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The Legacy of the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions

By Marcus Braybrooke for The Interfaith Observer

The Early Years of the Interfaith Movement

The legacy of the 1893 World Parliament of Religions did not live up to the high hopes of its organizers. The dream of a new era of universal peace too soon became the bloody nightmare of twentieth century battlefields and genocide.

Pope Leo XIII officially censured the Roman Catholic speakers at the Parliament and forbade participation in “future promiscuous conventions.” The openness to other faiths shown by many Christians at the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh was soon obscured by Karl Barth and Hendrik Kraemer, who stressed the distinctiveness of the Gospel over against religions, which, they proposed, were a futile human effort to reach God.

Yet there was a legacy. The Parliament created awareness among some that there are “wells of truth outside Christianity.” Historian Sidney Ahlstrom said it began the slow change by which Protestant America was to become a multi-racial society. Swami Vivekananda and Dharmapala established continuing Vedanta and Buddhist groups in the United States.

The Parliament also stimulated the academic study of religions. The Haskell lectureship endowment at the University of Chicago brought distinguished scholars of “comparative religion” to the school and enabled Henry Barrows, secretary of the Parliament, to lecture in Asia.

In 1901 the first meeting of the International Congress for the History of Religions (IAHR) was held as part of the Paris Universal Exposition, though this was for the scientific study of religions and not for interfaith dialogue. The distinguished scholar Joseph Kitagawa wrote, “it becomes clear that what the Parliament contributed to Eastern religions was not comparative religion as such. Rather Barrows and his colleagues should receive credit for initiating what we call today the ‘dialogue among various religions,’ in which each religious claim for ultimacy is acknowledged.”

Initial Institutional Developments

IARF activities continue today around the world. This recent gathering was in Andhra Pradesh in India. Photo: iarf.netPlans for another Parliament in 1901, possibly in India, came to nothing – although small scale parliaments were held in Japan and elsewhere. The obvious ‘child’ of the Parliament was the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), as it is now known, which held its first meeting in 1900. The prime mover was Charles William Wendte, born in Boston in 1844, had helped plan the 1893 Parliament. His parents had come to the United States on their honeymoon and stayed on. Wendte’s father became a Unitarian after being astonished to hear “something sensible from a preacher!” To his delight, his son became a Unitarian minister.

Besides his congregational responsibilities, Charles Wendte built up close relations with the German Free Protestant Union. With the American Unitarians, they were the main supporters of IARF, though among the 2,000 participants at the 1907 Boston Congress were some members of the Brahmo Samaj and a handful of liberal Jews, Muslims, and Catholics. (A longer profile of the IARF will be published here later this year.)

The World Congress of Faith can claim a more distant relationship. Its links with the 1893 Parliament came through the “Second Parliament of Religions,” held in Chicago in 1933, in conscious imitation of the earlier event. The 1933 Parliament, a largely forgotten event, was initiated by Charles Weller and Mr. Das Gupta. Weller, a social worker, started the League of Neighbours in 1918 to help integrate African Americans and foreign-born citizens into American life.

Das Gupta had come in 1908 from India to England. To help remedy British ignorance of India, he organized the Union of East and West. Then in 1920 he accompanied Rabindranath Tagore to the United States. Das Gupta stayed on and restarted his Union of East and West in America. Early in the 1920s he met Weller. Together they merged the League of Neighbours and the Union of East and West to create the Fellowship of Faiths. The Fellowship arranged in several cities meetings at which a member of one faith paid tribute to another faith. It also published a journal called Appreciation.

In May 1929, the World Fellowship of Faiths met in Chicago. This revived memories of the city’s 1893 Parliament and led to a similar event being held to coincide with the Second World Fair in 1933. Twenty-seven gatherings were held in Chicago, with a total attendance of 44,000 people. Preliminary meetings were also held in New York. Bishop McConnell claimed, perhaps unfairly, that the 1933 gathering was an advance on the 1893 event. “The first difference,” he said, “is that instead of a comparative parade of rival religions, all faiths were challenged to apply their religion to help solve the urgent problems which impede man’s progress. The second difference is that the word ‘faiths’ is understood to include, not only all religions, but all types of spiritual consciousness.”

One of those who attended the 1933 Parliament was Sir Francis Younghusband, who three years later arranged the first World Congress of Faiths in London. The minutes of the first planning meeting make clear the link with the World Fellowship of Faiths, which had arranged the Second World Parliament of Religions in 1933. Younghusband soon made clear to Das Gupta that, although grateful to him and the World Fellowship of Faiths, that he – Younghusband – was in charge of the Congress.

The World Fellowship of Faiths described itself as “a movement not a machine; a sense of expanding activities, rather than an established institution, an inspiration more than an achievement. It has never sought to develop a new religion or unite divergent faiths on the basis of a least common denominator of their convictions. Instead, it held that the desired and necessary human realization of the all-embracing spiritual Oneness of the Good Life Universal must be accompanied by the appreciation (brotherly love) for all the individualities, all the differentiations of function, by which true unity is enriched.” This is still a fair description of the interfaith movement.

Mazel Tov to Parliament Treasurer, One of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis”

Rabbi Michael Balinsky, Treasurer of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions Board of Trustees, was just named one of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis” by The Jewish Daily Forward.  Of the honor, Balinsky said a former student had nominated him after inspiring him to become a rabbi. “It was all very touching,” Balinsky shares.

Rabbi Adam J. Rosenbaum describes Balinsky’s influence on his journey toward Rabbinical work:

“As my Hillel rabbi at Northwestern University, Rabbi Balinsky showed me that it was possible to guide young people toward Jewish observance with a sense of tolerance, openness and patience. He was sensitive to the fact that college students endure many ups and downs, and he approached each student with a proper mix of honesty and compassion. Most of all, no matter what I asked him, his answer and tone were both genuine and respectful. He is the reason why I became a rabbi, and if I can one day become half the rabbi that Michael Balinsky is, my community will benefit greatly.”


The Power of Listening: Chairman Mujahid Featured In New Interspirituality E-Zine

Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions Chair of the Board of Trustees, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid

Joining an esteemed group of spiritual thinkers, luminaries of religion, and Interfaith leaders, Imam Malik Mujahid is featured in the newly released e-zine, “The Coming Interspiritual Age.” This 192-page digital magazine is a complement of the recently released book of the same title by Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord forecasting an evolutionary interspiritual movement referenced by the writings of Brother Wayne Teasdale, a former Parliament trustee.

Chairman Mujahid’s stories in Namaste Publications’ “The Coming Interspiritual Age” disclose his personal perceptions of being a co-trustee with Bro. Wayne Teasdale on an Interfaith board reacting to September 11, 2001, the relevance and future of  Interfaith, and the role of Parliament.  From there, his views on global interspirituality, mysticism, and how the “Timeless Wisdom” is steeped in us all to encounter is explored in depth.


E-Zine Contributors: Eckhart Tolle, Ken Wilber, David Korten, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Charles Gibbs, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Ashok Gangadean, Mirabai Starr, Nancy Roof, Kurt Johnson, Constance Kellough, Alison van Dyk, Dena Merriam, Russill Paul, Thomas Huebl, Leo Semasko, M. Darrol Bryant, Ed Bastian, Diane Berke, Phillip Hellmich, Rupert Spira, Loch Kelly, Paul Chaffee, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Adam Bucko,Rory McEntee, Robert Toth, Ralph Singh, Gorakh Hayashi, Matthew Cobb, Janet Quinn, Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo, Neill Walker, Tim Miner, Cassandra Vieten, Jody Lotito-Levine, Kristin Hoffmann, Kenji Williams, Weston Pew, Bruce Schuman


The Power of Listening, Brother Teasdale & the Parliament of World Religions

By Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid

I did not know him well. But he gave me a very important lesson in listening.

It was days after 9/11 when we were in a CPWR meeting. We were thinking about
the future. Everyone was coming up with good ideas. Interfaith people are so much
alike. Their smiles, their language, the way they carry themselves is quite similar. So
much so that I developed a level of skepticism toward the “interfaith people” as nice
people who hang out with the other nice people.

In the meeting, Brother Wayne Teasdale was quiet, listening attentively. And then
he spoke. It was the first time I heard him speak. What he had to say literally woke
everyone up from “just being nice”.

It is important, he said, that we listen to the voices which are not normally heard.
Why not invite extremists to our Parliament? Why not hear from them about their

His thoughts somewhat disrupted this gathering of “nice interfaith people.” There
was a detectable level of discomfort. My own discomfort was a little higher for other
reasons: suddenly everyone was looking at me. He added yes, may be our Muslim
friends can arrange for those voices to be present.

Now so many years after I am more used to people looking at me like that. At that
time I was a bit offended being looked at as though I had some sort of agency of
extremists. But as soon as the stares moved away from me, I was deeply absorbed
thinking about his wisdom and courage to say something like that so soon after 9/

That was the foundation when we selected the theme for the Barcelona Parliament
of the World’s Religions as “Pathways to Peace: The Wisdom of Listening, the
Power of Commitment.”

The Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 was an extra-ordinary event but
an event nevertheless. The Parliament is, thankfully, no longer an event. It is a
movement. The Parliament has evolved to become a summit of extra-ordinary
human beings who are active in their cities and regions for the common good;
articulating the best of their ideals and living them in deliberate relationships with
other people of other religions and traditions. They come, they listen, they share,
they learn and go back to their homes inspired and informed to re-nourish their
communities and expand the sphere of their interfaith universe.

The Parliament program is normally divided in three broad tracks. In one track,
people listen directly to others talk about their own religion and tradition, a
powerful opportunity for banishing negative stereotypes. Another track invites
people to share about their relationships with other faith communities; and yet
another track discusses the common issues facing humanity and how religions are
working with each other to think, provide, and promote solutions.

The interfaith movement is growing by leaps and bounds. Not only people of faith
are founding and expanding this movement, but people of no faith, civil society and
government institutions are also looking to interfaith relations as a vehicle of human

With that in mind, the Parliament strategic plan has included between Parliament
programs to continuously engage the interfaith community with a whole set of
learning opportunities about interfaith dialogue, organizing and engagement.

As the forces of fear, anger and hate rise, we believe that people of loving
relationship need to be stronger than ever and better equipped with the best
practices of interfaith to mediate negativity into the positive energy needed for
human societies to grow and flourish.

In the global village, a spark of anger can go beyond burning the neighborhood
down — it can create lasting harm. The Parliament might have been ahead of its time
in the past, but it is the call of our time now.

And one of the critical issues of now is the challenge of climate change — this
requires behavioral change along with good public policies. It is the people of faith
who have the most transformative impact on those who listen to them week after
week — and that is a whole lot of people around the world.

We are not about creating another faith by some odd merging of religions. We are
about harmony between people of faith for the common good.

Well. We were unable to get some extremist to the Barcelona Parliament. We did not
know them to invite them. Probably the CIA knows their way about. But they are too
busy playing drones to kill them as soon as they find their address and if not them,
their neighbors and look-alikes.

In the 2009 Melbourne Parliament, however, I did present a talk about “The Street
Theology of Anger” to articulate the extremists’ abusive distortion of Islamic
teachings. That was inspired by Brother Teasdale’s wish to listen to the difficult
voices. I was surprised to see an overflowing crowd and was happy that there were
not many loaded stares :)

Continue Reading “The Coming Interspiritual Age” for Imam Malik Mujahid’s perspectives on Global Mysticism and Spirituality.

Inaugural Benedictions Dedicate CPWR Trustee Message to President Obama

Dedicating words of spiritual guidance to the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama January 21, this Huffington Post feature shares a beautiful prayer from CPWR Trustee, Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia:

O Creator and Sustainer of Life. Bless our nation with strength and humility, confidence and compassion, safety and shared security, as well as prosperity and loving kindness. May we continue to stand up for the weak and oppressed so we can be a light to the world for the dignity of all human beings. May we be respectful of our sacred environment and engage in civil discourse that leads us towards national progress. Bless this great nation and its citizens, our President, and our elected representatives so we can work together to create a more perfect union for all.”

CPWR Trustee Butalia is a Sikh faith leader with progressive results facilitating interreligious relations. Butalia’s benediction reflects the shared spiritual will of faith traditions in support of the national community and its global relationships.

CPWR staff offer our warmest wishes for peace and progress to President Obama as he begins his second term, and to CPWR’s new and continuing Trustees beginning the 2013 term.

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia is a member of the Interfaith Committee of the World Sikh Council – America Region (WSC-AR) and served as the Secretary General of the organization for 2004-2005. At the national level on behalf of WSC-AR, he is on the Presidents Council and Steering Committee of Religions for Peace – USA as its Moderator, and serves on the Board of Directors of the North American Interfaith Network as its Vice-Chair. 

9mm Golden Calves

9mm Golden Calves

by James E. Atwood | January 2013

Originally printed in Sojourners Magazine

BACK IN 1990, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued this warning: “The religious community must … take seriously the risk of idolatry that could result from an unwarranted fascination with guns, which overlooks or ignores the social consequences of their misuse.” Two decades later, about 660,000 more Americans have been killed by guns, with a million more injured.

These figures convince me that what was a risk in 1990 has become our reality today: For too many, guns have become idols. They claim divine status; make promises of safety and security they cannot keep; transform people and neighborhoods; create enemies; and require human sacrifice.

Not all gun owners have permitted their guns to become idols or absolutes. In fact, a recent poll shows most gun owners and NRA members, in contrast to public perception, believe personal freedom and public safety are complementary, not contradictory. But those few who hold the microphone at the NRA (the wealthy manufacturers and the gun zealots who do their bidding) have permitted their fascination for guns to supplant God and God’s requirements for human community.

An idol’s followers boldly claim divine status for it. Former NRA executive Warren Cassidy was clear when he boasted, “You would get a far better understanding [of the NRA] if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.” Not to be outdone, Charlton Heston, during a speech as NRA president, intoned, “Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blued steel—something that gives the most common man [sic] the most uncommon of freedoms, when ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument that symbolizes the full measure of human dignity and liberty.”

To turn away from the idolatry of guns will require community dialogue, self-examination, and prayer. One part of our response should also be to enact common-sense gun laws—which, when they have teeth, are very effective. We in the U.S. need two new federal laws, which would almost guarantee an immediate, dramatic decline in gun violence. The first needed law is a renewed ban on the sale of assault weapons. Good citizens have no need for guns that can rapidly fire up to 150 rounds without reloading and are designed to kill great numbers of people in close-quarter military combat. These are the weapons of choice for deranged individuals who are determined to kill. They must be banned in America forever.

A second common-sense law would require all gun purchasers to undergo an instant background check. This is technically feasible today, but it has not been implemented because the Gun Empire considers any law, however wise or minimal, to be a coordinated attempt to confiscate their weapons. Such a law would eliminate the many sales by unlicensed dealers at America’s 5,000 gun shows—dealers who can, in most states, legally sell any weapon to any person with no questions asked. It’s simply cash and carry.

I make no claims of certainty in determining whether or not a particular individual’s spirit has been converted by an idol, but for 37 years I have observed individuals who grow threatened and angry when gun values are questioned; who show little grief for society’s gun victims; who oppose any preventive measures to stop gun violence; and who believe the solution to gun violence is to arm more people. I am confident that such traits indicate that people are, at least, struggling with idolatry as they turn a human-made thing into an absolute that challenges the requirements of the living God. As Jesus taught us, we cannot serve two masters.


James E. Atwood, a retired Presbyterian pastor, is a gun owner, author of America and its Guns: A Theological Exposé, and chair of the Greater Washington chapter of the anti-gun- violence group Heeding God’s Call.


Image: Licensed for Re-Use

January 9th, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Call for Papers: International Conference on Leadership and Management through Spiritual Wisdom

The School of Management Sciences, Varanasi and Centre for Spiritualism and Human Enrichment (C-SHE), in partnership with California State University San Bernardino (USA) and PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry (India), is organizing a three day International Conference on “Leadership and Management through Spiritual Wisdom” from 22nd February to 24th February, 2013.

Conference objectives:

• Highlighting the challenges of leadership and management in globalized era.


• Exploring causes of leadership success and failures.


• Role of Spiritual wisdom in leadership and management.


• Developing insights into the dimensions of spiritual wisdom.


• Understanding means and methods for inculcating and practicing spiritual wisdom in

leadership and management.


• Developing a path where an individual become free, actualized and emancipated so as to

become an enlightened leader and to find out the basic alchemy for this kind of leadership who

can bridge the chasm between the opposites & spiritual view of life.


• Highlighting importance of inter-disciplinary approach to various professional disciplines for

bringing synergy and unified approach for solving management problems.

For more details please visit To know more about the Center for Spiritualism & Human Enrichment and its various programs, please visit the website:


Papers should be sent at /

Book Announcement: The Coming Interspiritual Age

Advancing the work of former CPWR Board Member, Bro. Wayne Teasdale,  The Coming Interspiritual Age, by Dr. Kurt Johnson and David Robert Ord [released January 8] explores themes of oneness, unity, and diversity on a world-wide scale.   Forecasting a global shift toward spiritual consciousness,  the authors unwrap an evolving makeup of religious communities to showcase how new forms of personal identity and scientific contexts in religion are creating a collective interspirituality.

Endorsing figures comprise Ken Wilber, Pir Zia Inayat Khan, Matthew Fox, Richard Rohr,  Paul F. Knitter, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Andrew Harvey Ashok Gangadean, Yasuhiko Kimura, Charles Gibbs, Nancy Roof, Aster Patel, and more than forty more.

This title is currently placing among Amazon’s top ten new releases of religious publications and will be available shortly for orders outside the United States.




January 9th, 2013 at 11:54 am

Indigenous Peoples´ Concerns in Nepal´s 2011 Census

From The American Chronicle

After a decade, Nepal is due to hold its census for the eleventh time in 2011. The history of census in Nepal goes back a hundred years to 1901. National census can facilitate planning of projects targeted towards specific groups if it records actual figures and conditions of those groups. The past censuses of Nepal are often termed to be “deliberate undercounting of [indigenous] communities…” and erroneous with omissions and misreported data , thus providing false picture of population composition. This has particularly concerned the indigenous nationalities of Nepal struggling for their identity and rights. Currently, Nepal has 59 ethnic groups identified as indigenous nationalities and many other groups are striving to be listed. The country has recently been transformed from a Hindu kingdom to a secular federal republic. The 2011 census – the first one since the country became a republic – thus holds a specific importance.

Click here to read more.

Can Meditation Change Your Brain?

From CNN

Can people strengthen the brain circuits associated with happiness and positive behavior,  just as we’re able to strengthen muscles with exercise?

Richard Davidson, who for decades has practiced Buddhist-style meditation – a form of mental exercise, he says – insists that we can.

And Davidson, who has been meditating since visiting India as a Harvard grad student in the 1970s, has credibility on the subject beyond his own experience.

A trained psychologist based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he has become the leader of a relatively new field called contemplative neuroscience – the brain science of meditation.

Over the last decade, Davidson and his colleagues have produced scientific evidence for the theory that meditation – the ancient eastern practice of sitting, usually accompanied by focusing on certain objects – permanently changes the brain for the better.

“We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways,” Davidson says in his office at the University of Wisconsin, where his research team has hosted scores of Buddhist monks and other meditators for brain scans.

“Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different,” he says. “It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.”

Contemplative neuroscientists say that making a habit of meditation can strengthen brain circuits responsible for maintaining concentration and generating empathy.

One recent study by Davidson’s team found that novice meditators stimulated their limbic systems – the brain’s emotional network – during the practice of compassion meditation, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice.

Click here to read the entire article.

October 26th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Are American College Professors Religious?

From The Huffington Post

Many sociologists of religion, as well as the general public, seem to take for granted the causal relationship between higher education and the decline of religion. The more educated someone becomes, the theory goes, the less religious they are likely to be. As European and American universities broke free from the control of the church in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, science and the scientific worldview arose to become the prime competitor to religious authority. With this historical trend, it was assumed that those who occupy these elite places of learning would also shed the trappings of irrational religious belief. However, more and more sociological evidence reveals that this may not be the case.

In a recent article published in Sociology of Religion, sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons use data from a new, nationally representative survey of American college and university professors to test the long-running assumption that higher education leads to irreligiousness. Based on their research, they argue that “while atheism and agnosticism are much more common among professors than within the U.S. population as a whole, religious skepticism represents a minority position, even among professors teaching at elite research universities.” This has been a long-running debate amongst those who study religiosity in higher education and pay attention to trends in societal secularization.

Click here to read the entire article.