Tehran, earning his BA in history and Arabic at the University of California, Berkeley. Jihad also holds an MA in Arabic and Islamic law and jurisprudence from the University of Texas, Austin. Currently earning his doctorate, he is focusing his research on Islamic law with an emphasis on usul al-fiqh (jurisprudence) and theology.
Venerable Miao Hsi
Affiliated with Fo Guang Hsi Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, CA
A Buddhist nun with the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, Venerable Miao Hsi has served for four years as the Editor-in-Chief of the English pages of the Merit Times (America) daily newspaper, and for three years as the director of both the Fo Guang Shan International Translation Center and Buddha’s Light Publishing in America.
Responsible for translating the works of Venerable Master Hsing Yun into English, her translated works include seven volumes of the series, Between Ignorance and Enlightenment, and the two volumes of Dharma Words.
At the time of her presentations, Venerable Miao Hsi was one of the directors of Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, in charge of cultural and educational activities, interfaith work, and community outreach, she was also the planner and one of the teachers of the temple’s English Buddhism classes.