Parliament of the World’s Religions (2009)

The world is shrinking. International videoconferences, YouTube, email, Facebook, nonstop international flights, Skype and so forth are indicators of modern globalization. People from all parts of the world are interacting with unprecedented speed, frequency, and ease, yet all of these modern amenities come at a great cost to our planet. As a result, religious people and faith communities are attempting to grapple with the many challenges and opportunities that arise out of this new interconnected global reality.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the largest interreligious gathering in the world. It convenes leaders from the religious, academic, and civic spheres of society with the aim of developing a more peaceful and sustainable planet. The Parliament began in 1893 in Chicago as part of the Columbian Exposition; some understand this as the catalyst for the worldwide interreligious movement. 100 years later in 1993, eight thousand people gathered for a centennial Parliament celebration in Chicago. Ever since, the Parliament has been meeting every five years in major cities around the world: Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999; Barcelona, Spain, in 2004; and Melbourne, Australia, in 2009, where more than 8,000 people gathered.

The major theme at the 2009 Parliament was “Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth.” The theme as “reflects the urgent need for religious and spiritual communities and all people of goodwill to act on their concerns for the environment, peace and for overcoming poverty.” Other subthemes focused around indigenous peopleEach of the many Native American nations has its own distinctive life-ways, although there are some widely-shared characteristics. most Native life-ways are primarily transmitted through oral traditions; they are oriented toward living in relation to a sp... (especially the Aboriginal people of Australia), overcoming poverty in an unequal world, securing food and water for all people, building peace in the pursuit of justice, creating social cohesion in village and city, and sharing wisdom in the search for inner peace.

Workshops and Plenary Sessions

Building on the above major theme and subthemes, the conference consisted of seven plenary sessions and hundreds of workshops. Each day began at 8:00 a.m. with morning observances ranging from “Calling out to AllahAllah is the word for God in Arabic, used by Arabic-speaking Christians, Jews, and Muslims. According to Islam, Allah is the creator and ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate judge of all human beings, characterized by mercy and compassion. By means ...: the Role of Du’a in IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to... and Its Benefits for Inner Peace” to “Catholic MassMass is a term used in the Roman Catholic Church for the ritual that culminates in the celebration of the Eucharist, the central rite of sharing the consecrated bread and wine in the church community., Roman Rite—Friday” to “A Celebration of the Cosmos and its Processes from a Mystical, Inclusive Perspective.” The morning observance on “How a Jain Starts the Day: The Rituals” presented the ways in which the major sects of JainismThe term Jain or Jaina refers to the tradition of the Jinas, the “victorious ones” who have won spiritual liberation, and to those who follow it. The Jain tradition as we know it dates back some 2500 years to the life of the teacher Mahavira, said to ... begin each day—with meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo..., seeking forgiveness for past sins, meditative music and theoretical exposition.

From 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre bustled with workshops on diverse topics such as “Towards a Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World’s Religions;” “The Digital Revolution and the Age of Religious Pluralism;” “Hearing the Voices of the Indigeonous Elders;” “Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding: The Case of Israel-West Bank-Gaza;” and “Educating Religious Leaders for a Multireligious World.” Another workshop was “Life of JesusJesus is the historical figure considered by Christians to be the Christ, the Messiah, whose life and teachings, death and resurrection give clear evidence of God’s love for humankind. Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE...: non-Christian Perspective,” wherein a Buddhist, Hindu, and Shi’a Muslim presented their perspectives on the founder of ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church.. During a one-and-a-half hour lunch break, attendees relaxed in restaurants and shops along the Yarra river before returning to the convention centre for another marathon of workshops from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. each evening more than 8,000 people gathered for the plenary sessions that featured major religious and political leaders from around the world. Some notable names are His Holiness XIV the Dalai LamaDalai is Mongolian for “ocean” and lama is the Tibetan word for “superior,” especially referring to those of superior spiritual attainment. Together the two terms constitute the title conferred upon the head monk of the Gelug school of Tibetan Bud...; Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a priestA priest is the leader of a religious community or congregation, specially trained and often ordained to service, who leads members of the community in the rituals and practice of shared and individual life. Many traditions have forms of priesthood.In the... from Uganda who is said to be the first African religious leader to openly declare his HIV-status and who has devoted his life to an AIDS ministryMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam).; and RabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... DavidDavid was the King of Israel (c. 1000 BCE) credited with uniting the many tribes of Israel into a centralized kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. David is said to have planned for the Temple in Jerusalem, which was subsequently built by his son Solomon... Saperstein, who was named the most influential rabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. in the United States by Newsweek. Each session showcased song and dance from a broad scope of religious traditions—from the Gyuto MonksA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... of Tibet to Divya Jain, an Indian classical dancer and choreographer, to the The Naqshbandi SufiSufism is often called “the heart of Islam,” as its emphasis on the inner life enlivens and supplements the outward practices of ritual and legal obligation. It is not a sect of Islam, but rather a stream of interpretation stressing the interior path,... Order of Australia. Video of the closing session on December 9, 2009, where His Holiness XIV the Dalai LamaLama, the Tibetan term meaning “superior” refers especially to those of superior spiritual attainment. It is a translation of the Sanskrit word “guru” and is used for any venerable monk or qualified spiritual teacher. spoke, and a slideshow of Parliament events are available via Vimeo.

Student Initiative – Educating Religious Leaders for a Multireligious World

While the Parliament hosted people from all over the world, one cohort was a group of faculty and roughly 100 students from seminaries, rabbinical schools and emerging Muslim educational institutions from across the United States. The Henry Luce Foundation provided 15 schools in the U.S. with a generous grant that supported a semester-long course that focused on “Educating Religious Leaders for a Multireligious World” at each respective institution, and which culminated with a large-group workshop that met during the Parliament in Melbourne, Australia. One class called “Toward an Abrahamic Family Reunion” was held at Boston College, and was taught by Rabbi Sanford Seltzer, ImamImam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descend... Abdel-Rahman Mohamed, Reverend Rodney Petersen, and Father Ray Helmick, S.J. The students came from Harvard Divinity School, Boston University, and Boston College. Before traveling to Melbourne for the Parliament, each of the 15 institutions drafted a statement in response to the following questions:

1. Why is multi-religious education needed in seminaries and divinity schools (theologically, pastorally, politically, civically, etc.)?

2. What are some of the resources for multi-faith education in your own tradition and school? What are some of the obstacles to multi-faith education in your tradition and school?

3. What are the virtues and skills one needs to be an effective multi-faith leader (broadly conceived)? What are the practices by which these virtues and skills can be developed (inside and outside the classroom)?

4. What kinds of multi-religious initiatives do you hope to engage in together with the communities you will serve (with children, youth, and adults)? Why?

5. What are some key insights you have learned from these sessions and from your participation in the Parliament? How might we carry this work forward together as a group and in each of our schools?

Video from the student initiative session is available online via YouTube.