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Temple of Understanding


The Temple of Understanding was founded in 1960 by a pioneering visionary, Juliet Hollister. With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt’s introductory letters, Juliet traveled the world to seek endorsement from heads of state and religious leaders. The TOU convened Spiritual Summits abroad (Calcutta 1968; Geneva 1970) of high level religious leaders and at prominent universities: Harvard (’71), Princeton, (’71), Cornell (’74). Mrs. Roosevelt encouraged the TOU to become accredited as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the United Nations.

In 1975 to mark the 30th Anniversary of the United Nations, the TOU called religious leaders together for Spiritual Summit V titled, “One Is The Human Spirit.” This conference was the first time that an interfaith organization had held a conference on religion at the United Nations in New York.

Other major events followed:

  • In the mid-eighties TOU started gathering information about interfaith ventures in the United States and Canada. In 1988, executive director Daniel Anderson was charged with developing a North American Interfaith Network conference (NAIN). It was held later that year in collaboration with the Inter-Faith Ministries of Wichita, Kansas, where NAIN was launched as an independent organization.
  • Also in 1988, the TOU co-sponsored an international conference titled The Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival, in Oxford, UK. The conference included His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and many others from diverse fields such as politics, science, and the arts.
  • In 1995 the TOU was invited to be the sponsor of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NY. [CAPTION: His Holiness the Dalai Lama was an early, strong supporter of the Temple of Understanding.]
  • In 1997 the first Gandhi King Season for Nonviolence program was held at the UN and included Arun Gandhi, Yolanda King, Jesse Jackson and other dignitaries.
  • In 1998 the Second Juliet Hollister Award was presented to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mary Robinson and Maestro Ravi Shankar.


The mission of the Temple of Understanding is to achieve peaceful coexistence among individuals, communities and societies through interfaith education. Our innovative programs emphasize experiential learning and dialogue as a means of connecting youth and adults across a spectrum of religious and cross-cultural communities, to promote justice and understanding, and to advocate for religious pluralism by the world’s governing bodies.


The TOU is a pioneer in the field of interfaith education, providing a forum for methodology and to navigate this complex landscape, identifying both its problematic and promising features, with the goal of exploring new horizons in peacemaking through education.


TOU adult programs have ranged from lectures and site visits that explore different cultures and religions to a new film series next year, The Abrahamic Traditions, which will include museums, cuisine and historic religious sites.

In 2010 the organization celebrated its 50th Anniversary by inviting 66 Interfaith Visionaries to a conference on Sustainable Development. In 2011 this interfaith leadership was invited to join a Consortium for Ecological Civilization at a follow-up conference to bring an ethical voice from religious leaders to the United Nations Rio+20 Conference and continue to build an interfaith ecological movement.

TOU youth programs include Interfaith Dialogue, Education and Action (IDEA) program, an after-school multi-cultural leadership training for high school students, and the UN Summer Intensive Internship Program for 16 to 21 year olds where students research humanitarian issues at the UN.


Today the Temple of Understanding is uniquely positioned to be an advocate for interfaith perspectives both at the United Nations and within the broader educational arena.


Temple of Understanding

211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1600

New York, NY 10017



Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director