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  • Toronto:The Seventh Meeting of a Parliament of the World's Religions
  • Katherine Marshall

Many introductions to interfaith activities start with a momentous meeting in Chicago in 1893, a "Parliament of the World's Religions." It was a historic gathering and is seen as opening the way to both dialogue and understanding among diverse traditions. On the one-hundredth anniversary in 1993, also in Chicago, another ambitious gathering launched what has become an important tradition, a landmark in the interfaith world. A quite modest Chicago-based institution has kept the tradition alive, organizing large gatherings in Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004), Melbourne (2009), and Salt Lake City (2015). The Parliament proudly proclaims itself the "oldest, largest, most diverse and inclusive global interfaith event."

A new Parliament met in Toronto, November 1–7. The theme of the 2018 event was "The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change." Attendance was large, perhaps 10,000. It was remarkably diverse, with people from some eighty countries and a wide swath of religious traditions. Attendees included Canadian notables, Karen Armstrong, Rabbi David Rosen, Rev. Jim Wallis, Sakena Yacoobi (winner of the 2013 Opus Prize), and many others. The presence of indigenous representatives was a striking feature, as was large and active women's participation (not always the case in religious gatherings). The event included a bewildering array of programs: over 500, sometimes with over 40 ongoing at a time, in addition to large all-morning plenaries. A variety of artistic events was an integral part of the Parliament approach. The ethos and character of the event were clearly "progressive," with events punctuated by calls to action.

A notable feature of this (as other parliaments) was the daily Sikh-offered langar, a vegetarian meal offered to all at no cost.

Georgetown University and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs were among the participants. The Berkley Center and the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), a nonprofit based at the center, have a history of involvement in interfaith events and with the Parliament, notably at the Melbourne Parliament, where we led a major series of events centered on poverty and development. I was also involved in the Salt Lake City Parliament. Broader interfaith/intrafaith activities include WFDD's interfaith report and various blogs that have reported and commented on the Parliament's work over the years. Among those participating were Professor Leo Lefebure (who also has a long involvement with the Parliament), Professor Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana, Susan Hayward, and several students. [End Page 307] The leadership of the United Religions Initiative (URI) was actively involved. The Parliament in Toronto featured efforts to bring different interfaith organizations together. The International Partnership for Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) participated actively, and I also participated in a panel that presented PaRD's work and focus on women and religion.

The 2018 Parliament's six central themes (with a focus each day) were:

  1. 1. The Dignity of Women across the World's Wisdom Traditions.

  2. 2. Countering War, Hate, and Violence Track: Peace and Love: Not War, Hate, and Violence.

  3. 3. Climate Action: Care for Our Earth, Responsibility for Our Future.

  4. 4. Indigenous Peoples: The Spiritual Evolution of Humanity and Healing Our Mother Earth.

  5. 5. The Next Generations: Interfaith Has No Age, Youth Voices for Change.

  6. 6. Justice: Advancing Concrete Change toward a Just, Peaceful, and Sustainable World.

Saturday, November 3, focused on women, starting with an elaborate and extended morning plenary. Audrey Kitagawa was presented as the new Parliament board chair (a first woman in that role). Among others featured prominently were our colleagues Azza Karam and Sakena Yacoobi. The plenary also highlighted an effort to ensure that 1,000 women religious leaders are featured in Wikipedia. The rest of the day featured panels and events centered on women's roles.

I was part of a panel entitled "Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet? Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith." The challenge was described as follows:

Women play vital roles in development and peacebuilding. As governmental, non-governmental and faith based organizations commit to the Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of engaging women is obvious. Yet, despite intellectual and...


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