Gift from Dr. Milton and Laurie Boniuk supports research, education, public outreach
Rice University has received a $28.5 million gift from Houston philanthropists Dr. Milton and Laurie Boniuk to establish an institute that promotes religious tolerance.
The Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance will conduct research, public outreach and educational programming. Its mission is to foster multidisciplinary research that leads to innovative ways to understand and achieve religious tolerance. The institute will draw on Rice University’s strengths in religious studies and other humanities, as well as social sciences, natural sciences and engineering.
“Thanks to the vision and generosity of Milton and Laurie, the Boniuk Institute will have the resources, leadership and academic depth to become a leading center for finding positive solutions to religious conflict, especially welcome at a time when misunderstandings and tensions have led to problems around the world,” Rice President David Leebron said. “Drawing from its home in the nation’s most ethnically diverse city, the institute will seek to provide a deeper understanding of the nature of religious tolerance and the pathways that lead to more interreligious understanding.”
The gift will support a number of initial research initiatives at the institute:
- Cutting-edge information technology will be used to assess and catalog hate speech and other indicators of religious intolerance through current analysis of websites and newswire databases. It also will be used to study how search-engine algorithms and other Internet infrastructure may foster or deter both religious pluralism and intolerance.
- Scholars will study policies and programs that affect religious tolerance by individuals and within societies and develop policy recommendations consistent with promotion of tolerance.
- Researchers will focus on codes of conduct for interfaith dialogues and tolerance and study their effectiveness.
- Researchers will try to understand the neurological, psychological and sociological causes of religious intolerance and violence.
- In collaboration with the Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research’s Houston Area Survey, the Boniuk Institute will establish the most comprehensive survey yet to assess current and evolving attitudes toward religious coexistence within and among faith communities.
The institute will promote and amplify the importance of intrafaith dialogue in advancing religious tolerance by convening symposia with representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The institute also will conduct educational programs and public outreach that engage world religious, political and academic leaders in efforts to foster the development of more tolerant religions, populations and society. Additional outreach activities will include the development of collaborative networks of nongovernmental organizations that may use institute research to refine and focus their own tolerance-promoting activities. On the student level, the institute will work with Rice’s Center for Civic Engagement and other student leadership and outreach initiatives to promote student-led research and outreach projects on religious tolerance and understanding.
“We are strong believers in the power of education and outreach in advancing religious tolerance,” said Milton Boniuk, a professor of ophthalmology and the Caroline F. Elles Chair of Ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine. “Laurie and I have tremendous respect and appreciation for President Leebron and Rice University, and this is a unique opportunity to position the Boniuk Institute to serve Houston and the world and to be a resource and inspiration for coming generations.”
The institute is an expansion of the Boniuk Center created at Rice in 2004 with a $5 million gift from the Boniuks. The center has been dedicated to nurturing tolerance among people of all and no faiths, especially youth, and to studying the conditions in which tolerance and intolerance flourish. Among the center’s programs are the Sacred Sites Quest and the Embracing Tolerance Essay Contest for Houston high school students as well as a series of intrafaith dialogues, including a rare public event Feb. 21 that featured imams representing the Ahmadiyya, African-American, Shia and Sunni traditions of Islam. Since their implementation three years ago, these programs have been successful in helping build bridges of religious literacy, mutual understanding and interfaith collaboration among members of different faith traditions and spiritual or secular communities.
“Divine revelation is the inheritance of all humanity, but for any of us to insist that we alone have inherited the one and only complete and correct version of God’s truth, that is the real disease plaguing our world today, and that is why the mission of Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance is so crucial,” said Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss, senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in Houston.
“With so much injustice, ignorance, fear and sorrow in the world around us, organizations like the Boniuk Institute can be a beacon of hope to so many,” said Dr. Amir Malik, president of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “Through its enriched and diversified programs, it can help develop and inculcate better understanding and mutual respect — the very principles needed to start conversations among different faith groups — as well as bridge gaps across cultural divides.”
Rice will conduct a search for a nationally recognized scholar to lead the institute, which will be housed in the Robert A. Klein Hall for Social Sciences that will be built near the policy-oriented corridor of campus.
For more information on the center, visit http://boniuk.rice.edu/.