A Child Shall Lead Us:

Preventing Domestic Violent Extremism through Youth and Congregations

Original Date: May 20, 2021 | 10:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. ET 

The Institute for Youth Ministry is partnering with Rē: The Regenerative School, to engage young people and faith communities across the USA in research and creating solutions to deep social divisions that can lead to violent extremism.

Violent extremists often target young people to recruit, exploiting their social and economic vulnerability and eagerness to find purpose in their lives. While youth are often portrayed as perpetrators of violent extremism, more recent strategies view youth as key stakeholders in interrupting the cycle of violent radicalization and preventing violent extremism (PVE).

The USA’s 350,000 religious congregations have the potential to be key allies in this work. Not only are they deeply invested in protecting their young, they offer long traditions of peacebuilding, and resources for strengthening our social fabric.

This conversation is a first step. Its specific goal is to help us learn from the international community’s long experience with young people as peacebuilders who are helping to prevent global violent extremism.

We are hosting five panels throughout the day that feature global changemakers, including young people themselves, committed to peace, justice, and youth-led change by launching grassroots movements, policy changes, and international collaborations.

Panel A - 10:30 am – 11:30 am EDT

A Church for Change: Religion as a Driver and Solution to Violent Extremeism: Analysis from the Last 20 Years

This panel will explore pertinent research from the last two decades linking religion to violent extremism globally, especially among youth. We hope to explore both the role of religion as a driver of, and as a solution to, global violent extremism.  Parallels to the current situation facing the U.S. will be explored. 

Moderator: Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ


  • Allyn Maxfield-Steele, Co-Executive Director at Highlander Research and Education Center, New Market, Tennessee 
  • Melissa Nozell, Program Officer, Religion & Inclusive Societies, The United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC. 
  • Tahil Sharma, North American Coordinator, United Religions Initiative
  • Lisa Schirch, Senior Research Fellow, Toda Peace Institute, Tokyo, Japan; Visit Scholar in Peace Engineering, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 

Panel B - 11:45 am – 12:45 pm EDT

Learning from Youth: Evolving Responses in Preventing Violent Extremism from Global Youth Peacebuilders 

This panel will provide an overview of the global youth, peace and security (YPS) agenda which was formally launched in 2015 by the United Nations. These youth peacebuilders will discuss their on-the-ground experience of working to prevent violent extremism in unstable regions of the globe. We will look at the diversity and impact of these efforts to better understand the role young people can play in preventing the adoption of violent extremist ideologies among their peers.  

Moderator: Felix Bivens, Co-Founder/Co-Director, Rē: The Regenerative School and Founder/Director of Empyrean Research, Fayetteville, Tennessee  


  • Hassan Ndugwa, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum, Extremely Together Leader (Kofi Annan Foundation), Mandela Washington Fellow, USIP Generation Change Global Fellow, Kampala, Uganda  
  • Teuta Avdimetaj, CVE Researcher, Kosovar Center for Security Studies and former Policy Advisor to the President of KosovoUnited 
  • Mridul Upadhyay, Asia Coordinator of United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY), Co-Founder, Youth for Peace International     
  • Bill Shaw OBE, Chief Executive Officer of 174 Trust, Belfast, Northern Ireland 

Panel C - 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EDT

Research as a Resource: Engaging Youth in Participatory Action Research to Transform the Conversation 

This panel will discuss the use of participatory action research (PAR) as a method that engages and empowers young people to propose data-informed solutions to domestic violent extremism by interrupting radicalization and defusing ideological polarization.  

Moderator: Dayle Gillespie Rounds, Associate Dean of Continuing Education, Princeton Theological Seminary 


  • Ilana M. Lancaster, Senior Program Officer, Center for Applied Conflict Transformation, United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC 
  • Joanna Wheeler, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Cape, South Africa, and Founder and Director of Transformative Story
  • Sahlim Charles, Co-Founder of Re-Imagining New Communities; United States Institute of Peace Generation Change Fellow, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Felix Bivens, Co-Founder/Co-Director of The Regenerative School and Founder/Director of Empyrean Research, Fayetteville, Tennessee 

Panel D - 2:15 pm – 3:15 pm EDT

Leading with Youth: Leveraging Congregations to Help Young People Prevent Violent Extremism through Youth and Community Development   

This panel will explore the potential of Christian congregations to support young people leading in their communities in interrupting processes of radicalization and defusing ideological polarization through strategies such as youth development and community organizing, which have been shown to reduce ideological extremism. This discussion is both aspirational and descriptive; we hope to name new possibilities as well as lift up examples of congregations—and young people—already doing this work, perhaps unknown to one another. 

Moderator: Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ  


  • Adam Nicholas Phillips, Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, US Agency for International Development, Portland, OR/Washington, DC 
  • Yulee Lee, Senior Director of Staff and Partnerships, Fuller Youth Institute, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA 
  • Gregory C. Ellison II, Founder and Executive Director of Fearless Dialogues, and Associate Professor of Pastoral Care at Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA 

Panel E - 3:30 pm – 4:20 pm EDT

We Make the Road by Walking: Toward a Congregationally-Supported, Youth-Led Peacebuilding Movement in the U.S. - Lessons and Experience from Afar    

This panel consists of international peacebuilding organizations and lead project researchers, both to learn from the wisdom of global peacebuilders, and to imagine what next steps are called for, especially with congregations and young peacebuilders. In particular, we seek wisdom that might help us: 1) open discussions about these issues within faith communities, 2) empower young people to help their communities understand common factors that drive extremism and division, and 3) empower young people to create activities and interventions that counter the forces of violent extremism, in order to create a more resilient and peaceful future.    

Moderator: Craig Barnes, President, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ


  • Asle Toje, Deputy Leader of the five member Norwegian Nobel Committee which selects candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway; foreign policy analyst and columnist
  • Erik de Baedts, General Director of the Carnegie Foundation Peace Palace, The Hague, South Holland, Netherlands; Advisory Council, Dutch Association for the United Nations 
  • Felix Bivens, Co-Founder/Co-Director, Rē: The Regenerative School and Founder/Director of Empyrean Research, Fayetteville, Tennessee  
  • Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ 

How it Works

 When: Available Now

 Duration: 60-Minute Panel Discussions (5) 


 Price: Free

What You'll Learn

  •   Familiarity with global conversation on youth peacebuilding
  •   Insight on how to apply research and best practices toward USA-based projects that are youth-led


Educators, researchers, scholars and the PTS community interested in learning about global efforts in youth-led peacebuilding as well as participatory action research, and how it can play a role in preventing violent extremism  

Price: $0.00