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Chicago Meeting, 1893

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 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.[1]

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. The latter was represented by its founder Mary Baker Eddy. Rev. Henry Jessup addressing the World Parliament of Religions was the first to mention the Bahá'í Faith in the United States (it had previously been known in Europe.[2]) Since then Bahá'ís have become active participants.[3]

In 1893, The Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala was invited there as a representative of "Southern Buddhism" - which was the term applied at that time to the Theravada. 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'.


Address by Swami Vivekananda

The eloquence of Swami Vivekananda and his introduction of Hinduism taught to the United States are particularly remembered. The speech has been identified by many to mark the beginning of western interest in Hinduism not as merely an exotic eastern oddity, but as a vital religious and philosophical tradition that might actually have something important to teach the West.[4][5] The opening line, "Sisters and Brothers of America...", was greeted by a three minute standing ovation from the audience of 7000.[6]

"Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now."

Address by Virchand Gandhi ,1893

Shri Virchand Gandhi said, "It is an astonishing fact that foreigners have been constantly attacking India and in the face of all this aggression the soul of India has stood vital and watchful. Her conduct and religion are safe and the whole world looks at India with a steady gaze." He added "Cultural distinctions, agriculture, art, artistic skill, literature, good conduct, means of knowledge, science, hospitality, feminism, love, and respect - all these are found in India in quite a different form. If that culture was purchasable, England would have purchased it, adopted it. But it has not happened, it cannot happen."

1993 Parliament

The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions (CPWR), host organization for the Parliaments of the last two decades, officially dates from 1988 when two monks from the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago suggested organizing a centennial celebration of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions.

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 and dialog and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues which confront us all. Sant Sri Asaramji Bapu participated from India and spoke beyond time leaving the audience mesmerised. 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, 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 Common

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin also participated in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1993.

1999 Parliament

More than 7,000 individuals from over 80 countries attended 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. The Parliament began with a showing of the International AIDS Quilt to highlight the epidemic of AIDS in South Africa, 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.[7] More than 8,900 individuals attended the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Spain. Having created the declaration Towards a Global Ethic[1] 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 was an international event which included Parliament-style events and dialogues.[8] 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, Australia hosted the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions.[2] 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. [3]

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, [4], 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. [5]


The Parliament of World's Religions has been criticised by Christians for denying the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. As far back as 1925, G. K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man,

The Theosophists build a pantheon; but it is only a pantheon for pantheists. They call a Parliament of Religions as a reunion of all the peoples; but it is only a reunion of all the prigs. Yet exactly such a pantheon had been set up two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon. It was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history. If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were already melting.

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".[9]

See also


External links


  • 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 [6]

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


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