This coming week (October 12-19, 2015) I will attend the Inaugural Women’s Assembly and Program Initiative for Global Advancement, five days of dedicated programming at the Parliament of the World’s Religions – and I welcome your engagement with me as I learn from and with the many attendees from around the globe who will gather to explore the challenge of cultivating smart dialogue and healthy action across secular and faith traditions.
The first Parliament met at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893, also known as the Columbian Exposition in recognition of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Historians regard that gathering as the first formal interfaith event in the world and the first public dialogue between Eastern and Western religious traditions in the United States. Over 5,000 attendees heard 194 lectures from September 11th (yes) through September 27th in 1893, meeting in a building that is now the home of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Nineteen women were invited to speak at the first Parliament, a significant number for that time. Leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church were invited as equal participants. Regrettably, no indigenous religious traditions were included in the Parliament’s proceedings and the overall message of the gathering clearly expressed that indigenous spiritual practices were to be understood as inferior to both Eastern and Western traditions.
Some of my current students have been learning this semester how due to a combination of cultural and logistical reasons the Parliament did not reconvene at the next smaller World’s Fair in Brussels in 1897 nor at the next larger World’s Fair, the landmark Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Thus, the interfaith movement quietly went underground for the majority of the 20th century.
Members of the interfaith community in Chicago revitalized the Parliament in 1993 to commemorate the event’s centennial. The Parliament has met every few years since across several continents – Cape Town, South Africa (1999); Barcelona, Spain (2004); Melbourne, Australia (2009) – and now returns to the United States in Salt Lake City for 2015.
Organizers estimate 10,000 people will attend this year’s Parliament and related events in Salt Lake City. In addition to the Inaugural Women’s Assembly addressing the responsibility of the world’s religions to affirm women’s dignity and human rights, the Parliament will focus on the following:
- hate speech, war and violence,
- global income inequality,
- rights and respect for indigenous peoples and their traditions,
- education for emerging religious leaders and youth leaders, and
- interfaith action on climate change and other environmental issues.
Those who are unable to attend in person may pre-register for free live streaming of selected sessions from the Parliament.
I plan to post from the event here as well as on social media. If you are not already following me on Twitter [@drz0], I invite you to do so. You also may join the online learning community for my students and other learning partners on Facebook.
Please feel free to share your questions about this global event and even more so your insights on these important challenges for our global community. I am looking forward to sharing my learning with you.