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The Ever-Growing Religious Movement That Doesn’t Get Enough Attention

Via HuffPost Religion

Along with politics, poverty and culture, religion is often cited as a source of conflict throughout the world. However, the last 100 years reveal a growing interfaith movement in America — one that promotes peaceful and productive interactions between religious traditions.

And it all began with a fair.

THE FAIR THAT SET THE STAGE

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL drew millions of visitors to the windy city over its six-month run. Among its 5,978 educational addresses and meetings was the World’s Congress of Religions, which hosted religious leaders from all over the world.

The congress marked the first organized, international gathering of religious leaders and is thought to be the nascence of formal interfaith dialogue. Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, spoke at the congress, greeting the 5,000 assembled delegates with the iconic words, “Sisters and brothers of America!”

A CENTURY OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE

One of the first international groups to get organized after the fair was the International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers — now the International Association for Religious Freedom – formed in London in 1900 with the stated purpose of uniting all those striving for fellowship and religious liberty.

With the outbreak of World War I other interfaith efforts emerged. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) formed in New York just after war began in hopes of bringing people of faith together to promote peace, and it went on to become a leading interfaith voice for non-violence and non-discrimination.

With the second World War on the horizon, the World Congress of Faiths formed in London with the dual purpose of bringing people of faith together to enrich their understandings of their own and others’ traditions and also to educate and report on religious happenings through its journal, Interreligious Insight.

Following the devastation of World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Christian missionary Carl Allison Evans founded the New Jersey-based Fellowship in Prayer as a multi-faith organization that would use prayer and meditation to foster peace.

In addition to the work of humanitarian organizations, renowned world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Dalai Lama, inspired by their own faiths, promoted religious, racial and political freedom. Many scholars say the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, in particular, demonstrated the organizing power of congregations working together for social change, under the guidance of religious leaders like King marching side by side with Abraham Joshua Heschel.

In 1962 the Catholic Church took a giant step forward in interfaith relations by convening of the Second Vatican Council. Before Vatican II, Catholics were discouraged from visiting other faiths’ houses of worship — but this all changed with the Nostra Aetate. This document, which officially took effect October 28, 1965, acknowledged the divine origin of all human beings and the truths present in other religions. It stated: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God.”

Many organizations followed the Vatican’s lead over the next few decades. Religions for Peace, based in New York and accredited to the United Nations, officially kicked off in 1970, and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington formed in 1978.

First formed in 1960 the Temple of Understanding helped publish the first directory of interfaith organizations in 1987 and over several years hosted meetings that paved the way for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), which was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1990.

A CENTURY LATER

By 1988 nearly 100 years had passed since the World’s Congress of Religions and Vivekanada’s historic speech. A group of religious leaders and local organizers in Chicago came together to plan a centennial celebration, and through this the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions came into being.

parliament

The late late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago addresses the audience at the 1993 Parliament meeting.

In 1993 the Parliament hosted its conference in Chicago with 8,000 participants from faith backgrounds around the world. The organization went on to host meetings around the world every several years, and in September 2014 announced its first U.S. conference since 1993, to take place in Salt Lake City in 2015.

The 1990s also saw the birth of interfaith groups focused on the environment, including Green Faith in 1992 and Interfaith Power & Light in 1998. These efforts put ecological sustainability at the core of their faith-based activism.

With the growth of interfaith dialogue came increased academic and sociological interest in the ways pluralism affects religious life. Harvard University’s Diana Eck launched the Pluralism Project in 1991 to chart the development of interfaith efforts throughout the United States. And in 2001 the Pew Research Center initiated its Religion & Public Life Project to explore the intersection of religion and public life.

INTERFAITH’S NEW MILLENNIUM…

Continue reading on Huffington Post

This article  by Antonia Blumberg for HuffPost Religion is published with permission.


Parliament Statement Reaffirms Nonviolence on Behalf of Dr. Arun Gandhi in Wake of Fort Hood Shooting

“The sad shooting incident in Fort Hood, Texas, is yet another example of how the culture of violence is destroying our humanity,” the Parliament of Religions said in a statement on behalf of Board Trustee Dr. Arun Manilal Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi warned the nations of the world to find civilized ways of resolving disputes or face extinction.

“Sending young women and men into combat to kill and destroy men, women and children and then expect soldiers to assimilate peacefully in their own societies is to say the least insensitive,” according to the statement.

The Parliament of Religions, an international interfaith organization based in Chicago, works to bring peace, understanding and respect among the peoples of the world.

The first Parliament was held in Chicago in 1893. In modern times Parliaments were held in Chicago, Cape Town, Barcelona, and Melbourne.

The Parliament is wedded to the philosophy of nonviolence in thought, word, and deed.

The Parliament extends its sympathy to the bereaved families and hopes that the United States, the only super power, will eventually lead the world in civilized moral behavior.

Upcoming Chicago Events: An Evening with Imam Feisal, Interreligious New Year Celebration, and Interfaith Prayers

The United Nations’ Interfaith Harmony Week begins February 1 and will continue through February 7. Recognizing the critical need for inter-religious dialogue, events will be held worldwide to observe this special time of year.   We encourage all to attend an Interfaith event. Some of the following events held here in Chicago are free and open to all.

CPWR Sacred Space Ambassador, Suzanne Morgan, and Carisse Ramos developed the Interreligious New Year Program being hosted by the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Chicago on Friday, February 1, 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m,  Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435. W Menomonee St., Chicago. The program features:

  • Year-End Introduction by Rev. Ron Miyamura
  • Buddhist Ringing of the Bell
  • Sharing New Year Practices from Diverse Traditions
  • *Presenters followed by participants New Year Flower Release
  • Toshi Koshi Soba Noodles and refreshments

*Buddhist, Candoble, Greek Orthodox, Indigenous, Islam, Jain, Judaism, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, Zoroastriansim\

Imam Feisal will be delivering a lecture on the evening of Wednesday, February 6 at the Buchanan Chapel of Fourth Presbyterian Church’s newly-opened Gratz Center.  This event features “The Voice of Moderate Muslims” speaking on the topic of reclaiming religious and political discourse from religious extremists, and will be followed by a reception and book signing of  “Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America,”  Imam Feisal is the Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative and a member of the Interfaith Center of New York.  7:00 p.m. February 6, Fourth Presbyterian Church 126 E. Chestnut St., Chicago 

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion join the Asian-American Coalition of Chicago to present a gathering with representatives of different Metropolitan Chicago area faith communities to lead prayers for Peace, Prosperity and Harmonious Co-existence. Finding ways to transcend religious divides and foster mutual understanding and respect between people will continue through this service on February 23.You are invited Saturday, February 23, 2013, 4:00 p.m – 5:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency O’Hare (Grand Ball Room – Section F-G-H), 9300 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Rosemont, IL 60018 (Parking at Hyatt Regency O’Hare Hotel Parking lot is complimentary)For More Information, please contact: Rajinder Singh Mago 630-440-7730, Dr. Mary Nelson 312-629-2990, or Dr. Nguyen-Trung Hieu 773-307-5035

 

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. 

Celebrating Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary

by Philip Goldberg

Visitors exiting the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue are often perplexed by the street sign that reads Swami Vivekananda Way. What is it doing there? Who is this swami, and why does he deserve an honorary street name like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Hefner and other Chicago legends? Most Americans would not have a clue, but interfaith activists do, and Hindus do, and a great many yoga practitioners and students of Eastern philosophy do, and everyone in India certainly does. And this year, millions more will learn why Vivekananda remains a revered figure more than a century after his passing. January 12th was the 150th anniversary of his birth, and celebrations and tributes will be held all year throughout India and much of the West.

The leading disciple of the legendary 19th century saint, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda came to the U.S. in 1893 for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a 17-day festival in the midst of a huge world’s fair called the Columbian Exposition. He was an exotic sight in his orange robes and turban; very few Americans had even met a Jew or a Muslim at the time, much less a Hindu monk. Against all odds, the swami became an instant sensation, not as some carnival attraction but as a fresh, erudite voice that spoke with authority, in impeccable English, about his own tradition, religious harmony and the universal truths at the unseen depths of all religions.

He quickly encountered two types of Americans that are familiar to us all today: Christian supremacists who denounced him as a dangerous heathen preaching false religion; and open-minded, rational, spiritual seekers, who found his message and his demeanor irresistible. He was, in a sense, the Jackie Robinson of spirituality, a bold and talented figure shattering widespread misconceptions and biases. Through word of mouth and adulatory press coverage, he became such a superstar that extra talks had to be scheduled for him to accommodate the crowds that flooded the amphitheater in the building that would later become the Art Institute. Hence, the location of Swami Vivekananda Way.

Because he was in demand on the lecture circuit, he remained in America longer than anticipated: more than three years in two separate trips. He passed away in India in 1902, and, like Mozart, Gershwin, and other rare shooting stars who never reached the age of 40, he produced a remarkable legacy in his few productive years.

In voluminous writings, some of which were converted from his numerous lectures, he articulated for the modern age the essential teachings of Vedanta, the philosophical system that stems primarily from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. His four slim books on the principal pathways of Yoga – karma (selfless action), bhakti (devotion), jnana (intellectual discernment), and raja (meditation and spiritual practice) — became the authoritative descriptions of those categories, and to a large extent they remain so in today’s yoga-saturated world because they set the tone for much of the subsequent commentary on the subject.

In America, Vivekananda’s most enduring impact may be the organization he created to perpetuate his work. The Vedanta Society, which eventually established centers in most major U.S. cities, was the place for seekers interested in Hinduism, Indian philosophy, and yogic meditation in the early part of the 20th century. Through its publications and the swamis who came from India to run the centers, it was the leading voice for what the title of one of its widely read anthologies called “Vedanta for the Western World.” A large percentage of the students drawn to later gurus, such as Paramahansa Yogananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who was also born on Jan. 12), were primed by the Vivekananda lineage. In mid-century Vedanta Society swamis mentored some of the most prominent thinkers and writers in American history. If you’ve had transformative moments reading Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley or Huston Smith, or if you identified with the eccentric spirituality of J.D. Salinger’s Glass family, you were touched by Vivekananda whether you realized it or not.

That 1893 gathering of religious leaders would probably not even be remembered if the token Hindu hadn’t ignited such a fervent response. Instead, it launched the modern interfaith movement and catalyzed an East-to-West transmission that has reshaped America’s spiritual landscape. For those reasons and more, you will be hearing about Swami Vivekananda a great deal in the coming year, and so will people 150 years from now.

Philip Goldberg is an Interfaith Minister, Spiritual Coach, Public Speaker, and author of ‘American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West’ 

Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary: A Joy Unspeakable

Observing the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda this January 12 called for both merriment and reflection in Hindu centers across the globe.  For champions of Interfaith living now, it is a day – and this time, a year – of honoring the man who made passage from India to Chicago in 1893 to attend an unconventional convention.  A group of religious leaders gathered in a parliamentary fashion, where east and west no longer saluted from a distance but stood near enough to hear one another.

To hear harmony.

 

11 September, 1893.  World’s First Parliament of Religions.

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA:

Sisters and Brothers of America:

It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration.

I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to the southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.

I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings:

As the different streams having there 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.

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world, of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita:

Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and 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. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Interfaith Activity Is Growing

From The Bellingham Herald

On Sept. 11, there was a remarkable gathering in Olympia. With only a few days’ notice, a standing-room-only crowd assembled at the Unitarian Universalist Church to stand with our Muslim neighbors and to listen to Imam Nabil read from the Quran.

Interfaith friends from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and other communities were present, and many held copies of their personal Quran. Following the translation, reading and comments on the text, an opportunity was presented for clergy to speak. Later, lay people were asked to comment. A general spirit of oneness and support pervaded the sanctuary. Without the threats to burn the Quran by a Florida-based minister, it’s not likely that this gathering would have happened. Those attending saw firsthand how threats and hatred can catalyze a spirit of curiosity, camaraderie and support. How many Americans met on or around the anniversary of 9/11 to stand with our Muslim neighbors?

It’s noteworthy that media coverage for the pastor threatening to burn the Quran appeared in newspapers, on the Internet and television for days. The gatherings for interfaith support representing hundreds of thousands of people throughout the United States barely received a column on the back page of newspapers or comment on television news programs, yet the emergence of meaningful interfaith gatherings is a reality in our world.

On Dec. 3, 2009, 10 months earlier and halfway around the world, I was present for the opening of the Parliament of World’s Religions, in Melbourne, Australia. Our gathering was a long-delayed vision of religious leaders who attended the first of these four gatherings in Chicago in 1893. At that time, to even consider religious leaders from distinctly different faith traditions meeting together, talking together, praying together and discussing the role both of themselves and their religions in the major issues of the world, was at best fanciful. Perhaps more to the point: unfaithful, undesirable and dangerous.

But 116 years and four parliaments later, more than 6,000 attendees arrived in all their costumery despite the distance, despite the recession, despite the political tensions between countries. Greetings were shared across the vast spaces of the brand new convention center in Melbourne as Sikhs and Jews, Catholics and Muslims, Christian and Buddhist greeted one another, friends from previous gatherings.

Monks created their sand mandalas. A scroll to be delivered to the Copenhagen Climate Summit spanned 40 feet or more, ready to receive signatures. We ate together, laughed and prayed together. We watched one another’s documentaries and listened to one another’s hearts. We listened, not to convert or change, but to understand. Aware that we share the common ground of love and kindness, we discussed major issues such as the rights of indigenous peoples, availability of water, peace on the planet and climate change.

The program book we received had 360 pages and 650 sessions. There was a lot to talk about and even more to learn from one another. The president of the United States sent a team to ask questions and learn how to support peace through the wisdom of faith leaders and programs already in place. Interestingly, most of the news coverage focused on a small group of people outside the convention protesting the use of public space for religious use.

Click here to read the entire article.

“God in America” website features Swami Vivekananda

From PBS

A follower of the Indian mystic Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda was a Hindu monk who introduced Hinduism to the United States in the late 19th century. Wide-ranging in his intellect, Vivekananda studied Western logic, philosophy, history, classical music and Indian Sanskrit scripture. His teachers considered him a prodigy.

At the age of 30, Vivekananda first visited the United States in 1893 as a delegate to the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair. In his opening remarks, he greeted the assembled gathering with the words “Sisters and Brothers of America.” The 7,000 people in attendance rose to their feet for an ovation lasting more than three minutes. Vivekananda proceeded to give a brief but eloquent speech that celebrated toleration and condemned fanaticism and its ills: “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”

Continuing in this vein, Vivekananda went on to quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “As different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their waters in the sea, so, Oh Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Spiritual Intimacy and Interfaith Engagement

From Women’s Radio

Ruth Brodye Sharone, Co-Chair of the Southern California Committee for the Parliament of the World’s Religions and filmmaker shares her insights into the changes occurring within Religious and Spiritual communities.

Ruth and a group of 20 had been invited to present a workshop entitled “Spiritual Intimacy: Taking Interfaith Engagement to the Next Level.”

Her signature on her email is, No longer are there six degrees of separation between any two individuals in the world. There is only one degree-and even that is an illusion!

Ruth has a lot to share about the ripple of the changes and backlashes that began occurring since September 11, 2001.

Ruth’s Website

Weaving a Culture; what others are doing:


Click here to hear the interview.

New Art Reflects on 9/11, Religious Tolerance

September 11, 2010-January 2, 2011

CHICAGO—The Art Institute of Chicago will present a site-specific installation on the anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech of September 11, 1893 to the first World Parliament of Religions. In a new work entitled Public Notice 3, artist Jitish Kallat connects the date of Swami Vivekananda’s address to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in a meditation on religious tolerance.

The 1893 Parliament, held in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, marked the birth of interreligious dialogue and the first formal gathering of representatives of eastern and western spiritual traditions. Iconic Hindu spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda urged an audience of 7,000 to practice tolerance and universal acceptance of all faith traditions.

Exactly 108 years prior to the 9/11 attacks, Vivekananda closed his address by saying, “I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.” His words were met with a standing ovation.

Public Notice 3 will display the text of Swami Vivekananda’s address in LED colors corresponding to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alert system on the risers of the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase in Fullerton Hall, the exact site of the address 117 years ago. The exhibit will be the first major presentation of Indian artist Jitish Kallat’s work in an American museum.