The 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions commenced on Monday, with some 6,500 religious and spiritual leaders assembling in Chicago, home to the parliament’s headquarters. Running from 14–18 August, this year’s gathering is convened under the theme “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom & Human Rights.”
The five-day interfaith event brings together the representatives of a multitude spiritual and faith communities—participants from more than 80 countries and 200 spiritual traditions, from Baha’i to Zoroastrianism. Topics to be addressed at the plenary sessions and numerous workshops and panels include climate change, human rights, food security, racism and women’s rights, with an underlying focus on combatting the global rise in authoritarianism.
Chicago’s mayor, Brandon Johnson, delivered the keynote speech at Monday’s opening, focusing on the conference’s theme of unity and compassion: “Your spiritual traditions have the power to guide people to a path of peace, and nurture a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration” Johnson said. “The urgency in this moment requires us to not just simply rely upon the recitation of scriptures and our sacred books, but it requires us to demonstrate the most incredible act and power known to humankind and that is the act of love,” (YouTube)
Other scheduled speakers include United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Underscoring the diversity of the interfaith event, the program chair for this year’s Parliament is Rev. Phyllis Curott, a Wiccan high priestess. In a pre-conference statement, Rev. Curott highlighted the global political trend toward authoritarianism as “the most dangerous crisis confronting all of us today.”
“This existential, expanding, global scourge is manifesting in tyrants and strongmen who commit crimes against humanity, suppress fundamental freedoms, subvert democracies, and murder the truth with lies,” Rev. Curott stated. “These bullies and despots are pursuing nationalist wars and winking at domestic terrorism, they are fostering hate and the resurgence of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, misogyny, and racism. And they are attempting to misappropriate religions to justify the unjustifiable.
“This is not who we are.
“Every faith has, at its core, a summoning to ease the suffering of others and to contribute to a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. Today, the Parliament of the World’s Religions issues its Call to Conscience to people of faith and spirit, to the people of Chicago, to all people of conscience, to stand together in defense of the dignity, freedom, and human rights of all.” (Parliament of the World’s Religions)
The president of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest, Rev. Asayo Horibe, described the Parliament, which features speakers and presenters representing Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism, among other traditions, as a spiritual event and a gathering of friends.
“I am so grateful for the friendships that have come my way since the beginning of this journey,” Rev. Horibe said, urging the attendees to share and to learn from one another: “Talk to everyone. Greet everyone. And go home with the treasures you have received at this gathering.” (Religion News Service)
The Taiwan-headquartered Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation also announced its participation in the Parliament, with a series of planned engagements and activities throughout the five days, stating: “Tzu Chi is expecting to have Dharma Masters and Pure Practitioners from the Abode, and other members from Taiwan headquarters to attend the conference together. Tzu Chi will be hosting exhibition booths, panel discussions, sign language performances and other activities during the conference.”
The roots of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, billed as the word’s largest gathering of interfaith leaders, extend back to 1893, when the World’s Parliament of Religions was convened in a bid to cultivate dialogue among the world’s religions.
On the centenary of this landmark gathering in 1993, a revived conference launched a new series of conferences under the official title Parliament of the World’s Religions, now headquartered in Chicago and led by an elected board of trustees.
The previous Parliament in 2021 was held online because of the pandemic. This year’s Parliament marks the ninth such interfaith assembly.
Parliament of the World’s Religions
Parliament of the World’s Religions (Facebook)
Parliament of the World’s Religions (X)
Parliament of the World’s Religions hopes to harness faith to address world’s ills (Religion News Service)
Parliament of the World’s Religions seeks understanding and action (NPR)
Parliament of World Religions meets in Chicago to promote harmony (Religion Media Centre)
Thousands Gather in Chicago for What’s Billed as World’s Largest Gathering of Interfaith Leaders (WTTW)
Parliament of World’s Religions conference kicks off at McCormick Place (CBS Chicago YouTube)
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