A Life Well Lived: A Pathfinder in the Search for American Pluralism
The IFYC team is devastated to share the news that our dear colleague and friend, Brendan Randall, Senior Consultant on IFYC’s Campus Engagement team, had a serious accident and passed away on July 9, 2017 at age 51.
With Brendan’s passing we lose a tremendous figure in the work to advance pluralism in the United States. Brendan was both an accomplished scholar and active practitioner, helping to further the understanding of pluralism through teaching, writing, and engaging hundreds of campuses.
Brendan joined IFYC in 2015 and quickly made himself invaluable, leveraging his expertise, insight, and deeply empathetic spirit in pursuit of our mission. Brendan was passionate about engaging religious diversity productively for the good of American society; that passion translated into long hours, deep intellectual contributions, and meaningful relationships with IFYC colleagues and our campus partners.
During his tragically short time with us, Brendan had a profound impact on our collective work and the hearts of everyone who was blessed to know and work with him. Drawing on his previous extensive experience with the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Brendan brought a depth of intellectual rigor and personal passion to his work. On campus visits and team retreats, Brendan enlarged both the hearts and minds of his colleagues with his esoteric wisdom, gregarious laugh, and boundless care and enthusiasm for all those around him.
Brendan wasn’t afraid to do things the hard way. In fact, he seemed to relish burning the candle at both ends. Alongside spearheading IFYC’s on-campus consultation program, Brendan continued work on his dissertation, which examined the civic dispositions needed for membership in a religiously diverse democracy and was titled “Religious Belief, Free Expression, and ‘Lightning Rod’ Issues: Agonistic Pluralism and Civic Education in a Religiously Diverse Democracy.” Embodying the spirit of the scholar-practitioner, one could watch Brendan test and reformulate his insights into “agonistic pluralism” – a concept to which he was both intellectually and personally committed – in his work with campuses and his spirited and generative discussions with coworkers around the office.
Before joining IFYC, Brendan brought his full passion to so many other places and people. He called himself a “recovering lawyer,” with a law degree from the University of Minnesota. He had several degrees from Harvard University including an A.B., M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School and was currently pursuing an Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, anticipated in 2018. His desire to learn was boundless.
We will miss Brendan’s wealth of wisdom, quick wit, and commitment to the IFYC mission. We extend our sympathies to his wife, Cathleen, and all of his surviving family and friends. Brendan’s values and drive live on in our ongoing work together.
A Tribute to Brendan from Eboo Patel, Founder and President, Interfaith Youth Core
Brendan Randall was my friend and traveling companion. Every week, we would meet at O’Hare for an early morning flight, off to a campus to do what he liked to call our ‘interfaith frick and frack routine’.
Always, I would be rushing through the airport, shirt untucked, arriving just in time. Always, he would already be at the gate, sitting quietly reading the news, bow tie worn just so. He would hand me a Kind bar and I would ask, “How are you constantly here before me?”
“My German grandmother taught me that on time is late.”
“You say that every time,” I would tell him.
“You give me occasion to,” he would reply.
Over the last two years, outside of my wife and kids, I spent more time with Brendan Randall than any other human being on the planet. 36 hours a week, in pretty close quarters.
He would watch my keynotes on campus, week after week, and say, “I liked it, but you got Rawls wrong.” And then when he saw that this statement made me sad, he would offer, “Well, not wrong. But not quite right.”
I chose to travel with Brendan for precisely those insights. I appreciated the depth and breadth of his reading, I admired his intellect, I trusted his judgment, I liked hanging out with him. I think he knew that. I wish I had told him more often.
On these campuses, I would watch him teach interfaith case studies to college administrators, masterfully. He would begin with the perfect amount of exposition, then throw in a pinch of provocation, and finally offer a dash of affirmation. It added up to the perfect dish of interfaith learning. People would leave those sessions forever changed. I remember an IFYC colleague coming along one time and commenting, “Boy, Brendan loves interfaith cases.”
Yes, he did. But Brendan’s true love was people. Helping them learn, grow, be better.
Brendan was generous. We drove round trip Chicago to Iowa City for a campus visit last year; he let me listen to Grateful Dead radio both ways, and sing. “Is this bothering you,” I asked mid-way through belting out Franklin’s Tower. “It’s not so bad,” he said.
Brendan was wise. I remember we were discussing a thorny strategic issue once, and Brendan decided a story from the animal kingdom might cast some light on the situation. “You know what the scorpion said to the frog, right?” he asked me, expectantly. I did not. And so he enlightened me.
A few weeks later, trying to hack through some other organizational matter, Brendan turned to me and said, “This reminds me of the story of the scorpion and the frog. Do you know it?”
I did, and I was about to tell him that, but, well, he looked very eager to share, so I shook my head no. Brendan was happy to tell the story again, and I was happy to listen to it. (This happened repeatedly).
Brendan, I wish you were still here. Here to correct my interpretation of Rawls, to tell stories about frogs, to teach interfaith case studies, to affirm my leadership by saying that “IFYC was the least dysfunctional place” you had ever worked.
Brendan, you were so effortlessly unusual. So wonderfully eccentric. Such this perfect quirky puzzle piece that God (I believe) brought to this quirky puzzle called Interfaith Youth Core. And we had to change a little so that you could fit, and you probably had to change a little too. And we both did, and I’m so glad because – click! – together we became this beautiful full-picture puzzle.
And now there is a piece missing. And we will remember you with full and broken hearts, and do our damndest to make the memories fill that space. But always always always at IFYC, and in my life, there will be a quirky perfect Brendan-shaped hole.
A Tribute to Brendan from Diana Eck, Director of The Pluralism Project, Harvard University
The Pluralism Project is devastated to learn of the death of Brendan Randall, a long-time affiliate and Senior Researcher of the Pluralism Project. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Cathleen Randall and his family. He was an energetic, brilliant, and accomplished scholar and teacher, and a cherished friend and colleague.
Brendan’s loss is immense for the many communities of people with whom he worked – here at Harvard and more recently at Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. At the heart of his work was his concern with civic education for pluralism and how schools can prepare students to live in a religiously diverse democratic society. He was an invaluable, inventive, and beloved teaching colleague in my case-studies course in General Education at Harvard College, said by many of his students to be “the best teaching fellow I have had at Harvard.”
Brendan was especially concerned with strengthening schools’ capacities to protect gender-nonconforming students and others who challenged heteronormative discourse and behavior, while also protecting other students’ free religious expression. Brendan had the rare quality of taking all sides in the debate seriously, on their own terms, while also providing profound moral and legal guidance for schools, civic educators, and all who care about promoting mutual respect and inclusion in these polarized times.
IFYC mourns the loss of a man full of love, wisdom, and laughter. Brendan’s colleagues have shared thoughts and reflections on what he meant to them, to IFYC, and this work. We invite you to join them and share your own memories and messages for Brendan in the comments section below.
Join us in remembering Brendan and share your love and thoughts in the comments section below.
Written condolences or remembrances can be sent directly to IFYC: 141 W. Jackson, Suite 3200, Chicago, IL 60604. Both electronic and written messages will be passed along accordingly.
Information on memorial services and events to celebrate Brendan’s life will be posted here as they emerge. Please check back here for updates.