Building Robust & Inclusive Democracy

Frontiers of Democracy

Frontiers of Democracy an annual conference at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life that convenes practitioners and scholars from across the United States and overseas. 

Frontiers of Democracy an annual conference at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life that convenes practitioners and scholars from across the United States and overseas. 

Frontiers of Democracy 2024: Violence, Nonviolence, and Robust Democracy

Dates: June 13 (5pm) until June 15 (1 pm) at Tufts University in Medford, MA

Please hold the dates (June 13-15), register and purchase tickets at the “early bird” discount rate until March 29, and consider proposing one or more sessions for the conference by April 16.

This year’s special theme is “Violence, Nonviolence, and Robust Democracy.” We anticipate robust conversations (and disagreements) about what defines and causes political violence and about the potential and limitations of nonviolent strategies. This year’s plenary speakers on the nonviolence theme will include Damien ConnersHeather Cronk, Maria StephanThupten Tendhar, and others to be named later.

This theme is not exclusive; we welcome sessions on other topics related to Tisch College’s “North Star”: building robust, inclusive democracy for an increasingly multiracial society. In particular, we are eager to continue last year’s rich conversations about religious pluralism and democracy and would welcome proposals in that area, whether or not they relate to violence and nonviolence. 

Although we will consider proposals for presentations or panels of presentations, we generally prefer proposals for other formats, such as moderated discussions, meetings devoted to strategy or design, trainings and workshops, case study discussions, debates, and other creative formats. 

The conference agenda will develop over the next several months.

Cost: $240 for a standard ticket with discounts for current students. This includes hors d'oeuvres on June 13, breakfast and lunch on July 14, and breakfast and lunch on June 15. Other meals and lodgings are not provided.

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About the Conference

Frontiers of Democracy is an annual conference hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University since 2019.  It follows the American Political Science Association’s Institute for Civically Engaged Research and has been connected to the Summer Institute of Civic Studies. It convenes members of those programs plus about 100 others: activists and practitioners in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors; scholars, educators, students; and more. The agenda usually includes short plenary talks, concurrent sessions, and interactive activities for the large group. A major objective is to build relationships among people who work in diverse ways at the frontiers of democracy in the United States and around the world.

Frontiers 2023

 In 2023, thanks to generous funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the special theme of the conference was religious pluralism and its relationship to democracy in multiracial societies

The speakers in plenary sessions included Cornell William BrooksDiana EckAndrew HanauerAminta Kilawan-NarineEric LiuCristina MoonSimran Jeet SinghSharon Stroye, Michael Wear, and others.

The religious pluralism theme is not exclusive, and the agenda includes many sessions on other topics related to Tisch College’s “North Star”: building robust, inclusive democracy for an increasingly multiracial society. Most of the sessions are panels, moderated discussions, or trainings and workshops--all highly interactive. View 2023 Agenda

Frontiers 2022

In 2022, the conference took place on June 24 both in-person at the downtown Boston campus of Tufts University. The main activity was to deliberate in small groups - at tables or on Zoom - about the issues raised in selected “civic cases.”  

Civic cases describe difficult choices faced by real groups of activists, social-movement participants, or colleagues in nonprofit organizations. By discussing what we would do in similar situations, we can develop civic skills, explore general issues, and form or strengthen relationships with other activists and thinkers.

Most of the cases for Frontiers 2022 have been developed by the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins UniversityJustice in Schools, or the Pluralism Project at Harvard, co-sponsors of the 2022 Frontiers conference. Selected cases can be found here. Unlike most cases about business, public policy, or ethics, these stories involve groups of voluntary participants who must make decisions together. The Civic Theory and Practice website (based on Peter Levine’s new book, What Should We Do?) provides an optional framework for such discussions.

Frontiers 2019

In 2019, the conference took place from June 20-22 at the downtown Boston campus of Tufts University. The inaugural fellowship class of the Lead for America program, participants in the American Political Science Association’s Institute of Civically Engaged Research (ICER), and current and past participants in the Summer Institute of Civic Studies were part of the conference. Frontiers 2019 was co-sponsored by Cities of Service, Lead for America, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the Bridge Alliance.

Frontiers of Democracy immediately preceded the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, a selective seminar for scholars, practitioners, and advanced graduate students.

Check out the full 2019 Frontiers agenda to learn more about the speakers and panelists who presented at the conference. Watch the conference on YouTube, or click on the links to skip to individual speakers' presentations:

  • Introduction by Peter Levine, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Tisch College and conference organizer
  • Robert Lieberman, Johns Hopkins University & American Political Science Association Institute for Civically Engaged Research
  • Jarvis Hall, North Carolina Central University, on "The Genesis of the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina"
  • Maya Pace, Lead for America, “Start Where You Live”
  • Jamila Michener, Cornell University, “Health Equity and Democracy”
  • Wendy Willis, Deliberative Democracy Consortium, "What's Creed Got to Do With It? (A Meditation)"
  • Andi Crawford, Director of Empowerment and Citizen Engagement for the City of Lansing, MI, “Love Your Block in #LOVELansing”

Frontiers 2018

The 2018 conference took place on June 21-23 at Tufts University’s downtown Boston campus in Chinatown. Partners for the conference in 2018 included the Bridge Alliance, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

According to Freedom House, democracy has been in retreat worldwide for 12 years. Many people are pushing back, including activists and organizers who are nonviolently struggling, using tactics like strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations against entrenched power. Other individuals and groups take different approaches, some seeking a greater degree of neutrality and emphasizing deliberative dialogue, particularly when they work within institutions such as schools, public agencies, and newspapers. In 2018, Frontiers brought people from these communities of scholarship and practice together to ask how they can learn from and complement each another.

You can review the full Frontiers 2018 agenda here. 

Watch the Conference on YouTube

Frontiers 2017

Frontiers of Democracy 2017 was focused on multiple frameworks for civic and democratic work developed, respectively, by Caesar McDowell of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and MIT, Archon Fung of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Tisch College’s Peter Levine. Our short take speakers included Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, the senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri; Wendy Willis of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and the National Policy Consensus Center; and Hardy Merriman, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

In addition, the Journal of Public Deliberation, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and The Democracy Imperative held a preconference symposium on “Deliberative Democracy in an Era of Rising Authoritarianism.”

Check out the preconference symposium's agenda and readings and the full Frontiers 2017 agenda. You can watch video of that year's introduction, "short take" speakers, and one of our afternoon plenaries, on our YouTube channel.