Many religious conferences, conclaves, seminars, and conglomerations take place occasionally in many corners of the world. Among them, the Parliament of World’s Religions (PWR) or the World Parliament of Religion, is the most important one. When the Western civilisation was at its zenith of material prosperity through colonialism, the American Government and the business houses wanted to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. By the 1880s, America had already grown as a powerful nation in the world. “She had extensively utilised her scientific inventions for her economic growth and was proud of the phenomenal success she had achieved.” In order to celebrate this, the Columbian Industrial Exposition of America and the PWR intended to declare the material prosperity of the West, and the religious and spiritual supremacy of Christianity in the world were planned and executed in 1893.
First Parliament of World’s Religions
“1893 is crucially an important year in Indian history. In this year, the World Parliament of Religions was organised at Chicago in America. Swami Vivekananda participated in it when he was just thirty years old. In the same year, at the age of twenty-one, the young Indian Aurobindo Ghosh returned to India from the West. In the same year,1893, the twenty-four-year-old youth Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi went to South Africa in connection with some legal case and commenced his first struggle against the British government”. Thus, Swami Vivekananda became the world icon of youth and religious harmony and Aurobindo Ghosh and Gandhiji became the national leaders who changed the history of India. From 1893 to 2023, eight World Parliament of Religions were organised. In each of these, India that is Bharat was represented by hundreds of participants since she is considered as the hub of Hinduism, which in its turn is the “Mother of all religions,” according to Swami Vivekananda.
Swamiji Emphasises Spiritual Unity
The PWR 1893 was the first organised inter-faith gathering that happened from September 11 to 27, 1893, at the World’s Congress auxiliary (now, The Art Institute of Chicago). This marked the start of religious harmony by going beyond rituals and sharing the common ideals among religions. It was in this conglomeration that Swami Vivekananda, who represented Hindu religion from India declared, quoting from the Vedas, that there was a spiritual unity of all religions in spite of the external diversity in beliefs and rituals. Swamiji was the only person in the entire assembly of religions who scientifically and spiritually laid the foundations for inter-religious harmony. It was a turning point in the history of the domination of semitic religions which always had preached the supremacy of their single and only one God.
Swamiji said in his Chicago speech that the world needs a “death knell of all fanaticism and of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen”. He concluded that “Harmony and peace and not dissension”. He added, “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth”.
He further said, “sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendent, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than now”.
About inter-religious harmony or Sarvadharma Samabhavana, Swamiji said, “It is not a new religion with new scriptures, but it is a new approach to religion, a new spiritual temper. It not only enjoins spiritual tolerance, it urges acceptance of other religions as true thereby making religions a principle of human unity. Universal religion is a discovery of universality in all religions excluding the particularities of creed, dogma, beliefs, rituals and convention of religions”. This is the reason why India has become the showcase of almost all organised religions of the world.
Previous Parliaments of World’s Religions
Humanity had to wait exactly a century for the second PWR to occur in 1993 in Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel, where 8,000 participants from various parts of the world assembled to recollect the values of the first PWR. Here all participants endorsed a declaration, “Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration.” Also in this event, “A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions” was created to practice the idea of religious harmony.
After six years in 1999, 8,000 people from IPKover 80 countries assembled in Cape Town of South Africa. In this meeting also, a document titled “A call to Our Guiding Institutions” was prepared to address the religious, Government, educational, business and media institutions. The Parliament staff created a book, “Gifts of Service to the World”, showcasing 300 projects considered to be making a difference in the world.
The next PWR was organised by the PWR council in 2004 at Barcelona in Spain in which 8,900 participants focused on four pressing issues – mitigating religious violence, access to safe drinking water, the refugee problem and the mounting foreign debts of developing countries. Thus, we see that the themes of the PWR were undergoing a change towards socio-economic issues.
In 2009, at Melbourne in Australia, the 5th PWR was organised, where about 6,000 people addressed the issues of the aborigines of this world. The issues of Sustainability and Global Climate Change were explored through the lens of indigenous spirituality. Here we see that from the social problems, the PWR discussions reached the realm of environmental problems of the world. Moreover, Global Peace and Justice also became the topics of serious discussion.
The 6th PWR, in Salt Lake City of Utah in the US, was attended by 9,806 participants from 70 countries, 30 religious traditions and 548 sub-traditions. The conference worked for “Reclaiming the Heart of Humanity for a world of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability”.
The 2018 Toronto conference was attended by 8,324 delegates from 81 countries constituting 118 traditions and faiths, with 2055 presentations and 1,352 programmes. “The Promise of Inclusion and the Power of Love pursuing Global Understanding and Recognition” (Ibid) were the central themes of the discussion.
The 2021 conference was an online (8th PWR) one due to COVID-19.
Liberal, Left-Leaning PWR, 2023
After the 8th online PWR Conference in 2021 due to the pandemic, the 9th PWR was held again in Chicago from August 14 to 18, 2023. There were 463 sessions in five days. On average, 92 sessions per day were held from 8 am to 8 pm, consisting of usually an average of 1.5 hours duration. Seven thousand-plus delegates, from 210 faith traditions belonging to 95 countries, were present in the 2023 PWR.
The hidden message of this spiritual conglomeration is that it is slowly assuming the shape of a liberal, secular and Islamic-oriented one, thanks to the recent trends noted in the conference organisation and conduct of events. Some of the posters presented in the stalls of Islamist groups from the US, “Justice for All” portrayed the disrespect towards and false allegations against Hindutva. One of the posters alleges that the riots that occurred in Manipur were a communal one between Hindus and Christians and that “249 churches were destroyed in 36 hours in India”.
American Muslim Council tarnishes the images of Hindu American Foundation, Vishva Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The brochure distributed from the stall says, “Christians, Muslims and other Indian minorities are being regularly targeted by Indian Nazis”. Moreover, many speakers are raising baseless allegations against Bharat and Hindutva movements. How can the Parliament Council which is supposed to promote universal harmony and peace entertain such blasphemous and sectarian remarks? How do these ‘Break India’ forces get access to the Parliament of Religions and utter lies against Bharat? Is the PWR shifting away from the declared objectives of peace and harmony?
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Becomes Universal
Bharat is the only country in the world where the oppressed and persecuted groups of all religions in this world could find shelter. Moreover, among the world nations, India or Bharat has contributed the maximum for the maintenance of world peace, through the participation in the UN efforts to maintain peace governed by the Department of Peace Operations of UN, (DPO), since the UN inception in 1945, India contributed nearly 2,75000 troops, the largest number from any country, participated in more than 49 missions and 168 Indian Peace keeping force members have made the supreme sacrifice. Moreover, in the recently held G – 20 meeting, Bharat, keeping justice to its rich cultural tradition declared the motto of the conference as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means the whole planet irrespective of political, religious and social differences represents one family.
Religious Diversity and Spiritual Unity
Religion is still one of the very strong institutions that humanity created. The table shows that more than 84 per cent of the world’s population belongs to one or the other of the many religions – organised/unorganised – of the world.
Projected Size of Major Religious Groups for 2023
Per Cent Wise: Christianity is 31.0 per cent, Islam is 24.9 per cent, Unaffiliated is 15.6 per cent, Hinduism is 15.2 per cent, Buddhism 6.6 per cent, folk religions 5.6 per cent, Sikhism 0.3 per cent and other religions 0.8 per cent.
Treating Faith as Universal Truth
But, only a minority of this majority are able to go beyond the narrow and selfish outlook and treat religion as a universal truth from the spiritual angle. Now, terrorists and fanatics are penetrating into the religious aspects and making it venomous to the world at large. They want to make a monopoly religion in which one God, one scripture and one group of believers will only remain. This is exactly against the Indian Hindu concept of ‘Unity in Diversity’, Universal Harmony and Peace. Now it is imperative that the spiritually-oriented people should make use of all platforms to counter the heinous propaganda against India and its culture by a group of sectarian and theocratic extremists in collaboration with liberals and secularists (an irony indeed), to do justice to the fundamental principles of the Parliament of World’s Religions.