Our Team

The International Association for Religious Freedom is able to carry out its work thanks to many devoted volunteers. The fabric that makes our organisation and community is woven out of the commitment, passion, talents and hard work of numerous individuals on the international, regional and national level. If you are a member of the IARF, you can meet them on our Community Platform or seek out one of our Chapters and Member Groups.

Below you can meet the members of our international team.

The International Council

An International Council of 11 members is elected every four years by delegates from the Member Organisations and Chapters, in the General Meeting held at our quadrennial World Congress. The Council meets annually to guide the work of the organisation.

If you are a member of the IARF, you can log in to our Community Platform and contact the Council Members directly here.

Prof. George M. Williams (President)

George M. Williams earned his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1972, specializing in religions in modern India. For 35 years he was a professor of Eastern Religions at California State University, Department of Religious Studies.
 His major interest for the past two decades has been in religions that liberate and in liberal religion. This interest has been furthered in the IARF and has led to two honorary doctorates: in 1994 from Starr King School for the Ministry and in 1996 from the United Protestant Theological School of Kolozsvár (Cluj), Romania. The American Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) awarded him its 1989 Distinguished Service Award for his contributions toward inter-religious cooperation and understanding.
A specialist on Svâmî Vivekânanda and the Hindu Renaissance, Williams helped found the section on Hinduism in the American Academy of Religion, having served as projects director of its Electronic Publishing Committee. In both 1997 and 1998 Williams held the Shree Muherjee Chair at National Institute of Advanced Studies at Bangalore, India. He worked on projects involving preservation through digital archiving of ancient sacred texts. He held workshops for archivists and librarians from all over India on digital archiving, chief among them the works of Raja Rammohan Roy, founder of the Brahmo Samaj.
 Williams has worked for nearly three decades on understanding liberal Buddhist and Shinto groups in Japan, producing a film on “The Bodhisattva Way of Peace: Lay Buddhism in Japan,” a video on “Shinichiro Imaoka: Emerson of Japan,” as well as a video series on Shinto practices and rituals. He was part of the editorial team that published the English version of Rev. Dr. Yukitaka Yamamoto’s book, Kami no Michi (Way of the Kami) in 1987. Williams was a regular presenter at several IARF congresses. He has also been active in Collegium as the chair of its history section.
Williams has given guest lectures at a number of universities and seminaries in the U.S. (including Harvard), in Canada (including McGill University, Montreal, as a Distinguished Scholar), India, Japan, Hungary and Romania, as well as at the Vedanta Society in Chicago in 1988.
In 1992 with his wife (Dr. Judit Gellerd as translator) he taught model courses at two major universities in Hungary, which were considered the first academic study of religion in post-communist Eastern Europe.
Since retirement in 2003 Williams taught Asian religions twice for Semester at Sea. He published the Handbook of Hindu Mythology, “Cosmic Sage: Shinichiro Imaoka, Emerson of Japan” and a monograph on Shinto. Since 2009 Williams has worked with a Hawaiian faith, Kanenuiakea, helping its representatives to become a member group of IARF.

Aayush Soni (Vice-President)

Ayush hails from Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh (MP), India. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from New Horizon College of Engineering, Bangalore, India. He has approximately 2 years of corporate experience and currently works with Lowe’s India (a US-based company) as an Associate Software Engineer. During the Covid pandemic, Ayush performed research and suggested multiple platforms & solutions for the careers of youth as well as educators to study/work with limited resources. For students who practiced coding but didn’t have any laptop to test, he provided a solution that offered them the ability to write & execute code on their mobile devices. He has also contributed to motivating and directing youth for competitive exams and career guidance. Through creative presentations, he attracted viewers to understand newer technologies and helped them understand the benefits one can get. On his 22nd birthday, he started a new initiative called “G-VAN”, focusing on Climate Change and Environmental sustainability. As his interests drive him, he has volunteered in medical camps, cloth distribution camps, and many more.

 

Peter le Poole (Treasurer)

Johan Peter Le Poole, born in Yokohama, is a Dutch national, and lives in The Hague. He studied economics at Erasmus Universiteit in Rotterdam and the College of Europe in Bruges. He worked until recently for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in several positions in the civil and diplomatic service. Peter enjoys nature, philosophy and quantum physics. He has been member of the Dutch chapter of IARF since 2015, and is Treasurer of IARF since 2023.

Rabbi Robert Carroll

Bob is a Modern Orthodox rabbi, former University Chaplain, IT consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and is currently Board Chair of the Interfaith Encounter Association in Jerusalem.  In addition to his rabbinic training he has completed doctoral coursework in Jewish/Christian/Islamic theology and mysticism. He has delivered papers at Interfaith conferences and events in Israel, Delhi, Amman, Barcelona, Tirana, and at the Parliament of World Religions.  He also serves as co-chair of one of the IEA’s ongoing Jewish/Christian/Muslim monthly interfaith encounter groups, as well as a new Muslim/Jewish group in New Jersey and a Christian/Jewish Bible study group that meets at the Community of the Beatitudes in Emmaus, Israel.

Alicia Forde

The Reverend Alicia Roxanne Forde serves with the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Director of the International Office. Alicia has a passion for engaging individuals and communities in discerning what they most care about and working alongside others as they seek to enact Love and Justice in this world. She has developed a profound appreciation for self-care, grounded leadership/organizational development, and the crucial importance of meaningful connections in establishing sustainable lives. Alicia was born and spent her formative years in Trinidad and Tobago. She identifies as an African descent queer, cis-gender female with deep roots in Tobago. She considers herself bi-cultural and is grateful that her formative years enabled her to cultivate a global perspective. Alicia is a certified Spiritual Director and has a strong interest in health and wellness. When she’s not hiking, you can find her reading, working-out, or podcast-walking. She is a graduate of The Iliff School of Theology (MDiv ’03) and currently lives, with her partner and nephew, in Longmont, Colorado.

Rev. Yukinobu Sahara

Yukinobu Sahara was born in 1968 in Tokyo, Japan. He began serving for Rissho Kosei-kai as a staff member in 1993. He served as an area staff in Hokkaido from 1999, then ordained as the Minister of Muroran Dharma Center in 2010. He was assigned to the Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan in 2016 and was appointed as the Secretary General next year. Since December 2021, he has been serving as Deputy Director of the External Relations Group, General Affairs Department of Rissho Kosei-kai.

Rev. Dr. Esther Suter

She is an ordained minister in the Swiss Evangelical Church. She worked
as a pastor in congregations, as chaplain in a university hospital and as a volunteer
pastor in a poor area of Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen) in 1983. From extended journeys in Latin America and Africa (1982; 1985) she realized projects, e.g. a shelter for street children in Santiago de Chile during military dictatorship. First she worked as a trilingual secretary in Paris (1968-1970), then studied languages and theology and Ecumenical studies in Switzerland and abroad and wrote a study on interfaith dialogue (Christianism and Zen-Buddhism). Working for a partnership project of the Swiss Reformed churches with Presbyterian churches in South Korea (1993-1995) allowed her various official trips and participate in an
exchange project in South Korea, where she got involved into issues of reunification and nuclear disarmament. As freelance journalist she works since 1990 for various ecumenical world organisations (World Council of Churches, Conference of European Churches a.o.) at international conferences, e.g. at the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. As journalist and delegate she participated 1985 in the 3 rd UN world conference on women in Nairobi and 1995 in the 4 th UN-world conference on women in Beijing. Since 2010 she is a NGO-delegate to the annual session of the UN-Commission on the Status of Women in New York. She is NGO H.R. at UN New York and UN Geneva for IARF, and NGO-H.R. at UN- Geneva for the International Alliance of Women. Since 2010 she is member of IARF and Council Member since 2018; member of the International Association of Liberal Religious Women (IALRW) since 2010 and since 2014 IALRW-Vice-President.

Rev. John Young

John Young was a UU minister for 40 years throughout the US, a denominational leader in IARF, UU-UNO, Peace Network. Active in civil rights, disarmament, and legislative activism throughout his life, a university teacher on spiritual practices, Indian religions, and nonviolence, author of three books, is publishing Global Spirituality presently and writing The Era of Nonviolent Negotiation. He is wife with editor Kathleen Moran, father to Rahul and Leela, grandpa for Cole, Stella, Ione, and Anjali. Loves to hike, play piano, and savor nature’s and peoples’ glorious variety.

Souru Tanino

Soul (Soru) TANINO was born and raised in Ittoen, Kyoto in 1992.
After graduating from Otani University, he served in the secretariat of the Religions for Peace Japan for three years, where he was involved in various issues (climate change, refugees, reconciliation education, disaster recovery, etc.) occurring in Japan and around the world on the basis of religious cooperation.
He then worked for one year at Sunmesse Nichinan Corporation in Miyazaki Prefecture, a park which is themed on ”the place where forming connections with the life of being accepted by the Earth”, before returning to Ittoen in 2019.
He is serving in the secretary’s office at Ittoen HQ.

Ruzbeh Hodiwala

Ruzbeh has been active in the field of Religious Harmony and Human Rights since 2013. He attended the 34th World Congress of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) held in London in 2014 as a Zoroastrian representative and IV Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan in 2013, besides other national and international interfaith conferences. He has served as a a committee member of the International Association for Religious Freedom’s – London Chapter and regularly represents the Zoroastrian community at various interfaith forums.

Rev. Harrison Kingsley Gabriel

Rev. Harrison Kingsley Gabriel has led the Unitarian Christian Church of Chennai since 1995. The UCCC is a member of the Indian Council of Unitarian Churches, along with the Khasi Hills Unitarians in the northeast of the country. He is also the secretary of the India Chapter of the IARF.

The Executive Secretary

Luke Liniewicz

Lukasz Liniewicz is the Executive Secretary at the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). Born in Poland, he now lives in the Netherlands and is a member of the Dutch Chapter and the Europe and Middle East region. He has a background in international law and philosophy, and is also a translator. Lukasz is involved in all aspects of IARF’s work and can be contacted at luke@iarf.net

Representatives to the United Nations

Rev. Dr. Esther Suter, Main Representative

She is an ordained minister in the Swiss Evangelical Church. She worked
as a pastor in congregations, as chaplain in a university hospital and as a volunteer
pastor in a poor area of Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen) in 1983. From extended journeys in Latin America and Africa (1982; 1985) she realized projects, e.g. a shelter for street children in Santiago de Chile during military dictatorship. First she worked as a trilingual secretary in Paris (1968-1970), then studied languages and theology and Ecumenical studies in Switzerland and abroad and wrote a study on interfaith dialogue (Christianism and Zen-Buddhism). Working for a partnership project of the Swiss Reformed churches with Presbyterian churches in South Korea (1993-1995) allowed her various official trips and participate in an
exchange project in South Korea, where she got involved into issues of reunification and nuclear disarmament. As freelance journalist she works since 1990 for various ecumenical world organisations (World Council of Churches, Conference of European Churches a.o.) at international conferences, e.g. at the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. As journalist and delegate she participated 1985 in the 3 rd UN world conference on women in Nairobi and 1995 in the 4 th UN-world conference on women in Beijing. Since 2010 she is a NGO-delegate to the annual session of the UN-Commission on the Status of Women in New York. She is NGO H.R. at UN New York and UN Geneva for IARF, and NGO-H.R. at UN- Geneva for the International Alliance of Women. Since 2010 she is member of IARF and Council Member since 2018; member of the International Association of Liberal Religious Women (IALRW) since 2010 and since 2014 IALRW-Vice-President.

Prof. Kathy Ramos Matsui, Representative to New York

Ph.D., professor at the Department of Global Citizenship Studies, Seisen University (Tokyo, Japan), teaches courses on conflict resolution and peace related subjects. She works with peace researchers and educators internationally in International Institute on Peace Education and Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict. As a peace educator, she recently focuses her activities on Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI), held annually to train participants from Northeast Asia to facilitate peace education activities. She is also active in inter-religious dialogue and cooperation for world peace as a member of the Women’s Executive Committee, Peace Research Institute and the Reconciliation Education Task Force of World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP). She is also IALRW Japan Chairperson and a member of IARF Japan Chapter.

 

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