Ms. Merriam began working in the interfaith movement in the late 1990s when she served as Vice Chair of the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held at the United Nation in New York. She subsequently convened a meeting of women religious and spiritual leaders at the Palais des Nations in Geneva and from that gathering founded the Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) in 2002, an organization chaired by a multi-faith group of women spiritual leaders. The mission of this organization is to enable women to facilitate healing and reconciliation in areas of conflict and post-conflict, and to bring spiritual resources to help address critical global problems.
Since its founding, GPIW has organized dialogues in Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Kashmir, India. For several years after its founding, GPIW also developed, in partnership with the United Nations, a global leadership program for young community leaders. GPIW’s work in the area of peacebuilding has expanded to include fostering new models of development, inclusive and sustainable, mobilizing faith communities to address the climate crisis, and to changing attitudes toward the environment, regaining the sense of awe, respect and reverence for earth and her life systems.
In 2008, Ms. Merriam became one of the founding members of the Contemplative Alliance, an initiative to bring together contemplative practitioners from across traditions to demonstrate how the mainstreaming of contemplative practice is changing the American religious landscape and can ultimately contribute to the positive transformation of American society.
For over 35 years, Dena Merriam has been a student of the Hindu Master Paramahansa Yogananda and a practitioner of Kriya Yoga meditation. She is also a long time student of the great texts of the Vedic tradition. Ms. Merriam received her Master’s Degree from Columbia University and has served on the boards of the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, The Interfaith Center of New York and Seven Pillars. She continues to serve on the boards of The All India Movement (AIM) for Seva, the Manitou Foundation, is an advisor to the board of Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association, and is on the advisory council of The Gross National Happiness Center in Bhutan. In 2014 Dena was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize by the Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan for her many years of commitment to interfaith dialogue.