Text by Dahlia Lewis | Reporting by Ryan Hayashida —
This past weekend, the 6th Parliament of World Religions took place in Salt Lake City, Utah, gathering people from 80 different nations and 50 different faiths.
For over 120 years, the Parliament of the World’s Religions has been gathering major political figures, authors, scholars, and spiritual leaders from all religions in one place to discuss ways to unite the world in peace. The first event took place in Chicago in 1893, which was then called The World’s Congress of Religion’s at the World’s Columbian Exposition. It is recognized globally as the original place of conducting formal inter-religious dialogue.
Since that time, the Parliament has been held in several locations around the world including South Africa, Spain, and Australia, thus introducing the vision of interfaith and mutual understanding to a global audience. It is still considered the largest official gathering of faiths and traditions.
Notable speakers from past events included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, and several Nobel Peace Prize winners.
This year’s Parliament focused on the theme “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity,” with an agenda to address and help solve perpetual issues of preserving natural habitats and climate changes, income inequality, and hatred/violence among different religions. This year’s event boasted an audience of over 10,000, and the speakers for this year’s event included Costa Rica’s two-time President, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and top religious scholars and interfaith advocates. Several religions were present, ranging from the pagan Wiccan religion to Tibetan Buddhism.
Attendees came from all over the world. One audience member made the journey from New Zealand because she “wanted to see unity in the world, and see how we can heal our beautiful earth. My heart has become so open, and we’ve got to take what we’ve got and make change happen.”
Another audience member stated, “What impresses me is the spirit…everybody understands that we are one. And if we are all part of this earth, it doesn’t matter what religion you are a part of. It’s the little things you can do at home [to make a difference].”
Bishop Douglas Walker of The Church of Antioch at Santa Fe & Blessings in New Mexico was inspired not just from the powerful speeches from world leaders, but also through the fellowship with the audience. “The biggest impact for me was the one-on-one meetings of people belonging to different cultures and religions.”
The Parliament kicked off its first day with the Inaugural Women’s Assembly, hosted by The Women’s Task Force. The organization was established to protect and improve the welfare of women through interfaith dialogues and to address constant obstacles they are faced with.
Phyllis Currott, Chair of the Women’s Task Force and Convener of Inaugural Women’s Assembly, shared how the assembly impacts women’s role not only in current affairs, but also in religion and spirituality. “This was an opportunity to experience the world as it’s suppose to be: peaceful, respectful, appreciative, and open to learning about one another. Yet women still make up less than 1% of religious leaders. Scriptures are misinterpreted to justify the oppression of women. Religions have to take the lead in upholding the rights of women.”
Not only were women’s universal impact discussed, but the youth’s influence on the future was appraised as well.
And what makes this year’s Parliament unique was the younger generation. Millennials have not just taken a back seat, but their dynamic participation in activism and rallying for global causes have been noticed. The Parliament even offered attendance fee discounts to students. But why this push towards their involvement? It involves an open mind and willingness to unite.
Speaker Aisha Adawiya, founder and president of Women in Islam Inc., remarked, “We have to have the human connection, and young people have the unique opportunity. This is foundational work for them.”
Bishop Eric Matsumomo from the Honpa Hongwaji Mission of Hawaii, denomination of Shin Buddhism, echoed the same sentiment, expressing the youth’s ability to “foster a new vision and new hope for our world. They are our future.”
The 2015 Parliament was deemed a success by Chairman Imam Abdul, who had revealed plans to implement the gathering every two years instead of its usual five years.