For those who will be following my postings as I travel to the Parliament, I thought it would be helpful to provide some orienting background to the event.
The Parliament of the World's Religions has its origins in what was called the "The World's Congress of Religions," held in 1893, in Chicago, Illinois. It is considered to be the first official meeting between representatives from Western and Eastern religious traditions, and, according to the website for the Parliament [www.parliamentofreligions.org], it represented the "birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide."
In 1988, a group of religious leaders, led by two monks from the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago, came together to organize a centennial celebration of that 1893 event. At that time a Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions was formed as a non-profit organization for "extending the spirit and legacy of that event through subsequent Parliaments of the World's Religions." The Council continues its work both in Chicago and globally, cultivating harmony among religions, honoring differences and working together for peace and justice around the world.
In 1993, then, the first Parliament of the World's Religions was held in Chicago, with over 8,000 participants from all over the world. There, various religious leaders endorsed a document titled, "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic," which condemned poverty, hunger, economic disparities, and abuse of the earth's resources. The document affirmed that the basis for a global ethic to which all could subscribe existed in a common set of core values found in the world's religions. It called on all peoplereligious or notto subscribe to this global ethic and work together to create a more just and peaceful social order, to commit oneself "to this global ethic, to understanding one another, and to socially beneficial, peace-fostering, and nature-friendly ways of life." Subsequently, Parliaments were held in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999, and in Barcelona, Spain in 2004.
Participants in these Parliaments were able to attend worship services, paper presentations, meditation sessions, performances, workshops, and large plenary presentations by such speakers as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. The idea was not just to listen and learn, but to participate and grow in one's understand and appreciation of the religious otherand perhaps even to learn something new about one's own tradition. In this vein, at the gathering in Barcelona the stated goals were "to deepen our spirituality and experience personal transformation; recognize the humanity of all and broaden our sense of community; foster mutual understanding and respect; learn to live in harmony in the midst of diversity; seek peace, justice and sustainability; and actively work for a better world." These goals continue to inspire Parliament participants today.
In Melbourne, similar learning opportunities will be available, including such diverse offerings as a presentation on Celtic Mysticism, Preksha meditation led by two Jain nuns, a Shinto ritual, a session in the art of Qur'an recitation, a film on the History of the Inupiat, and a panel discussion on the Divine Feminineand that is all on Saturday morning! Clearly, the hardest part is going to be choosing where to spend my time. [Does anyone know where I can get my hands on a Hermione-esqueTime-turner?!]
Kristin Johnston Largen