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Parliament of the World's Religions

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Parliament of the World's Religions

World's Columbian Exposition (World's fair)

There have been several meetings referred to as a Parliament of the World's Religions, the first being the World's Parliament of Religions of 1893, which was an attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths. The event was celebrated by another conference on its centenary in 1993. This led to a new series of conferences under the official title Parliament of the World's Religions.



An organization was incorporated in 1988 to carry out the tradition of the Parliament of the World's Religions by marking the centennial of the first Parliament. Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions is headquartered in Chicago. Its board of trustees are elected from various faith communities. The Parliament it is chaired by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid. Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield serves as its Vice Chair and Interim Executive Director.

1893 Parliament

In 1893, the city of Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition, an early world's fair. So many people were coming to Chicago from all over the world that many smaller conferences, called Congresses and Parliaments, were scheduled to take advantage of this unprecedented gathering. One of these was the World's Parliament of Religions, an initiative of the Swedenborgian layman (and judge) Charles Carroll Bonney. The Parliament of Religions was by far the largest of the congresses held in conjunction with the Exposition. John Henry Barrows, a clergyman, was appointed as the first chairman of the General Committee of the 1893 Parliament by Charles Bonney.

The Parliament of Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the World's Congress Auxiliary Building which is now The Art Institute of Chicago, and ran from 11 to 27 September, marking it the first organized interfaith gathering. Today it is recognized as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide, with representatives of a wide variety of religions and new religious movements, including:

  • The Jain preacher Virchand Gandhi was invited as a representative of Jainism.
  • The Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala was invited as a representative of "Southern Buddhism," the term applied at that time to the Theravada.
  • Soyen Shaku, the "First American Ancestor" of Zen, made the trip.
  • An essay by the Japanese Pure Land master Kiyozawa Manshi, "Skeleton of the philosophy of religion" was read in his absence.
  • Swami Vivekananda represented India as a delegate, introducing Hinduism at the opening session of the Parliament on 11 September. Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, then began his speech with salutation, "Sisters and brothers of America!". To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations on behalf of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.!"
  • Islam was represented by Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb, an Anglo-American convert to Islam and the former US ambassador to Philippine.
  • Rev. Henry Jessup addressing the World Parliament of Religions was the first to publicly discuss the Bahá'í Faith in the United States (it had previously been known in Europe.) Since then Bahá'ís have become active participants.
  • New religious movements of the time, such as Spiritualism and Christian Science. The latter was represented by Septimus J. Hanna, who read an address written by its founder Mary Baker Eddy.
  • Absent from this event were Native American religious figures, Sikhs and other Indigenous and Earth centered religionists; it would not be until the 1993 Parliament that these religions and spiritual traditions would be represented.


    From March to May 1930, Kyoto, Japan hosted a Great Religious Exposition (宗教大博覧会, Shūkyō Dai-hakurankai). Religious groups from across Japan and China exhibited at the fair. All of Japan's traditional Buddhist sects had an exhibit, as well as Protestant and Catholic Christianity and the new religious sect Oomoto. The Oomoto pavilion, which included a mural of all the world's religions, hands-on pottery painting, and humorous paintings of Bodhidharma, attracted the most interest and coverage by far. Many visitors returned to the Oomoto pavilion, which was constantly being updated, six or seven times over the two months of the exposition.

    1993 Parliament

    In 1993, the Parliament convened at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago. Over 8,000 people from all over the world, from many diverse religions, gathered to celebrate, discuss and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues which confront the world. A document, "Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration", mainly drafted by Hans Küng, set the tone for the subsequent ten days of discussion. This global ethic was endorsed by many of the attending religious and spiritual leaders who were part of the parliament assembly.

    Also created for the 1993 parliament was a book, A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions, by the late Joel Beversluis, which has become a standard textbook in religion classes. Unlike most textbooks of religion, each entry was written by members of the religion in question.

    The keynote address was given by the Dalai Lama on the closing day of the assembly. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin also participated.

    1999 Parliament

    More than 7,000 individuals from over 80 countries attended 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. The Parliament began with a showing of the international AIDS Memorial Quilt to highlight the epidemic of AIDS in South Africa, and of the role that religious and spiritual traditions play in facing the critical issues that face the world. The event continued with hundreds of panels, symposia and workshops, offerings of prayer and meditation, plenaries and performances. The programs emphasized issues of religious, spiritual, and cultural identity, approaches to interreligious dialogue, and the role of religion in response to the critical issues facing the world today.

    The Parliament Assembly considered a document called A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, addressed to religion, government, business, education, and media inviting these institutions to reflect on and transform their roles at the threshold of the next century.

    In addition to the Call, the Parliament staff had created a book, Gifts of Service to the World, showcasing over 300 projects considered to be making a difference in the world. The Assembly members also deliberated about Gifts of Service which they could offer or could pledge to support among those projects gathered in the Gifts document.

    2004 Parliament

    It was celebrated in the Universal Forum of Cultures. More than 8,900 individuals attended the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Spain. Having created the declaration Towards a Global Ethic at the 1993 Parliament and attempted to engage guiding institutions at the 1999 Parliament, the 2004 Parliament concentrated on four pressing issues: mitigating religiously motivated violence, access to safe water, the fate of refugees worldwide, and the elimination of external debt in developing countries. Those attending were asked to make a commitment to a "simple and profound act" to work on one of these issues.

    2007 Monterrey Forum of Cultures

    Forum Monterrey 2007 was an international event which included Parliament-style events and dialogues. It was held as part of the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures, which featured international congresses, dialogues, exhibitions, and spectacles on the themes of peace, diversity, sustainability and knowledge. Special emphasis was placed on the eight objectives of the Millennium Development goals for eradicating abject poverty around the world.

    2009 Parliament

    Melbourne, Australia, hosted the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions. The 2009 parliament took place from 3 to 9 December. Over 6,000 people attended the parliament.

    The Melbourne parliament addressed issues of Aboriginal reconciliation. The issues of sustainability and global climate change were explored through the lens of indigenous spiritualities. Environmental issues and the spirituality of youth were also key areas of dialogue.

    The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions suggested that the Melbourne parliament would "educate participants for global peace and justice" through exploring religious conflict and globalization, creating community and cross-cultural networks and addressing issues of religious violence. It supported "strengthening religious and spiritual communities" by providing a special focus on indigenous and Aboriginal spiritualities; facilitating cooperation between Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Bahá'í, Jain, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu communities; crafting new responses to religious extremism and confronting homegrown terrorism and violence.

    The Rev. Dirk Ficca served as the Executive Director at the time of the 2009 Parliament of Religions. Ms. Zabrina Santiago served as Deputy Director and Partner Cities Director.

    2014 Parliament

    In 2011, The Parliament of World's Religions announced that the 2014 Parliament would take place in Brussels, Belgium. In November 2012, a joint statement from Brussels and CPWR announced that because of the financial crisis in Europe, Brussels was unable to raise the funds required for a Parliament.

    2015 Parliament

    On 15–19 October, the 2015 Parliament took place at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. 9,806 attendees, performers, and volunteers from 73 countries, 30 Major Religions and 548 Sub-Traditions participated in the Parliament. During the closing ceremony, Imam Mujahid announced that the Parliament would now be held every two years, with the next gathering scheduled for 2017.

    2016 Central European Interfaith Forum (CEIF 2016)

    On 25 July 2016 the Parliament of the World’s Religions–Slovakia and the Slovak Esperanto Federation in collaboration with other partners organized in Nitra, Slovakia, the Central European Interfaith Forum.

    Besides Elisabeth Ziegler-Duregger, Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, there were also more than 150 participants representing 20 nations, three continents, seven world religions as well as other religious, spiritual or humanist traditions convened for interfaith and civic exchanges in the search for solutions to the growing ethnic, cultural and religious tension in Europe and to jointly address some of humanity’s most vexing problems such as the alarming trends of nationalism, extremism and xenophobia in societies. The event resulted in a statement (the Nitra statement).


    In 1925, Christian writer G. K. Chesterton portrayed the Parliament as "a pantheon for pantheists" in The Everlasting Man.


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