The Parliament was quite simply one of the richest offerings of religious, spiritual, cultural, and critical issues programs ever assembled. Presenters include religious and spiritual leaders, scholars, activists, and experts addressing an extraordinary range of vital topics ranging from the history and teachings of most of the world’s religious traditions, to encounter and dialogue between traditions, to explorations of some of the most critical problems facing Africa and the world today. Each day was filled with a tremendous variety of offerings, including prayer and meditation sessions; lectures; seminars, and workshops; symposia (one-to-four day programmes on a single theme); performances; interreligious celebrations; and evening plenaries. At times, as many as fifty separate presentations were taking place.
The great majority of the presentations were held in classrooms and lecture halls at the Cape Technikon. Many other venues—the Good Hope Centre, the Civic Centre, the Old City Hall, the Robert Leslie Building (University of Cape Town), and the District Six stage—were also used for presentations.
Throughout the eight days of the Parliament, participants engaged in over 860 programs, lectures, performances, symposia, plenary sessions, and workshops. There is perhaps no other opportunity like a Parliament of the World’s Religions for people to choose from such a great diversity of programs (for at least some participants, however, there were simply too many programs to choose from. One of the most frequent suggestions offered thus far is that the number of offerings be significantly decreased at future Parliaments). In general, the programmatic offerings at the 1999 Parliament fell under three broad rubrics: identity, dialogue, and the critical issues confronting the planetary community at the approach of the 21st century. The program emphasized issues of religious, spiritual, and cultural identity, approaches to interreligious dialogue, and the role of religion in response to the critical issues facing the world today. Parliament presentations offered a representative and remarkably inclusive cross-section of the concerns, creative thought, change agency, and programs of action that are shaping religious and spiritual communities at the threshold of a new century.
Indeed, the 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions offered countless opportunities for discovery and inquiry. Participants were able to touch their own traditions at deeper levels. They explored the origins, development, and perspectives of unfamiliar paths. They compared and contrasted beliefs and practices from widely separated places and times. Through lectures, workshops, and plenary sessions, through worship, prayer, or meditation, and through chance meetings with people from around the world, the Parliament offered everything from occasions for personal spiritual growth and exposure to transformative approaches to social engagement, to new friendships, and an enduring experience of the sacred.
Some of the most exciting and informative programmes at the Parliament took place in the context of Symposia. Each Symposium was an extended series of presentations, discussions, workshops, etc., focused on a single topic or issue; each extended from 1–7 days. All but one of the Symposia were held in the Robert Leslie Building at the University of Cape Town. The South Africa Forum was convened in the Commerce Auditorium on the Cape Technikon campus. Symposium programs were, for the most part, well attended and very well received. The following is a complete listing of Parliament Symposia.