Shani Belshaw, an intern on the Parliament communication’s team, recently conducted an interview with one of the Parliament’s newest trustees Dr. Brian Birch to discuss his journey to the Board and what a significant role religion plays in our societies. Birch also explains his view on how the 2015 theme— Reclaiming the Heart of our Humanity. Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability—exemplifies the topical, practical dimensions that will be addressed at the Parliament.
Parliament of the World’s Religions: The 2015 Parliament in Salt Lake City is quickly approaching, what about the coming Parliament excites you most?
Brian Birch: I cannot think of a better time to be hosting a Parliament. Religious differences and misunderstanding continue to play a significant role in human conflict. This event is an opportunity to communicate the deep commitments of religious communities to peace and harmony.
PWR: This is the first Parliament to ever be held in Utah; what do you hope the people of Utah gain from the 2015 Parliament being held there?
BB: I am extremely proud to be part of hosting the Parliament in my home city. Salt Lake City is a wonderful choice. The people of Utah are among the most friendly and hospitable in the world. Our community will greatly benefit from the cultural and religious diversity. Though we have a strong history of hosting international visitors, the religious dimensions of the event add a degree of unparalleled richness.
PWR: The theme of the 2015 Parliament is Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity: Working Together for a World of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability; what do you like about this theme?
BB: The theme could not be more timely and communicates the very practical dimensions of interfaith work. Religion remains among the most potent forces in the human experience. It influences a variety of institutions and thus has a substantial role to play in finding solutions to our biggest challenges. I’m excited that people will see the application of faith to our economic and environmental challenges.
PWR: What major events in your life have encouraged you to be a part of this movement?
BB: As a young Latter-day Saint missionary in New York City, I was mesmerized by the diversity of faiths and cultures I experienced there. I observed firsthand the challenges of religious misunderstanding and prejudice and it led to my academic pursuits in these areas. My experiences over the years have only strengthened my commitment to respectful interactions across religious and ethical lines.
PWR: One of the three focused constituencies of the 2015 Parliament is youth. You’re the Director of the Religious Studies Program and Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University and active in the development of student interfaith leadership through partnerships with the Interfaith Youth Core; what have you learned from working with the youth?
BB: I am continually amazed by the creativity and commitment of young interfaith leaders. Students are naturally more inclusive and have an orientation toward service that gives them a head start in working across differences. The Parliament leadership is especially anxious to provide opportunities to build on their unique forms of social capital.
Featured Image courtesy of The UVU Review
Brian D. Birch is Director of the Religious Studies Program and Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University and specializes in comparative theology and the ethical dimensions of religious diversity. He is a member of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable and active in the development of student interfaith leadership through partnerships with the Interfaith Youth Core and related organizations. He currently serves as Senior Research Fellow at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and his latest book projects are entitled Radical Pluralism: Essays on Religious Practice and Mormonism Among Christian Theologies for Oxford University Press.