Archive for the ‘Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ tag
Taking time to mark twenty years of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, on May 11, the Sikh Religious Society of Chicago opened doors to the interfaith community of Chicagoland to kickoff the anniversary year’s celebrations. Speaking from a Christian community, Joyce Shin of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church offered reverence to a God whose world is failing to live up to his image, asking for strength to be stronger and to cultivate peace. Praying for justice, Shin’s words mirror the mission the Parliament follows moving forward in Presbyterian-religious terms.
Great is your Word, O God, and great are your works. Each day we breathe in what you breathed out.
We take in the goodness and beauty of your creation, the love you have for it, and your command to care for it.
With heads bowed down and hearts broken, we confess to you, O God, the sorrow we feel for the great mistakes your world has made.
Together we bear the consequences of a creation marred by sin. Your truth has been twisted and your providence perverted.
Anger has been sown and violence spread. And when violence is committed in your name, we shudder with shame.
For the way things are, we are sorry, for we know your world has fallen short of your creation. We see the scars on both friend and stranger.
We have condoned ignorance and allowed injustice, and we have made others to suffer for our mistakes.
We do not take lightly, great God, the damage done, the lives lost, and the grief immeasurable.
When we fear that the world is beyond repair, remind us that you have created us to be in your image. We are not sure what that means.
Compared to you we are fallen, frail in strength, and fickle in conviction.
At most, God, we hope that, if we imitate you all the days of our lives, we will come to embody what you have in mind for us:
that our bodies will bear the grooves of daily service and that our faces will reveal lines of compassion;
that our souls will be strengthened to speak out for those whose voices are ignored and to stand up against forces that keep people down.
Then when you look upon us and the world you have created, most merciful God, we pray that you will see some semblance of your image:
a world in which just priorities are pursued; the young are educated; the elderly cared for; the vulnerable protected; the hungry filled; the homeless safe.
Do not let the needs of your creation overwhelm us, Lord. Though the world’s needs are great, your power is greater. Amen.
“Religious Freedom Under Attack” headed a recent L.A. Times editorial. With tunnel vision squarely focusing on the status of turbulent nations, the column exposed merely the harshest facts in a new government report which also shines a little light on world interfaith development.
Of course, it would be neglectful of the media to ignore the current religious climate. One ongoing crisis in this camp is the Bahai’s worldwide protest efforts amping up against Iranian courts for jailing seven leaders for more than five years now, simply for being Baha’i and not sharing the faith sponsored by the state. Therefore, headlining any story about religion and governments because of cases like the Baha’is sets the stage for most reports to seem like totally bad news.
The U.S. Department of State report breaking down the state of religious freedom around the world in 2012 does describe a world beleaguered with turmoil. However, it also clues religious-government watchdogs in on how the American government applies its 15-year-old International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, even when not promising to diffuse some of the worst trouble spots.
It also points to some yet-to-be-really-covered-by-the-media good news:
Mentioning some positive action by governments where promoting religious liberty has proved tricky, 2012 demonstrates some indication that interfaith action by governments on the rise.
15 Countries Improving Religious Freedom
Source: U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2012 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Citations: Section II: Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom. Consult report for more national information, religious demography, identifications and definitions.
In October President Kikwete visited several churches in the Mbagala suburb of Dar es Salaam which were burned or damaged following religious unrest. He urged self-restraint and emphasized that citizens should not take the law into their own hands.In November the prime minister publicly pledged to initiate a national dialogue between religious leaders to promote religious tolerance; this had not occurred by year’s end. Also in November, the Interfaith Council asked to meet with the president to discuss intolerance among factions within the Muslim community and Christian groups. This meeting did not take place by year’s end.In November the prime minister took a strong stand against the October religious violence, calling for political and religious tolerance.On December 31, President Kikwete stated that the country faced, for the first time in its history, the possibility of civil strife and division along religious lines. He encouraged religious and political leaders to take seriously their responsibility to ensure that citizens continue to live peacefully regardless of their religion, ethnicity, color, or place of origin.
Some positive steps were taken during the year to address specific religious freedom concerns. The LFNC, joined during the year by the Ministry of Home Affairs, instructed local officials on religious tolerance and in some situations intervened in cases where members of minority religious groups, particularly Christians, had been harassed or mistreated.
In an effort to promote consultation among all stakeholders concerning revisions to Decree 92, the LFNC and Ministry of Home Affairs organized meetings for religious group representatives in Vientiane, Champasak, Bokeo, and Bolikhamxay Provinces, and the city of Vientiane. The meetings allowed for open discussion about the government’s plan to amend the decree, and provided an opportunity for religious groups to offer suggestions for its improvement.
In collaboration with the LFNC, the Institute for Global Engagement, a U.S.-based religious freedom organization, conducted training for provincial and district officials and local religious leaders to help both sides better understand each other and the scope of Decree 92.
The government eased its control over the Catholic community in the north. At year’s end, a Catholic bishop in Luang Prabang was in the process of establishing residency and identifying land for the construction of a church building with the support of local authorities. A Vientiane church delegation, accompanied by LFNC officials, traveled to Bokeo Province to visit Catholic communities in Houayxay, Meuang, and Tonpheung. The church was able to expand charitable activities and provided assistance to a school for the deaf in Luang Prabang.
On February 21, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin participated in World Interfaith Harmony Week. Activities held during the week included community activities and religious forums.
On December 26, church leaders announced the government had rescinded quotas, age limits and other travel restrictions previously imposed on Christian Malaysians who wished to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
On November 3, the Perlis Al Islah Association in collaboration with the Islamic Council of Perlis, a government entity, and the Perlis Malay Customs Council (an NGO) organized an interfaith forum “Gateway to Interfaith Goodwill (Gema) 2012.” The crown prince of Perlis chaired the forum, which was designed as a platform for interaction among different religions with the hope of creating a better understanding between them. Seventeen religious groups, including representatives of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism, attended the forum.
In a statement to Christian leaders in January, the prime minister promised full consultation when assigning mission school heads. He also agreed to after-school Bible classes, as well as implementation of a regulation that allowed non-Muslim places of worship to apply for tax exempt status for donations received from individuals. This was the first time the prime minister had addressed these issues in a public statement. The tax regulation went into effect shortly thereafter.
On June 8, in a change of visa policy, the government started granting missionary visas to other orders of religious workers besides priests and nuns. This change granted all male religious orders (priests, brothers, monks) and female religious orders (sisters and nuns) eligibility for visas to conduct religious work. Religious organizations previously complained that only priests and nuns could obtain missionary visas. The immigration law does not have a formal provision for missionary visas for individuals who do not have the rank of priest or nun within their respective religious orders, which includes Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist workers. In the past, the government regularly granted visas to religious workers of some religious groups who were not priests or nuns and uniformly applied the eligibility to all religious groups by year’s end.
In May the government for the first time granted 20 members of the Baha’i Faith permission to participate in an annual religious pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel. The nine-day pilgrimage allowed Bahais to visit religious shrines and meet with fellow believers. In August the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Hanoi celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its establishment in Hanoi. The day-long public celebration was attended by nearly 100 followers from the northern area of the country, 20 foreign Bahais representing countries in the region, and government officials.
In July and August the CRA registered 20 new churches in the Northwest Highlands. These included both Protestant and Catholic congregations.
During his appointment that began in January 2011, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the non-resident papal representative to Vietnam, made eight visits to the country. The government and the Vatican continued discussions toward normalizing relations. In September Archbishop Girelli made his first visit to the Northwest Highlands to meet with fellow believers. During his visit, the archbishop led mass for congregants of newly recognized churches.
In June the government restored five acres of land to St. Peter’s Catholic chapel in Hanoi. Congregants had formally petitioned the government ten years earlier.
According to contacts from multiple faiths, the government facilitated the construction of new places of worship, including Christian churches, Buddhist temples, monasteries and pagodas. The government’s assistance included transferring land to religious groups, granting building permits, or granting small construction grants through the CRA.
Authorities allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold a three-day convention in Minsk in July. Over 7,500 members from across the country reportedly attended the convention without official interference.
On March 27, the parliament amended the criminal code to make religious motives an aggravating factor for all crimes. Although authorities prosecuted no crimes under the new amendment during the year, the Georgian Young Lawyers Association stated that passage of the amendment could discourage such crimes.
In April parliament passed legislation establishing SPZs in the historic center of Prizren and the village of Velika Hoca/Hoce e Madhe, both of which contained numerous religious and cultural sites dating to the thirteenth century. In July the Constitutional Court upheld the legislation and rejected appeals claiming the law would unconstitutionally give special rights to Serbs over the rights of other citizens.
In a January Holocaust Memorial Day speech, the prime minister apologized for the participation of the country’s officials in the expulsion of Jews during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation. The speech was the first formal direct apology from the government and was commended by religious figures. In November the head of the police department also apologized for police participation in expelling Jews during the war years. Some social commentators and religious leaders stated this was even more significant than the prime minister’s Holocaust Memorial Day speech.
The government made a number of monetary grants to increase security for the Jewish community and to combat anti-Semitism in schools. The government allocated 7.2 million kroner ($1.25 million) for security at the Jewish Religious Community’s (DMT) facility and synagogue in Oslo. In addition to the funding, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security announced it would maintain a dialogue with the DMT, the Police Security Services, and the Police Directorate to ensure that the DMT’s facilities were properly safeguarded. The Ministry of Education granted 6 million kroner ($1.05 million) for programs that included training about anti-Semitism in schools throughout the next three years. The Ministry of Government Administration and Church Affairs will finance the DMT’s new online anti-Semitism reporting mechanism.
In a February session held behind closed doors, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the parliament’s Constitutional Reconciliation Sub-Committee, which was responsible for drafting a new constitution. This was the first time in the history of the republic that a leader of a religious minority group addressed the parliament. Subsequently, representatives of the Syrian Orthodox community also testified before the sub-committee.
The government continued to implement a 2011 decree allowing a one-year period for religious minority foundations to apply for the return of, or compensation for, properties seized by the government in previous decades. Between 1936 and 2011, the government seized thousands of properties belonging to Christian and Jewish religious foundations. A 1936 law required that religious foundations compile and officially register lists of all properties owned. Although it was widely recognized at the time that these lists were not comprehensive, the government then began seizing unlisted properties from religious foundations. A 1974 High Court of Appeals ruling interpreting the 1936 law stated it had been illegal for religious foundations to acquire any new property after 1936, enabling the government to seize without compensation religious foundation properties acquired between 1936 and 1974.
By August, the GDF had received approximately 1,560 applications for the return of seized properties from the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities. By year’s end, the GDF had reviewed approximately 200 of the applications and returned 71 properties to religious community foundations, made offers of compensation for 15 properties, declined 19 applications for lack of evidence, and returned the remaining applications for the correction of technical problems. The government established an arbitration system for foundations that believed the amount of compensation received for a property was inadequate. If the arbitration process is unsuccessful, foundations will have access to the courts for redress.
The decree did not alter the law that made it possible to seize property acquired after 1936, nor did it change the complicated procedure for administering foundation properties that contributed to the seizure of many properties. Additionally, the decree did not cover properties taken from religious institutions or communities that do not have legally recognized foundations, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.
The 2011 decree also permitted the formation of new religious community foundations as well as the reopening of foundations that had previously been closed and whose assets the GDF had confiscated. The GDF approved new or reactivated foundations for the Jewish community in Izmir, the Armenian Orthodox community in Istanbul, and the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul. Prior to the 2011 decree, the government had approved only one new religious community foundation since the founding of the republic—the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation in 2003.
In September the Basrah Provincial Council Committee for Religious Minorities called on the central government to provide support for Iraqi Christians who wanted to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, equating these trips with the Muslim Hajj.
Throughout the year, Iraqi Security Forces deployed police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship during religious holidays. In late September, the Iraqi Security Forces deployed 20,000 police and army personnel to Karbala to protect land routes pilgrims take to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj; and in late October, the Iraqi Security forces deployed 12,000 police and army personnel to the holy city of Karbala to protect hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims to the city for Eid al-Adha.
The Ministry of Human Rights reported that it took several steps to protect members of minority religious groups and address their concerns. They conducted an investigation into the phenomenon of suicides of Yezidi young people; provided humanitarian assistance to internally displaced minority groups, including Christians; and held over 200 workshops throughout the country on minority rights.
The Ministry of Human Rights reported that during the year Iraqi Security Forces escorted 1,300 Christian students from al-Hamdaniya to Mosul to attend school each day, and increased the number of night patrols in Christian neighborhoods in Mosul.
The KRG continued to welcome Christians from outside the IKR who moved to the region due to perceived discrimination and threats to their safety elsewhere. Armenian Church of America archbishop Vicken Aykazian said in December that the IKR “has become a safehaven for Christians, [and] the [regional] government is building churches, schools, and community centers for them,” adding that “Christians today feel very comfortable [in the the IKR].”
There were no violent attacks against Messianic Jews and notably fewer physical assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses during the year. The police investigated all known instances of religiously motivated attacks and made arrests when possible, including in August when the police arrested seven suspects for assault, harassment, and arson in connection with Haredi protests against the opening of an Orthodox all-girls school in Beit Shemesh.
The state formally recognized non-Orthodox rabbis for the first time on May 30 and agreed to fund Reform and Conservative rabbis appointed by rural communities.
The MOI did not arrest, detain, require bail for entry or a written pledge to abstain from missionary activity, or refuse entry to anyone due to their religious beliefs. There was no indication that the MOI collected data on alleged missionaries from antimissionary groups and used it to deny entry to the country to foreign individuals. There was no official statement that the policy had changed, but no incidents were reported since the July 2011 action of a Jerusalem district court judge who reprimanded the MOI for the illegal procedure.
On August 2, the Knesset amended legislation from 2010 to apply tax exemptions to all places of religious instruction equally.
13. Israel and The Occupied Territories – Israel and The Occupied Territories – The Occupied Territories
PA-Israeli security cooperation at Joseph’s Tomb improved during the year following an agreement reached in 2011 between the PA, the IDF, and the Ministry of Defense’s civil administration to station 10 permanent PA police officers at the tomb. On February 9, PA forces accompanied 15 rabbis from the West Bank’s Huwwara checkpoint to the tomb in the first such security coordination with Israeli forces. The PA coordinated all visits with Israel.
Israel issued slightly more than 100,000 permits to allow Palestinian West Bank residents to enter Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan, representing a seven-fold increase from the 16,700 permits it granted in 2011. It expanded the categories of people exempted from the permit requirement for men and women above age 40 and allowed persons between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive permits.
In March the government permitted the funeral of Shia cleric Abdallah Dadou, killed in a fire in Belgium, to take place in Tangier. The funeral was the first public Shia ceremony in the country in many years.
Religious groups reported improved ability to attract new members without government interference. The majority of religious groups reported reduced interference from the government in conducting their services, and improvement in their ability to import religious materials, receive donations from overseas, and travel abroad to attend conferences and religious events. Many religious groups found it easier to bring in foreign religious workers and visitors and restore houses of worship.
The government requested Pope Benedict XVI’s visit and provided extensive logistical support during his March 26-29 trip, including allowing the Pope to say mass in the central squares of the two largest cities, and declaring the three days of the visit a national holiday to facilitate citizen participation in the open-air religious ceremonies. Footage of the visit was broadcast on state-run television stations, and the visit was reported in print and radio. A few Protestant churches reported that they were also permitted to hold religious ceremonies in public spaces.
A Hero of Mine
All of us can look back over our lives as educators and identify people who have been significant role models. One of those persons for me has been Huston Smith. Perhaps the most important American scholar of religions for five decades, Smith was born the son of Methodist missionaries in Dzang Dok, China, where he spent the first seventeen years of his life. Now ninety-three and confined to a chair in his assisted living apartment in Berkeley, California, the old gentleman— eyes sparkling—”banters in Chinese with his friend, Mr. Lin, the maintenance man” (Lisa Miller, “Huston Smith’s Wonderful Life,” The Daily Beast, 2009).
I had read and admired Smith’s premier work, The Religions of Man (1958) many years ago, a book that has sold more than 2.5 million copies and been reprinted over sixty times. My own life experience for twenty-five years, living and working in the religiously plural and multicultural world of Java, Indonesia, caused the book I had read in my seminary class in world religions to be fascinatingly illustrated in the lives of my neighbors, friends, and acquaintances of many faiths.
But it was the chance to meet Huston Smith personally that made such a profound impact upon me. While attending a conference entitled “The World’s Religions after 9-11″ in Montreal, Canada, in 2006, I sat very close to the front of a huge convention hall to hear him address thousands of conferees from all over the globe. Unable to stand at the podium, Smith was seated at a table at center stage. With a gentle demeanor and voice projection dimmed by age, he still had no trouble holding the audience spellbound.
At the conclusion of the session, I rushed to the platform to meet him, and rather than tower above this seated and frail world religions giant, I knelt beside his chair, took his hand, and said, “Dr. Smith, you are one of my heroes.” Without pausing, he smiled and replied, “And if I knew you I’m sure that you would be one of my heroes too!”
I’ve thought about that response many times. Here was a man who has spoken all over the globe, been a close friend of Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, and the Dalai Lama, held teaching posts at Syracuse University, MIT, and Berkeley, written more than a dozen important books, studied and observed ritual practices of Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, and Sufi Islam for more than a decade each, and has been the subject of numerous articles, books, dissertations, and an award-winning PBS series with Bill Moyers, now affirming me as a person who would inspire and instruct him in some way, if only we were able to know one another better. This humble spirit, desire to keep on learning, and willingness to affirm others are secrets to the man’s greatness.
British essayist Pico Iyer, in his introduction to Smith’s autobiography, Tales of Wonder:
Adventures in Chasing the Divine, quotes Henry David Thoreau, who wrote: “To set about living a true life is to go [on] a journey to a distant country, gradually to find ourselves surrounded by new scenes and men” (“Foreward,” HarperOne, 2009, xi). That philosophy is certainly mine, as it has been Huston Smith’s. Journeying to distant countries, finding myself surrounded by new scenes and people—these experiences are the learning laboratories that have changed my own life. Myencounters with serious followers of other faith traditions have made me a better Christian. Their devotion to God, as they understand God, and their commitment to living according to God’s ethical Way, as they perceive it to be, have challenged my own devotion to God and desire to live on the Way. Experiences with the Religious Other and the lessons I have drawn from them—how visibly these threads of meaning seem to lead back to this elderly hero of my choosing.
Smith is often asked why he is a Christian, after his having admired, studied, and practiced elements of so many other faiths throughout his lifetime. Bill Moyers also asked him that question.”Because I know my need for forgiveness,” Smith said with great honesty. Raised as a Christian in China, but a student of all the world’s great wisdom traditions, he says “he will never be anything but a Christian. ‘You subtract Christianity from Huston Smith, and there is no Huston Smith left’” (Quoted in Miller, The Daily Beast). And that, too, is a perspective that I claim for myself. The more I learn about religions and religious people in distant places and next door, the more admiration I have for the world’s wisdom traditions—yet, paradoxically, the more committed I am to my own Christian path.
One of the ways Smith explored religious meaning is frequently cited in articles about him. He was at Harvard University participating in psychedelic experiments with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (also known as Ram Dass). He was also engaged in the Harvard Project, which sought to raise spiritual awareness through the use of entheogenic plants. But Smith, the Methodist missionary kid and forever Christian, looks back on that period of research with a singularly orthodox eye, claiming: “The goal of spiritual life is not altered states, but altered traits” (www.circlesoflight.com).
What a truism for guiding my days! When all of my ongoing study is finally completed, when academic pursuits, world travel, and busy schedules are reduced to simple days spent confined to a chair in assisted living, will people be able to look at my life—as they most certainly do look at Smith’s life today—and judge that my traits were clearly altered by my faith and exemplified in the way I conducted my spiritual life? I pray so.
Dr. Rob Sellers, CPWR Trustee. Sellers is Connally Professor of Missions, and Professor of Missions Ministry at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.
INTERFAITH EVENT FRIDAY: Solidarity Circle for Father Solalinde and the Caravan Opening Doors to Hope
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in partnership with the DePaul University Office of Religious Diversity is convening a special one hour solidarity circle for interfaith leaders to meet Catholic priest, Padre Alejandro Solalinde, and his Caravan Opening Doors To Hope.
Solalinde is traveling the U.S. with a large group of victimized migrants turned activists who have experienced human rights abuses in Mexico. The story of 70,000 Central American brothers and sisters disappearing over the last few years, while Solalinde has been imprisoned and arrested for his work operating a network of shelters is shocking. We are helping share this story and honor his bravery.
NOTE: This event is being produced to connect university-level Interfaith leaders with Padre Solalinde’s entourage, but we are inviting you as guests of CPWR.
In this hour we will…
-Hear words from Mexico’s 2012 Human Rights Award recipient
Watch a short film documenting the reality of the migrant train in Mexico
-Welcome Amnesty International to recognize the work of Padre Solalinde
-Share our blessings and offerings to the migrant activists
-Extend our wishes for peace and security to the caravan
-Personally connect Chicago’s young interfaith leaders with a hero to a humanitarian crisis
TO ATTEND: All are welcome, but for seat reservations contact molly@parliamentofreligion
DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE – JOB OPENING
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) has a rich history and current efforts in working with communities of spirit and faith to foster harmony and engagement to bring about a just, peaceful and sustainable world. CPWR is looking for a Development Associate.
The small staff and volunteers work together to carry on the initiatives with the help of an engaged board, and the development associate would work with the Executive Director and others. The scope of the work includes researching and developing resource opportunities with foundations, corporations, individuals and religious groups. Work would also include writing proposals, arranging appointments and events, and follow through with donors. The Development Associate works with Board committees, and shares the mission of CPWR with visitors and events.
Desired skills: articulate, with both written and oral communication talent, some experience in fund raising, positive personality, computer and internet skills.
Salary at the early end of comparable jobs. Job available immediately.
CPWR is an equal opportunity employer.
For consideration, send a resume and cover letter to Stephen Avino (Stephen@parliamentofreligions.org)
Our life experiences are shaped and colored by violence. Whether we are dealing with a child caught in the cross fire of gang activity or violence against our religious community or that of our neighbors, transformative leadership demands that we bring compassionate and proactive responses to the tragedies of our day and age. Transformative leadership also demands listening to the stories of those impacted by violence, looking critically at our own faith traditions, and strategizing on how we as religious communities can partner for the sake of peace.
The Council for the Parliament for the World’s Religions Faiths Against Hate Campaign and SCUPE (Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education) present “Touched By Violence, Partnering for Peace” on May 22, 2013 at the American Islamic College in Chicago, IL. We are sponsoring this one day workshop for leaders, clergy, and people who are called to make a difference by transforming hate and violence into partnerships for peace.
In this workshop we will…
• Share stories of how we have been touched by violence.
• Explore how our faith traditions may legitimize violence in our communities.
• Build partnerships with others leaders touched by violence.
• Learn strategies for dealing with the aftermath of violence.
• Commit to bold actions for peace in and across our communities.
Day: Wednesday May 22nd, 2013
Time: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm
Cost: *Standard Registration $100, Student Registration $60 (with student ID)
Place: American Islamic College | 640 W. Irving Park Rd. | Chicago IL 60613
*Workshop fee includes registration, materials, breakfast and lunch.
Download the flyer here.
by Rev. Anne Benvenuti, PhD
Board Trustee, The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
© April 2013
The “Nones” are the largest and fastest growing segment of the population on the religious landscape in America, according to the most recent Pew survey. In just the last five years, this group of willfully unaffiliated people has grown from 15% to 20% of the population. They are people who have no religious affiliation, and who don’t want one. Yet only 5% of those surveyed call themselves atheists. In other words, the Nones include many people who, while they don’t want a religious label also don’t want the traditional secular-rationalist-humanist label. 28% of them have practiced yoga, and I wonder how many of them have meditated. That question wasn’t asked. But 60% of these people feel close to the natural world. The majority of the Nones are white people who were raised in religiously affiliated homes. Beyond this, they cut across many of the more common culture divides; they are people with college degrees and people without a college education; they have incomes over 75K, as well as incomes under 30K. In this they defy traditional interpretations, that people who go to college outgrow a childish intellectual dependency on religion, and that poor people lean on religion to support them in living with poverty and its attendant adversity. And it’s especially noteworthy that the Nones are disproportionately young: they’re people who grew up on a socially networked planet, not a religiously networked town.
I’d like to suggest that many of the Nones have “gotten off the bus,” an expression that refers to travelers who want to escape pre-packaged tourism so that they can discover a place as it “really” is. I know a lot of Nones and many of them are Alls. They celebrate the Winter Solstice, and Easter sunrise, they may do yoga or meditate, and they give thoughtfully to charities, all in no particular order, but depending on where they are, how they feel, what seems to be called for. They resist labels produced by media-saturated culture to represent certain predetermined sets of characteristics. They distrust such prepackaged beliefs, and also distrust religious institutions that are so often corrupt and hypocritical. Yet they value human spiritual heritage, often in great variety, and many of these people are more comfortable in a variety of religious settings than they would be in only one.
As a Trustee of the Parliament, I feel it is very important to acknowledge the Nones, and particularly the Alls among them, to notice that they have gotten off the bus and don’t want to get back on. They are not looking for certainties. The old definitions are not relevant for them. Atheist? No. Agnostic? No. Believer? No. They live in verbs more than in nouns; they are more about experience itself and less invested in beliefs about experience.
My best guess is that the Nones, and especially the Alls among them, express a vital spiritual pulse in the contemporary human world; one that samples spiritual practices, just as people sample the music and cuisine of many cultures. I’ve seen many religious eyes roll at the notion that people are sampling religion like hors d’oeuvres. I’ve heard religious people say that this cannot possibly be a path of spiritual depth, selecting from the menu the most delectable items while eschewing the solidly nutritious, wanting the pleasures of spiritual comfort without the disciplines of communal practice. But, I ask, why make such negative attributions to our fellow humans, especially when we know well the struggles of relating old institutions to an ever-changing world? Once the familiar critique from those who practice solely within specific religious institutions has been stated—and I think it worth a listen– where are we?
I think that we are on a new page, in a new chapter; maybe we are in a new book. For the first time in the history of human psyches, human life is global as a matter of course. At the same time, this global planet is suffering from the collective impact of the human species. It might well be this context that makes the traditional religious issues seem trivial, tribal, and irrelevant. A very legitimate question might be, “Who cares what you believe, much less about religious in-fighting, when we are on the brink of ecological disaster?” Perhaps those who carry forward the religious institutions should seek in the depths of our heritage the wisdom that is relevant to the global and ecologically threatened context in which humans, indeed, all species now live. We should expect to bring forward something of value for this utterly new context, and we might need to accept that many people will engage our traditions on their own terms, not on ours.
As an Episcopal priest I think it is time to welcome conversation with the Nones, and to welcome spiritual practice with the Alls. It is time to listen and to see the way that the Nones can so easily incorporate the All of humanity’s spiritual heritage. We may offer to the Nones and Alls from our own religious heritage, but we need to respect them for what they are too. They invite us to get off the bus, to experience the contemporary world as it really is, a place in which increasing numbers of people are not only comfortable in mixed cultural settings, but who are themselves multicultural individuals living in a multicultural world. We can at least consider that some of the Alls are genuinely interfaith individuals, bringing religions into a new and global era in human history.
The council that convenes the Parliament of the World’s Religions recently announced an urgent financial challenge putting the largest and oldest global Interfaith organization into jeopardy of closing imminently after April 15.
Plans for moving forward have jumpstarted with relief efforts from Baha’i, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Native, Unitarian, Jewish, Humanist, Christian, Pagan, Muslim, Buddhist and Spiritual communities. In this rush to rescue the Parliament, friends have raised more than $120,000 of the needed $150,000 in two weeks time.
Funds are flooding in from around the world on the Parliament’s CauseVox funding site with simple messages of hope, faith, and love for the Parliament’s mission. The transformative impact of the Parliament on individual lives, community relationships, and across global networks of spirit and faith can continue. To meet the newest world challenges in critical need of collaborative intervention, just $30,000 remains to move the Parliament into the future.
Many have expressed a desire to give more than their budget permits. If you have stepped up in the last week and would like to stretch your gift, you can contribute more to the Parliament by creating a personal fundraising page on the Causevox website!
Share why you’ve donated, and invite others to join your effort. Use your social media profiles to announce your efforts. Forward e-mails, make calls, send texts. Tell your congregations at worship about the Parliament!
If this gift is your first to the Parliament, know that you can make a difference. With this off our backs, we are freed up! We can continue our important work toward peace and harmony. Please give generously. Tax-deductible donations are being accepted on*:
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We are profoundly grateful.
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid Dr. Mary Nelson
Chair of the Board Interim Executive Director
CPWR is a 501c.3 non-for-profit organization
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.
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.”