Dr. Pritpal Kaur Ahluwalia joined the Kaur Foundation as its Director of Education and Community Engagement after moving to America from the UK.  She holds a PhD in Sikh Studies from the University of Birmingham's Department of Theology and Religion, and a B.A. in History from King’s College, University of London.  Having a background working in education with the pioneering Nishkam School Trust in England, she also brings with her a rich experience of volunteering, interfaith work and engagement with Faith Based Organizations such as the Interfaith Youth Core and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, having served as one of their inaugural Faiths Act Fellows.  

Presenting at Prospect: Wed. July 19th (morning)

Presenting at Naperville Central: Wed. July 19th (afternoon)



Murali Balaji, Ph.D. is HAF's Director of Education and Curriculum Reform. A Fulbright Specialist and former journalist, he has taught at Temple University, Penn State University, and Lincoln University, where he served as Chair of the Department of Mass Communications, overseeing assessment and curriculum building efforts. A longtime advocate of minority issues, Dr. Balaji is the author of several books and the co-editor of the seminal anthologies Desi Rap (2008) and Global Masculinities and Manhood (2011). A native of the Philadelphia area, Dr. Balaji earned his B.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota and his doctorate in Mass Communication from Penn State.

Presenting at Prospect: Mon. July 17th (morning)

Presenting at Naperville Central: Mon. July 17th (afternoon)

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Benjamin P. Marcus is the Religious Literacy Specialist with the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum 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 with The Foundation for Religious Literacy; the Washington, D.C. Public Schools; the Office of Religion and Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department (formerly, the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives); the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See; the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the U.S. State Department; Interfaith Youth Core; and the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme in the United Kingdom.

Marcus recently chaired the writing committee that created a Religious Studies Supplement for the print and online versions of the C3 Framework published by the National Council for the Social Studies. He is a contributing author in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on Religion and American Education, where he writes about the importance of religious literacy education. He served as executive editor of the 2015 White Paper of the Sub-Working Group on Religion and Conflict Mitigation of the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group.

In 2016, Marcus was awarded a grant from the Germanacos Foundation to write lesson plans about religion for public secondary schools and to convene a regional conference on religious literacy pedagogies with teachers, administrators, subject matter experts, and professional consultants.

 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.

Presenting at Prospect: Mon. July 17th (morning)

Presenting at Naperville Central: Mon. July 17th (afternoon)



Linda K. Wertheimer, a journalist for nearly 30 years,  often has to explain that she is not the Other Linda, the one of NPR’s All Things Considered fame. This Linda, the one with the K., is the author of Faith Ed, Teaching About Religion In An Age of Intolerance,  published by Beacon Press.  Her book chronicles public schools’ efforts to teach about the world’s religions in several regions of the country and stems from a Boston Globe Magazine cover story she wrote about Wellesley Middle School’s challenges after it faced controversy for taking children on a field trip to a mosque. Linda worked full-time for major metro newspapers for more than 20 years, including serving as education editor of The Boston Globe and as a reporter at The Dallas Morning News and The Orlando Sentinel. In recent years, her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe MagazineThe New York Times, The Washington PostUSA TodayThe New York Times, Time, The Writer,  and other publications. She has won numerous awards for her writing, including second prize in the national nonfiction religion book contest from the Religion News Association for Faith Ed and a second prize from the Education Writers Association.

She has been interviewed about Faith Ed on NPR programs in Boston, Dallas, and other cities and was on CBS TV's Religion program and Headline News' Primetime Justice with Ashleigh Banfield. She has given talks around the country for interfaith, religious, and education groups, including Facing History & Ourselves and taught a webinar on navigating religion in schools for the National Council of the Social Studies. She will be a speaker this November at the annual NCSS convention. 

She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and lives in the Boston areawith her husband and son. She teaches at Grub Street, a writers’ organization in Boston.

Presenting at Prospect: Mon. July 17th (afternoon)

Presenting at Naperville Central: Mon. July 17th (morning)


Dr. Brian Hoffert

Dr. Brian Hoffert is the Associate Professor of History and Religious Studies at North Central College in Naperville. My interest in Chinese Philosophy was first kindled in my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, where I received my Bachelor’s degree as a specialist in East Asian Studies with a major in Philosophy. I then spent a year studying Chinese language and philosophy at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei before entering the Master’s degree program in Comparative Philosophy at the University of Hawaii. In 1993 I entered the Ph.D. program in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, where I worked closely with Professors Tu Wei-ming, Michael Puett, Helen Hardacre and Peter Bol, as well as with two of the most respected scholars of Daoism, Livia Kohn (Boston University) and Harold Roth (Brown University). Under their guidance, I broadened my understanding of the historical context in which East Asian thought developed and deepened my perspective on the evolution of Daoism, my primary area of research. I received my doctorate degree from Harvard in March of 2002.

My doctoral dissertation, “Chuang Tzu: The Evolution of a Taoist Classic,” presented an interdisciplinary perspective on the composition of the Zhuangzi, one of the most important texts in the East Asian intellectual tradition. More generally, my research is concerned with various aspects of East Asian thought, especially early Chinese philosophy, Neo-Confucianism, and Japanese religion. In this regard, I have done extensive research on a number of important topics, such as the harmonious relationship between different traditions of philosophy and religion in both China and Japan, Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming as the catalyst of the Four-Seven Debate, and religious pilgrimage in contemporary Japan.  I’m extremely passionate about teaching and hope to inspire in my students a lifelong interest in all things East Asian—past, present and future.

Presenting at Naperville Central: TBA


Rabbi Ari Averbach

Rabbi Ari Averbach was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, where he was presented the Chancellor’s Award for Academic Excellence and was honored to be the class speaker. He earned certification in chaplaincy at Children's Hospital LA, and currently volunteers as a chaplain at Glenbrook Hospital. He is the founding leader of the Rabbinical Assembly affinity group for assistant rabbis and serves as Treasurer of the local RA chapter.

After graduating from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Rabbi Averbach worked in the film industry in Los Angeles, then for Jewish World Watch, a non-profit organization fighting genocide in Darfur and Congo. He has taught at Camp Ramah and LA Hebrew High School.

He and his wife Vanessa, an English teacher at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, love every moment with their daughter, Paige, and son, Shai.  Ari and Vanessa spend free time doing crossword puzzles, perusing farmers markets, and riding bikes.

Presenting to Prospect: Thursday July 20th (morning)




Bernie Newman is a past-president of Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville.  Currently he coordinates the bar/bat mitzvah program at the synagogue, hosts interfaith visitors, and serves as voluntary gabbai (worship assistant). He is on the board of directors of the Naperville Interfaith Leaders Association.   Since the fall of 2013, he has taught the Judaism course as an adjunct instructor at Benedictine University. He is a retired engineer from Bell Laboratories in Naperville, and he and his wife, Judi, raised two sons, Frank and Jeremy, who both attended District 203 schools--Maplebrook Elementary, Lincoln Junior High, and Naperville Central High School (Classes of 2000 and 2003).
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Presenting at Naperville Central: Tuesday July 25th





Eric Doolittle

Eric Doolittle cherishes moments when people share their doubts and venture to explore big questions. As the college chaplain at North Central College, he walks alongside people as they wrestle with theological quandaries, discover their calling and purpose, and strive for understanding and justice in the world. Eric’s journey includes a bachelor in sacred music, master in divinity, and experience as a church musician, pastor, and college chaplain in Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, DC. As a passionate nerd, he often ties together the great moral messages found in modern mythologies like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings with classic Christian teachings. Eric is a native of east Tennessee, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and is daily blessed by his wife and greatly amused by his children.

Presenting at Naperville Central: TBA