The Parliament of the World’s Religions 2009
by Dr. Kusumita Pedersen
The Parliament of the World’s Religions, held every five years, took place in Melbourne, Australia on December 3-9, 2009. For seven days participants thronged the brand new and dramatically modern Melbourne Convention Center on the east bank of Yarra River, which flows through the center of the city. At the beginning of the Australian summer, the weather is variable and Melbourne is said to have “four seasons in one day”. In warm sun or cold rain, at all hours attendees in attire of many cultures could be seen strolling or hastening up and down the riverside walkway. The huge lobby of the Convention Center was alive with Chinese Buddhist drumming, an auspicious lion-dog deity from Bali called the World Peace Barong, dancers and chanters, groups of people in conversation, announcements of all kinds hung up or piled on tables, snack bars, and several information stations including the Council Hub. At the Hub, Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions were on duty to meet a steady stream of visitors and inquirers, sign people up for PeaceNext, the Council’s new social networking site, talk about CPWR, and enjoy being together informally. Almost six thousand people from over two hundred religious traditions and subtraditions gathered from all over the world for what some said was “The best Parliament ever.”
The Melbourne Parliament made visible the maturing of the global interreligious movement. Another way of saying this is that more and more people have now been involved in interfaith work for a longer and longer time, and a great many of them were in Melbourne. This was the fourth “new” or “modern” Parliament beginning with the 1993 centenary in Chicago, which gave a broad impetus to interfaith. In the intervening sixteen years grassroots interfaith activity has been rapidly increasing in many parts of the world. 9/11 and ensuing events made consciousness of the need for this work far more acute. Many Melbourne participants had attended several Parliaments, even all four, and in between they had been carrying forward their own programs. This time, as CPWR Chair the Reverend Dr. William Lesher describes it, “Perhaps even more than in previous Parliaments, there was a sense of ‘reunion’ in Melbourne where friends in the interreligious movement eagerly reconnected, embraced and quickly fell into animated conversation.” Whether veteran interfaith organizers or first-time participants, those at the Parliament had a solid foundation of knowledge and experience supporting them, and this confidence could be sensed.
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