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Parliament of the World's Religions

Parliament of the World's Religions

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There have been several meetings referred to as a Parliament of the World’s Religions, most notably the World's Parliament of Religions of 1893, the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths. The event was celebrated by another conference on its centenary in 1993. This led to a new series of conferences under the official title "Parliament of the World's Religions".

1893 Parliament

In 1893, the city of Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

 hosted the World Columbian Exposition, an early world’s fair. So many people were coming to Chicago from all over the world that many smaller conferences, called Congresses and Parliaments, were scheduled to take advantage of this unprecedented gathering. A number of congresses were held in conjunction with the exposition, including those dealing with anthropology (one of the major themes of Exposition exhibits), labor, medicine, temperance, commerce and finance, literature, history, art, philosophy, and science. One of these was the World’s Parliament of Religions. The Parliament of Religions was by far the largest of the congresses held in conjunction with the Exposition.

The 1893 Parliament, which ran from September 11 to September 27, had marked the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.

Absent from this event were Native American religious figures, Sikhs and other Indigenous and Earth centered religionists. (It would not be until the 1993 Parliament that these religions and spiritual traditions would be represented.) The conference did include new religious movements of the time, such as Spiritualism and Christian Science
Christian Science
Christian Science is a system of thought and practice derived from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy and the Bible. It is practiced by members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist as well as some others who are nonmembers. Its central texts are the Bible and the Christian Science textbook,...

. The latter was represented by its founder Mary Baker Eddy
Mary Baker Eddy
Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of Christian Science , a Protestant American system of religious thought and practice religion adopted by the Church of Christ, Scientist, and others...

. Rev. Henry Jessup addressing the World Parliament of Religions was the first to mention the Bahá'í Faith
Bahá'í Faith
The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind. There are an estimated five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories....

 in the United States (it had previously been known in Europe.) Since then Bahá'ís have become active participants.

The Parliament of Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago. On this day Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda , born Narendranath Dutta , was the chief disciple of the 19th century mystic Ramakrishna Paramahansa and the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission...

 gave his first brief address. He represented India and Hinduism.[79] Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters and brothers of America!".[77][80] To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance."[81] And he quoted two illustrative passages in this relation, from the Bhagavad Gita—"As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!" and "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me."[81] Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality.[81][82]

Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, "India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors."[80] He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the "Cyclonic monk from India". The New York Critique wrote, "He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them." The New York Herald wrote, "Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation."[83] The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekananda as "the greatest figure in the parliament of religions" and "the most popular and influential man in the parliament".[84]

He spoke several more times at the Parliament on topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism. The parliament ended on 27 September 1893. All his speeches at the Parliament had one common theme—Universality—and stressed religious tolerance.[85]

In 1893, The Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala
Anagarika Dharmapala
Anagarika Dharmapala was a leading figure of Buddhism in the twentieth century. He was one of the founding contributors of Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism and Protestant Buddhism...

 was invited there as a representative of "Southern Buddhism" - which was the term applied at that time to the Theravada
Theravada ; literally, "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching", is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India...

. He was a great success and by his early thirties he was already a global figure, continuing to travel and give lectures and establish viharas around the world during the next forty years. The Jainism preacher Virchand Gandhi was invited there as representative of 'Jainism' and his defending speech was admired most.

1993 Parliament

In 1993, the Parliament convened at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago. Over 8,000 people from all over the world, from many diverse religions, gathered to celebrate, discuss and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues which confront the world. Dr. Gerald Barney of the Millennium Institute gave the keynote address on the state of the environment. This keynote and the introduction of the document, Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration, mainly drafted by Hans Küng
Hans Küng
Hans Küng is a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and prolific author. Since 1995 he has been President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic . Küng is "a Catholic priest in good standing", but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology...

, set the tone for the subsequent ten days of discussion. This global ethic was endorsed by many of the attending religious and spiritual leaders who were part of the Parliament Assembly.

Also created for the 1993 Parliament was a book, A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions by the late Joel Beversluis which has become a standard textbook in religion classes. Unlike most textbooks of religion each entry was written by members of the religion in question. The text of the revised Sourcebook is available online at Sourcebook

The keynote address was given by the Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The name is a combination of the Mongolian word далай meaning "Ocean" and the Tibetan word bla-ma meaning "teacher"...

 on the closing day of the assembly. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin also participated.

1999 Parliament

More than 7,000 individuals from over 80 countries attended 1999 Parliament in Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

, South Africa. The Parliament began with a showing of the International AIDS Quilt to highlight the epidemic of AIDS
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus...

 in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, and
of the role that religious and spiritual traditions play in facing the critical issues that face the world. The event continued with hundreds of panels, symposia and workshops, offerings of prayer and meditation, plenaries and performances. The programs emphasized issues of religious, spiritual, and cultural identity, approaches to interreligious dialogue, and the role of religion in response to the critical issues facing the world today.

The Parliament Assembly considered a document called A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, addressed to religion, government, business, education, and media inviting these institutions to reflect on and transform their roles at the threshold of the next century.

In addition to the Call, the Parliament staff had created a book Gifts of Service to the World showcasing over 300 projects making a difference in the world. Assembly attendees also deliberated about Gifts of Service which they could offer or could pledge to support among those gathered in the Gifts document.

2004 Parliament

It was celebrated in the Universal Forum of Cultures
Universal Forum of Cultures
The Universal Forum of Cultures is an international cultural event intended to take place every three years. This event is organized by Forum Foundation....

. More than 8,900 individuals attended the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and the capital of Catalonia, with a population of 1,621,537 within its administrative limits on a land area of...

, Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. Having created the declaration Towards a Global Ethichttp://www.kusala.org/udharma/globalethic.html at the 1993 Parliament and attempted to engage guiding institutions at the 1999 Parliament, the 2004 Parliament concentrated on four pressing issues: mitigating religiously motivated violence, access to safe water, the fate of refugees worldwide, and the elimination of external debt in developing countries. Attendees were asked to make a commitment to a "simple and profound act" to work on one of these issues.

Over the next five to six years people around the world will implement their commitments. Then this vibrant embodiment of the international interfaith community will again come together to strive to, in the words of the CPWR mission statement, "cultivate harmony between the world's religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its other guiding institutions in order to achieve a peaceful, just, and sustainable world".

2007 Monterrey Forum of Cultures

Forum Monterrey 2007
2007 Universal Forum of Cultures
The Universal Forum of Cultures Monterrey 2007 was an international civil-society event that took place in the city of Monterrey, Mexico, starting on September and ending in December of mentioned year...

 was an international event which included Parliament-style events and dialogues. It was held as part of the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures, which featured international congresses, dialogues, exhibitions, and spectacles on the themes of peace, diversity, sustainability and knowledge. Special emphasis was placed on the eight objectives of Millennium Development goals for eradicating abject poverty around the world.

2009 Parliament

Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2009, the greater...

, Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 hosted the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions.http://www.parliamentofreligions.org The 2009 Parliament took place December 3 through December 9. Based on attendance at previous events, the Melbourne Parliament was expected to bring together 8,000 to 12,000 people. The actual attendance was much lower, at around just over 6,000.

The Melbourne Parliament addressed issues of aboriginal reconciliation. The issues of sustainability and global climate change were explored through the lens of indigenous spiritualities. Environmental issues and the spirituality of youth were also be key areas of dialogue.

The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions suggested that the Melbourne Parliament would "educate participants for global peace and justice" through exploring religious conflict and globalization, creating community and cross-cultural networks and addressing issues of religious violence. It supported "strengthening religious and spiritual communities" by providing a special focus on indigenous and Aboriginal spiritualities; facilitating cooperation between Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Bahai, Jain, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu communities; crafting new responses to religious extremism; and confronting homegrown terrorism and violence.


The Parliament of World's Religions has been criticised by some Christians
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 for denying the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. As far back as 1925, G. K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG was an English writer. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction....

 wrote in The Everlasting Man
The Everlasting Man
The Everlasting Man is a two-part history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity, by G. K. Chesterton. Published in 1925, it is to some extent a deliberate rebuttal of H. G. Wells’ Outline of History, which embraced the evolutionary origins of humanity and denied the divinity of Jesus...

In 2009, an organisation called the "Acts 4:12 Committee" formed for the purpose of responding to what it called the "Parliament of the World's Religions Deception".


  • The World's Congress of Religions - The addresses and papers delivered before the Parliament, and the Abstract of the Congresses, held in Chicago, August 1893 to October 1893, under the Auspices of The World's Columbian Exposition, in 2 vols., Tokyo: Edition Synapse, ISBN 978-4-901481-98-4 http://www.aplink.co.jp/synapse/4-901481-98-3.htm

See also

  • Interfaith dialog
    Interfaith dialog
    The term interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative, constructive and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions and/or spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional levels...

  • Dialogue Among Civilizations
    Dialogue Among Civilizations
    Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami introduced the idea of Dialogue Among Civilizations as a response to Samuel P. Huntington’s theory of a Clash of Civilizations.-Introduction:...

  • Institute for Interreligious Dialogue
    Institute for Interreligious Dialogue
    Institute for Interreligious Dialogue is a non-governmental organization devoted to dialog among religions throughout the world.The institute was founded in 2000, following the efforts by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami for promoting dialogs among cultures and civilizations...

  • Sarva Dharma Sammelan
    Sarva Dharma Sammelan
    Sarva Dharma Sammelan is an assembly organized in several places in India. It is generally organized by the Jain community, since it confirms with the anekanta principle of Jainism....

  • World's Columbian Exposition
    World's Columbian Exposition
    The World's Columbian Exposition was a World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. Chicago bested New York City; Washington, D.C.; and St...

  • Paul Brunton
    Paul Brunton
    Paul Brunton was probably born as Hermann Hirsch of German Jewish origin. Later he changed his name to Raphael Hurst, and then Brunton Paul and finally Paul Brunton. He was a British philosopher, mystic, traveler, and guru...

  • Hans Küng
    Hans Küng
    Hans Küng is a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and prolific author. Since 1995 he has been President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic . Küng is "a Catholic priest in good standing", but the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology...

  • Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration
  • Serge Wolkonsky
    Serge Wolkonsky
    Prince Serge Wolkonsky was an influential Russian theatrical worker, one of the first Russian proponents of eurhythmics, pupil and friend of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, and creator of an original system of actor's training that included both expressive gesture and expressive...

Further reading

  • Rev. J. H. Barrows. The World's Parliament of Religions. Chicago,1893.
  • Rev. J. L. Jones. A Chorus of faith as heard in Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, September 10-27 1893. Chicago, 1893.
  • Rev. L. P. Mercer. Review of the World's Religions Congresses of the World's Congress Auxiliary of the World's Columbian Exposition. Chicago, 1893.
  • Prof.Walter R.Houghton. Newly History of the Parliament of Religions and Religious Congresses at the World's Columbian Exposition. Chicago, 1893.
  • Max Muller. Arens, December, 1894. Boston.
  • Bonnet Maury. Revue des deux mondes, 15 August 1894.
  • R. Rev. Kean. Catholic family annual, 1893.
  • Rev. J. H. Barrows. "Results of the Parliament of Religions". The Forum, September 1894.
  • G. D. Boardmann. The Parliament of Religions. Philadelphia, 1893.
  • M. Zmigrodsky. "Kongres Katolicki i Kongres wszech Religij w Chicago 1893 roku". Krakow, 1894.
  • Gen. M. M. Trumbull. "The Parliament of Religions". The Monist, April 1894.
  • Dr. Paul Carus
    Paul Carus
    Paul Carus, Ph.D. was a German-American author, editor, a student of comparative religion, and professor of philosophy.-Life and education:...

    . "The dawn of a new religious Era". The Forum, 1893. The Monist, April 1894.

External links