Parliament of the World’s Religions

The United Religions Initiative partnered with the Parliament of the World's Religions to host this, the largest interfaith gathering in the world, in St. Lake City earlier this month. Euphrates is proud to be a cooperation circle within such an active and gracious organization. Thanks, URI, for all that you did to make this gathering so special! 9,000 faithful attended last week’s Parliament of the World’s Religions; a conference that calls upon believers of 50 faiths from across 80 nations around the world. The parliament is a lot like most conferences: hosted in a convention center with exhibit halls hailing diverse groups of people. However, at the Parliament, one can find interfaith experiences such as Sikh cuisine for all the participants, Tibetan monks creating portraits made out of sand, or Pagan and Native American film makers discussing issues of American nationalism.This year’s Parliament was a landmark conference that addressed progressive issues matching the current trends of popular activism. The Parliament announced six declarations: addressing the issue of climate change, hate speech, war and violence, income inequality, human rights and dignity of women, emerging leaders among the world’s youth, and indigenous people’s. Speakers from every faith voiced issues and offered solutions. The growing popularity and significance of the Parliament has sparked a transition from meeting every 5 years to every 2 years. The next gathering will be in 2017.Vicki Garlock from the Christian Century recently posted an article “One conference won’t change the world, but it can spread hope”. I found the title to be spot on. Furthermore, her concluding statement was poignant. Vicki wrote,

“No single conference, however well attended or open-hearted, can change the world. But when thousands of people carry a message of love and collaboration back to their home communities, it makes a difference. While interfaith progress often happens at the grassroots level, the movement is both widespread and diverse. The United Religions Initiative connects more than 700 groups from all over the world dedicated to conflict resolution, community engagement, and peace building. Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians form a ring of peace around Oslo’s only synagogue. Hundreds of Americans turn up at mosques after calls for anti-Muslim rallies, but nearly all those who march are there to show support for Muslims. Often, this is how transformation happens: locally and communally, one shared meal, one shared heart, and one conference at a time.”

Nor will one conference alone change the perception of the Middle East, but the intermingling of different believers from across the world will produce friendships, memories, and dialogue that they will take back home with them and share with their communities. Global change can be achieved at the local level simply by telling a curious neighbor about the diverse, friendly faces you encountered at a conference-- especially if those diverse characters are sometimes portrayed as hostile or backwards. There is great power in person-to-person dialogue.-----About the author: Matthew Bebb has experience in advertising, public affairs, and state government. Bebb worked for Global North Texas, an NGO that creates cultural and business relationships between international visitors and North Texas industry leaders, and was a contributing researcher to the State Department’s 2014 flagship Diplomacy Lab program. Matthew attended universities in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, and Estonia in order to deepen his understanding of Eurasia. His interests with the Middle East include: post-colonialism, non-state actors, Arab nationalism, the Arab Spring, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, military history, interventionism, and the role of the US in the MENA. You can email Matthew here.