Patel grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where he attended Glenbard South High School. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for his undergraduate studies and earned a degree in Sociology. He has a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.
Patel details his life and career extensively in his 2007 autobiography, Acts of Faith
. In the book, Patel notes that he became interested in religious diversity in college, where he noticed that conversations around multiculturalism and multiple identities did not involve religious identity. After graduating college, he taught at an alternative education program for high school dropouts in Chicago and, inspired partly by Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement, founded a cooperative living community for activists and artists in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. As an activist, Patel felt that diversity, service, and faith were important parts of civic life but found no community organization that touched on all three, specifically one that worked with young people. In response, he developed the idea for an Interfaith Youth Corps, formulated through his relationship with Brother Wayne Teasdale and blessed by the Dalai Lama, that would bring young people of different faiths together around service and dialogue.
While a student at Oxford, Patel ran numerous interfaith youth projects in India, Sri Lanka, and South Africa. He officially founded IFYC in 2002 with a Jewish friend and a $35,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Today the organization employs approximately 30 people and has a $4 million operating budget.
In addition to his work with IFYC, Patel has spoken at numerous college campuses and conferences across the country. Patel and IFYC partnered with White House Officials in developing President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, which invited schools across the nation to make interfaith cooperation a campus priority and launched in 2011. His second book, Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America
, is slated for release in August 2012.
Much of the preceding information is from Patel's Wikipedia page