Keynote Speaker

We are pleased to announce Rainn Wilson will be our opening keynote speaker on Sunday, February 4th, 2024. Actor, producer, writer and cofounder of SoulPancake, Rainn will share the problem-solving benefits that spirituality gives us to create solutions for an increasingly challenging world. In his new book, Rainn explores the possibility and hope for a spiritual revolution, a “Soul Boom,” to find a healing transformation on both a personal and global level. All conference registrants will receive a copy of Soul Boom, to assist them in launching their own spiritual revolution on campus.

Rainn Wilson

Rainn is an Emmy nominated and SAG award-winning actor best known for playing the inimitable “Dwight Schrute” for nine seasons on NBC’s, THE OFFICE. He recently wrapped LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY with Brie Larson for Apple TV and the unscripted travel series GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS, which aired on Peacock in May of 2023.


He stars in JERRY AND MARGE GO LARGE, with Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening; UTOPIA for Amazon; Roger Michell's BLACKBIRD, opposite Kate Winslet; MEG alongside Jason Statham; STAR TREK DISCOVERY; HESHER, opposite Natalie Portman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt; James Gunn’s SUPER, with Kevin Bacon and Elliot Page; COOTIES opposite Elijah Wood; JUNO; GALAXY QUEST; and ALMOST FAMOUS. 


He has an MFA from NYU’s Graduate Acting Program at the Tisch School of the Arts and spent 10 years doing theatre in NYC before moving to LA. He was on Broadway in THE TEMPEST with Patrick Stewart, and the Tony nominated LONDON ASSURANCE. Rainn performed the critically acclaimed one-person monologue THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING) at The Geffen; and was the lead role in the political farce, THE DOPPELGANGER, at Steppenwolf Theater.


Rainn founded the digital media company, Soul Pancake (3.5 mil subscribers on YouTube). He is the author of “The Bassoon King” and the NYT Bestselling “SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions.” His newest book, NYT Bestselling “Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution” was released April 25, 2023. 

Monday Plenary

USC Center for Religion & Civic Culture

Pictured left to right: Richard Flory, Soraya Ahyaudin, Najuma Smith, and Megan Sweas. 

With its team of scholars, journalists and faith leaders, the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) occupies a unique place in university life. Working at the nexus of academic scholarship and engagement with faith and community leaders, CRCC brings into close relationship worlds that are generally kept separate. In this panel, CRCC staff will discuss the center’s unique approach to working across academic, practitioner and community boundaries, and will suggest different models and strategies for developing unlikely relationships across what appear to be boundaries. 

Additionally, on exhibit in the Tutor Campus Center Ballroom is the CRCC Stories of Social Change - Spirituality in Action.  A global team of

journalists and researchers at USC produced more than 100 stories about people dedicated to working for positive social change as part of the Spiritual Exemplars Project. Often underreported and unseen, spiritual impulses move individuals and communities toward justice, equality and compassion.

USC Office of Religious Life

featuring Mindful USC, Yoga USC, and Belonging at USC

Pictured left to right: Varun Soni, Allyson Pimentel, Sara Ivanhoe, and Cat Moore. 

Tuesday Plenary

A Master Class on Being Human

More plenary session details will be shared in coming months, though we just confirmed another session, which will be A Master Class on Being Human. Brad Braxton and Anthony Pinn represent two traditions—Christianity and Secular Humanism respectively—that have for centuries existed in bitter opposition. For too long, people with different worldviews have disparaged and harmed one another. Instead of fighting each other, Braxton and Pinn talk with, listen to, and learn from one another. Their wide-ranging conversation demonstrates the possibility of fruitful exchange that accounts for—rather than masks—their differences.

Brad R. Braxton   

Dr. Brad R. Braxton is President and Professor of Public Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, a progressive graduate school of theology known for its leadership in social justice and interfaith engagement. He is also the Founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church, an inclusive congregation in Baltimore, Maryland committed to social activism, LGBTQ+ equality, and interfaith collaboration.  

He holds a Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Emory University, where he was a George W. Woodruff Fellow, a master’s degree in theology from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and a B.A. degree in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he was a Jefferson Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Dr. Braxton is the author of five scholarly books exploring the intersection of religion and social justice, including two books appearing in 2023. Fortress Press published in 2023 Open: Unorthodox Thoughts on God and Community, a collection of Dr. Braxton’s essays and sermons examining religion from a progressive perspective. Beacon Press published in 2023 A Master Class on Being Human: A Black Christian and A Black Secular Humanist on Religion, Race, and Justice, which Dr. Braxton co-authored with the noted secular humanist Dr. Anthony Pinn. This book explores the differences and similarities between black religious and black secular communities in the ongoing struggle for social justice. Additionally, Dr. Braxton’s books No Longer Slaves: Galatians and African American Experience and Preaching Paul are frequently used in divinity school and seminary courses. 

Dr. Braxton is also a seasoned educator who has held professorships at Southern Methodist University, Vanderbilt University, and Wake Forest University, as well as lectureships at Georgetown University, Harvard Divinity School, and McCormick Theological Seminary. His leadership has extended beyond the academy to cultural, philanthropic, and religious organizations. He formerly served as the Director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, the Program Officer for Religion in the Public Sphere at the Ford Foundation in New York City, the Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in New York City, and the Senior Pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland. 

As a testament to his expertise in interfaith collaboration, the Smithsonian Institution selected Dr. Braxton in 2020 as the Senior Program Advisor for Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the United States, the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The Smithsonian Institution hosted in 2023 a multifaceted program on the National Mall in Washington, DC, which examined the diverse tapestry of religious communities and experiences in contemporary America. The two-week festival attracted sizable audiences to the National Mall. Dr. Braxton conceptualized major themes for the program and wrote a successful grant proposal in 2020 to the Lilly Endowment, which received $1.5 million to support the festival.

Dr. Braxton is an ordained Baptist minister and a highly sought-after lecturer and preacher. In 2007, he preached at Westminster Abbey in London, England. His Westminster Abbey sermon on justice and non-violence was part of the bicentennial commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. He has also preached and lectured in Benin, Canada, Ghana, and South Africa.

His wife, Lazetta Rainey Braxton, is a nationally recognized Certified Financial Plannerand Co-Founder and Co-CEO of 2050 Wealth Partners, a firm that provides wealth management and comprehensive financial planning. They are the proud parents of a daughter, Karis, a creative and inquisitive college student who loves to dance and draw. The Braxtons also enjoy the company of Sampson, their Labrador Retriever/Terrier. 

Anthony B. Pinn

Anthony B. Pinn (Harvard PhD, 1994) is currently the Agnes Cullen Arnold Distinguished Professor of Humanities and professor of religion at Rice University.  He is also Professor Extraordinarius at the University of South Africa. In addition, Pinn is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Pinn is the founding director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning, and he served as the inaugural director of the Center for African and African American Studies both at Rice University.  He is managing editor of Religious Studies Review. Pinn’s research interests include African American religious thought, religion and culture; humanism; and hip hop culture.  Pinn is co-editor of numerous book series, including (with Stacey Floyd-Thomas) “Religion and Social Transformation (NYU Press) and (with Monica Miller) “Routledge Studies in Religion and Hip Hop” (Routledge). He also serves on the board of several journals, including the Journal of Religion, the Journal of Africana Religion, and the journal Body and Religion. He is the author/editor of over 35 books, including The Interplay of Things:  Religion, Art, and Presence Together (Duke, 2021) and the novel The New Disciples (2015).

Pinn is active with numerous professional organizations, including service as a member of the American Academy of Religion’s Board of Directors; Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Black Religion; and co-founder of the Society of Race, Ethnicity and Religion.  He is a member of the American Theological Society.  Pin has worked with the Aspen Institute, the HistoryMakers Project, and he is a member of the National Advisory Team for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (2022). He is also involved with many community organizations, and has held leadership positions in a variety of them, including Meadville Lombard Theological School Board of Trustees (Executive Committee and Chair of the Education Team); the Rothko Chapel Board of Advisors; the Unitarian Universalist Panel on Theological Education as well as the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

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