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Why is the Parliament of the World’s Religions Important?

Compiled by TIO Staff

A HARMONY BEYOND OUR EARTHLY EARS

Anyone who has attended one or more of the modern Parliaments (starting with the 1993 centennial celebration in Chicago) comes away with a multitude of stories and new friendships. Being with thousands of interfaith activists, by itself, tends to change your perspective on the world. TIO asked leaders from the interfaith movement to share with us briefly what they think is important about the Parliament of the World’s Religions. For a longer response, see Marcus Braybrooke’s reflection in this TIO on attending all the modern Parliaments.

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 Kay Lindahl

Kay Lindahl

The Parliament provides a lived experience of inclusion on a grand scale. Everyone is welcome to attend, from renowned religious leaders, theologians and academicians to those who follow no particular faith, from those representing their traditions or spiritual paths to those who are passionate activists for good in the world. It is a kaleidoscope of diversity, a potpourri of sights, sounds, and smells. It is an opportunity to become aware that we are all connected with each other; we are all members of a global family. It is a taste of being the beloved community.

Attending the Parliament is a life-transforming experience. Each one has caused me to grow and expand my understanding of the world as well as of myself and those around me. It happens as I listen to the stories of so many diverse people and share my story with them. We make heart connections that transcend language. The power of love is manifest and present. We become custodiansfor each other’s well-being. I come away inspired by theamazing work happening on the ground all over the world, and hopeful for our future.

Kay Lindahl – Co-founder of Women of Spirit and Faith, former United Religions Initiative Trustee and North American Interfaith Network Chair

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 William Swing

William Swing

The Parliament is the Grand Central Station of Interfaith for people traveling along the railroads of peace building, in all of its forms. Just the fact that it exists in a certain time and space, awakens hope, worldwide. Individuals on various missions might feel isolated when setting out on inspired but lonely pilgrimages, but walking into the great hall of the Grand Central Station of Interfaith, aka, the Parliament, fills them with a lift of profound excitement and the promise of kinship, unimaginable.

At least, it does so for me.

William Swing – Founder and President of United Religions Initiative and retired Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California

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 Rob Hankinson

Rob Hankinson

The late Dr. Lila Fahlman, a Canadian Muslim interfaith activist, was fond of saying “the light from a flame is good in whatever vessel it burns”; it was her way of affirming the value of the many faiths. The light from the Parliament of the World’s Religions is good in spite of the earthen vessel in which it burns. As an institution it is just a vessel of much clay, but as a multifaith interreligious movement it shines a bright light in a multi-shadowed world. And as a witness to peace, justice, and the sustainability of creation, it is a beacon of hope. For me as for many, the Parliaments have provided a crucial assist in reclaiming the original concept and meaning of ecumenism – the whole inhabited earth. May the Parliament’s light shine brightly in Salt Lake City!

Rob Hankinson – Chair of the North American Interfaith Network

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 Katherine Marshall

Katherine Marshall

Interreligious dialogue is about ideas and theology, but above all relationships. The tentative but deliberate initiative of the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago to bring different religious traditions into direct contact was followed by uncountable meetings among followers of different religious traditions that have enriched minds and souls.

Over the decades such meetings have helped build the respect and friendships needed to lessen mystery and suspicions that keep people apart. Since 1993, Parliament meetings in different world regions have played special roles in religious history. These parliaments never aspired to classic parliamentary roles of legislation or representation. But they offered a special form of democratic expression: a place to talk, to learn, and to engage with others.

The first Parliament I attended, in Barcelona in 2004, left an indelible appreciation of religious diversity and the energy, creativity, and sometimes cacophony that entails. The Melbourne Parliament in 2009 catapulted me into the complexities of translating ideals of religious roles in development and human rights into something closer to reality. Salt Lake City 2015 will surely present new challenges and opportunities, but above all it offers, once again, a place to meet people and engage their ideas. 

Katherine Marshall, Executive Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue

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I came to Religions for Peace (RfP) in 1989 from an academic setting at about the same time as individuals in Chicago were thinking of re-creating the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions for our times. Interfaith was scarcely “a movement” then. RfP had more than 20 years of building interreligious associations globally, but at that point was in only 16 countries and needed some new direction.

 William Vendley

William Vendley

So when I was invited to speak at the contemporary reiteration of the Parliament in 1993, I chose to spell out a vision for how RfP could contribute to multi-religious efforts to build peace. I spoke of the spiritual, moral, and social potentials religious communities have to counter violence.          

What I didn’t know was that a funder was in the audience listening with care. Ms. Lynn Szwaja was a new officer at the Rockefeller Foundation and “scouting” at the Parliament. She came up to me afterwards and invited me to a deeper conversation about the vision I had spelled out. Subsequently the Foundation provided substantive RfP funding for conflict resolution in places like Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, and forcommunity-based HIV and AIDS projects. Today, RfP is engaged in nearly100 countries, working locally  and globally.

I anticipate the Parliament will prove meaningful for many in a wide variety of ways and provide unanticipated benefits, like RfP experienced in 1993. In this sense, today’s Parliament is a genuine successor to the watershed in 1893. Like the original, the significance of today’s Parliament awaits us in the future.

William Vendley is the Secretary General of Religions for Peace International

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 Bettina Gray

Bettina Gray

Why is the Parliament of Religions important? It is “Compassion School” with spiritual leaders and teachers from all over the world. While this is not the vision of religion currently on display in the media and popular culture, these gatherings represent the seed for a future entirely different from today’s. Over the last century many interfaith efforts have emerged (TIO being a shining example) that do the week-to-week work in local communities of building bridges and identifying common goals. But the periodic gathering of the Parliament of Religions provides inspiration and insight like none other. It is a time to reflect together on the world we would like to live in and be inspired to go out and co-create it.

I am a classical musician by training. The experiences I’ve had at the various Parliaments have sometimes yielded a very personal inspiration. I find in the varying arrangements of personalities, each carrying their own unique light, a new, and to me thrilling “orchestration,” a truly masterful if unseen hand at work, a resolution of dissonances, a harmony beyond our earthly ears. In these moments sometimes I perceive the deepest forms of a universal “music.”

Bettina Gray – Co-founder and former Chair of North American Interfaith Network

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 Aaron Stauffer

Aaron Stauffer

For the global and national communities working on multi-religious cooperation and deeply invested in the interfaith movement, the Parliament of World Religions offers a unique moment for us all. Unlike other gatherings of global or national religious leaders, like those of Religions for Peace, the Parliament offers a time and place where everyday folk and official representatives can gather under one tent. What is needed in the interfaith movement are more opportunities like this, where senior religious leaders can converse with the grassroots and where all voices are well-heard. The Parliament grants us new, unique opportunities for bridge-building and creating connections and learning opportunities: all of them are vital for the strength and future of the interfaith movement.

Aaron Stauffer – Executive Director of Religions for Peace-USA

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 Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel

I’m so excited for the Parliament in Salt Lake City. The event is a massive platform for the interfaith movement. I am personally grateful to the Parliament because it, in cooperation with URI networks and events, lit the initial fire that became Interfaith Youth Core, the organization I lead. May the 2015 Parliament animate many more such endeavors. 

Eboo Patel – Founder and President of the Interfaith Youth Core