Executive Team

 

Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana
President, Chief Executive Officer

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Originally from Sri Lanka, the Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana was most recently the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Previously, Shanta served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York. Following seminary education in Sri Lanka and India, Shanta arrived in the United States in 1981 for graduate study at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he earned his MA and PhD in Religion. Continuing to live in the Chicago area, he founded the Chicago Ashram of Jesus Christ, a Christian community with an outreach to South Asian immigrants and served for fourteen years as senior pastor of Ellis Avenue Church located in the south side of Chicago.


Ms. Nancy Renick
Chief Operating Officer

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Ms. Nancy Renick is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the organization. Nancy’s responsibilities include finance management, human resources, office services, facility management, assistance in event planning, and new program development and launch. Nancy has experience as a planning consultant in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors. Her previous work includes service as chief operating officer and executive director at interfaith agencies. Nancy holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and has held senior financial management positions at the American Medical Association, Soft Sheen Products and Borg-Warner Corporation. Nancy is a founding board member of a tutoring agency for underserved Chicago youth, and is a member of First United Methodist Church of Chicago. She has extensive lay leadership involvement at both the local and conference levels of the United Methodist Church.


Vince Isner
Chief Communications Officer

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Mr. Vince Isner has served as a communications officer for a Washington DC-based Social Justice agency and was founding Director of FaithfulAmerica at the National Council of Churches, USA where he organized national interfaith advocacy campaigns to address issues of peace, poverty, and planet earth. A writer and documentary filmmaker, Vince began his communications career as television producer and host of his own educational children's program before serving seven years as a Minister to Children and Families. A Video Producer at United Methodist Communications and Head of VIPMedia, Vince has written Telly-winning spots for the national “Friends Of The Family” campaign, helped advance Public Broadcasting’s Ready To Learn initiative, and is an award-winning documentary and studio photographer.  Vince holds a B.A. in Music and a M.A. in Communication.


Leadership Team

Rev. Abare Kallah
Christian Association of Nigeria

The Rev. Abare Kallah is OMNIA's Leadership Team Leader in Nigeria.  He is an ordained minister in the ECWA tradition and is the current Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Northeast Region. One of Nigeria's leading peace activists, he is a Special Advisor to the Governor of Gombe State and travels worldwide addressing issues of peace, non-violence, and interfaith cooperation. With a B.A. in Theology and a M.S. in Conflict Management and Peace Studies, he represented Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo on the  Committee of Nigerian Northern States Governors Forum on Reconciliation, Healing, and Security. A pastor of more than twenty years, he is founder of the Community Peace Dialogue and Interfaith Initiatives and serves as the OMNIA Institute's key liaison to the Nigerian Government and Interfaith Community in Nigeria.


Soraya Deen
Attorney, Spiritual Activist, Author, Inspirational Speaker

Ms. Soraya Deen is the coordinator of Women’s Initiatives. She blends her legal expertise of over a decade with her uniquely diverse background to inspire people to navigate conflict and promote peace. A native of Sri Lanka she developed a deep commitment and love, to learning and practicing the Eastern philosophy of SEVA and SIMRAN.  She is also the founder of Peaceworks a center for compassionate communication, conflict resolution and peacemaking.


Resource Team

Wesley Ariarajah, Ph.D. (Geneva, Switzerland)
Emeritus Professor of Ecumenical Theology, Drew University, Madison, NJ and former Deputy General secretary of the world council of churches

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Dr. Ariarajah is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Christian theologies of interreligious relations. For 17 years he taught ecumenical theology at Drew University and prior to that served as the director for interreligious relations and as Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. He is the author of numerous books on the intersection between Christian theology and interreligious relations including Your God, My God, Our God: Rethinking Christian Theology for Plurality (2012).


Afri Atiba, D.Min. (Chicago, Illinois)
Professor, Triton College, River Grove, IL

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Dr. Afri Atiba teaches Ethics, Philosophy and World Religions at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois. She earned her Master of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary.  Her expertise in critical biblical interpretation for liberation and justice in the African American community. She was on the faculty in SCUPE’s Center for African American Theological Studies’ specializing in “Disruptive Bible Study.”


Sharon Ellis-Davis, Ph.D. (Greensboro, NC)
Executive Director of the Education and Family Life Institute.

 Dr. Sharon Ellis Davis is OMNIA's Resource Team expert in the area of structural racism, domestic violence, and mass incarceration. She is a United Church of Christ Pastor, a Retired Chicago Police Officer of 30 years, and is currently assigned as one of their volunteer Police Chaplains. She is a Faculty Mentor for a Doctor of Ministry Focus Group in Sexual and Domestic Violence at United Theological Seminary, Dayton Ohio. Sharon is a certified trainer in Sexual and Domestic Violence and Clergy Sexual Boundaries with the Faith Trust Institute, Seattle Washington. Sharon received her Master’s of Divinity Degree in 1988 from Chicago Theological Seminary, her Doctor of Ministry Degree in 1995 from McCormick Theological Seminary, and her Ph.D from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2006 studying theology, ethics, and the Human Science.


Mohamed Elsanousi, Ph.D.
Director of External Relations,
Secretariat of the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, Finn Church Aid

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Dr. Elsanousi's role as a leadership trainer OMNIA's Nigeria project extends directly from his expertise as a communicator and public relations expert.  Elsanousi is Director of External Relations and the Secretariat of the Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers for Finn Church Aid.  Prior to this he served as Director of Communications and Community Outreach for the Islamic Society of North America. Dr. Elsanousi also served on the board of directors for several interfaith organizations, including the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sharia and Law from the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan; a Master of Laws from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN; a graduate diploma in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy; and a Ph.D. from the Indiana University School of Law. He is proficient in Arabic and English, and has basic fluency in Urdu."  


Mary Gonzales
Co-Founder of Gamaliel, Community Organizer, Trainer

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Mary Gonzales has been a professional community organizer for the past 35 years.  She retired in 2012 but continues to provide her time and talent to support and mentor organizers in the Gamaliel network.  Ms. Gonzales co-founded Gamaliel, an international network of community organizations in the United States, South Africa and Great Britain.  She served as one of Gamaliel’s primary trainers.  She founded NTOSAKE, a leadership training program for women within the Gamaliel network.


Taslim Hammed, Ph.D.
Author, Lecturer, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

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Dr. Taslim Hammed is a lecturer in the Department of Guidance & Counseling and a Fellow with the Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His  major areas of research are Personnel Psychology, Conflict Transformation Strategies, Peace Education, and Rehabilitative Counseling. Since 2001, Hammed has worked with NGOs in Nigeria and West African dealing with issues related to peace, conflict resolutions and election monitoring.


Jeannine Hill-Fletcher, Th.D. (New York City, NY)
Professor of Theology, Fordham University

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Dr. Jeannine Hill Fletcher teaches at the intersection of Systematic Theology and issues of diversity (religious diversity, Christian cultural diversity, race and gender). Her research explores the role of theology in shaping public discourse, including both activism and legislation. Prof. Hill Fletcher is a board member of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, a multi-religious and multi-racial grassroots organization working for social change. Her latest book is The Sin of While Supremacy (Orbis Books, 2017).


Paul Knitter, Ph.D.
Emeritus Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions, and Culture at Union Theological Seminary, New York

Paul Knitter is an adjunct professor and advisory board member at OMNIA. Dr. Knitter’s research is largely focused on religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue. Since his widely popular 1985 book, No Other Name?, Dr. Knitter has explored how the religious communities of the world can cooperate in promoting human and ecological well-being. This is the subject of several other of his books including: One Earth Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility (1995), Introducing Theologies of Religions (2002), and Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian (2009).


Isaac Laudarji, Ph.D. (Kaduna, Nigeria)
pastor, theologian

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Dr. Isaac Laudarji is a pastor in the ECWA Church in Kaduna area in Northern Nigeria. Prior to that, he was pastor of the ECWA Church in Chicago, at which time he served as a member of the faculty of the Center for African American Theological Studies (CAATS) program of OMNIA’s predecessor organization Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) Dr. Laudarji received his Ph.D. in Religion from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, USA.


Lucinda Mosher, Th.D.
Faculty Associate in Interfaith Studies, Hartford Seminary

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Lucinda Allen Mosher, Th.D., OMNIA’s consultant for curriculum development, is a Christian ethicist in the Anglican tradition whose teaching, writing, and consulting aim to promote positive interreligious understanding. In addition to her work for SCUPE, she is president of NeighborFaith Consultancy LLC—a full-service agency helping institutions and agencies meet urgent multifaith challenges. She also serves as Faculty Associate in Interfaith Studies at Hartford Seminary, and is Assistant Academic Director of the Building Bridges Seminar—an annual dialogue of Christian and Muslim scholars founded by the Archbishop of Canterbury and now under the stewardship of Georgetown University. She is the author or editor of many books, including the Faith in the Neighborhood series from Seabury Books. 


Mary Nelson, Ph.D. (Chicago, Illinois)
President Emeritus, Bethel New Life, and former Executive Director, Parliament of the World’s Religions

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Dr. Mary Nelson founded and served Bethel New Life as its President for 26 years. An authority on Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) she led Bethel to pioneer in creative community based efforts to build healthier, sustainable and equitable communities on Chicago's west side. She taught at ABCD in SCUPE’s joint MA in Social Justice and Community Development program with Loyola University Chicago. She serves on the Boards of Sojourners, Christian Community Development Association, Good City and Woodstock Institute. She earned a PhD from Union Graduate School.


Scott Paeth, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.

Dr. Paeth works in the fields of Christian Social Ethics and Public Theology. He holds a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Master of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School. He is the author or editor of five books, including: Public Theology for a Global Society: Essays in Honor of Max Stackhouse (2010), Exodus Church and Civil Society: Public Theology and Social Theory in the Work of Jürgen Moltmann (2008); Who Do You Say That I Am? Christology and Identity in the United Church of Christ (2006); Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics (2006); and The Local Church in a Global Era: Reflections for a New Century (2000).


Stephen G. Ray, Jr. Ph.D.
Professor of Systematic Theology, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Dr. Ray, an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, received his M.Div. summa cum laude from Yale Divinity School and his Ph.D. in Religious Studies – African American Studies Joint Degree Program at Yale University.  He is president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion intersection of religion and politics. Ray’s current work focuses on the Church’s complicity in several genocides and to a theology that leads to the formation of genocide-resistant Christian communities.


Dr. Joerg Rieger
Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair of Wesleyan Studies, Distinguished Professor of Theology
Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University

Joerg Rieger is the Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair of Wesleyan Studies and Distinguished Professor of Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, TN. Previously he was the Wendland-Cook Endowed Professor of Constructive Theology at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He received an M.Div. from the Theologische Hochschule Reutlingen, Germany, a Th.M. from Duke Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in religion and ethics from Duke University.

For more than two decades he has worked to bring together theology and the struggles for justice and liberation that mark our age. His work addresses the relation of theology and public life, reflecting on the misuse of power in religion, politics, and economics. His main interest is in developments and movements that bring about change and in the positive contributions of religion and theology. His constructive work in theology draws on a wide range of historical and contemporary traditions, with a concern for manifestations of the divine in the pressures of everyday life.


Board of Directors

Mr. Dan Conley
Principal, Beacon Communications
Chicago, IL 60601

Mr. David Bryant
President/CEO, Bryant Legal Group
Chicago, IL

Ms. Charilyn Goolsby
Strategic Training Solutions
Olathe, KS