Who are the Emerging Leaders?

It was fitting that President of Rotary International K.R. Ravindran highlighted his hero, Paul Harris, in his keynote address to the Parliament Emerging Leaders plenary by suggesting people measure “others by their deeds, not by their creeds.” This ethos drives the younger generations whose interest in the interfaith movement depends upon the promotion of cooperative action and service.

Emerging leaders arrived with a multiplicity of concerns, visions, and facets of identity. Representing the widest range of traditions and faiths: from Atheist and Secular Humanist, “Nones” (25% of the Parliament’s emerging leaders are unaffiliated with any religious or spiritual tradition) to Zoroastrians, this generation believes that peacebuilding and the end of war, terrorism and hate are the most important objectives of interfaith organizing.

The Plenary

 The most renowned Parliament speech in history happened in 1893 when Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk from India, opened the first World Parliament of Religions by calling upon his “Sisters and Brothers of America.” He was 30 years old. On Friday, October 16, 2015 with a sixth Parliament in full swing, attendees swarmed the plenary hall and were invited by Co-Emcees Dr. Eboo Patel and Dawn Maracle to be “transported to the planet of interfaith cooperation.”

The contingent of “Emerging Leaders” (Parliament attendees under 35 years of age) represented a rising generation of interfaith practitioners whose interests dwell in religious literacy and social action, made evident in the robust models of diverse youth organizations like PeaceJam and Interfaith Youth Core. The principle organizing model? Diligent service inspired by faith and strengthened by interfaith. Patel said Patel said, “It is no small thing to get 10,000 peace- loving people in the Salt Palace to practice their loving peacefulness.” It was truly a remarkable moment; almost 2,500 young adults gathered at the Parliament had a stage dedicated to their voices, perspective, wisdom, expertise and achievements with the full support of all Parliament attendees.

Faatimah Knight delivered a somber and sophisticated keynote on Black Churches Burning and the perspective of Christian-on-Christian crime haring why she, a Muslim, African- American woman, chose to raise awareness through fundraising to support these devastated communities. Knight’s keynote address helped the Parliament see a tangible expression of thought leadership, embodied solidarity, and exemplification of faith in practice.

For millennials, everyday activities can provide opportunity for interfaith realities. Mutual understanding across religious differences is especially prevalent through community service and recreational activities like sports. Yonatan Belik, a Jewish-Australian motivational speaker and member of “Peace Team,” shared the story of teens  divided by walls in Israel and Palestine but united through their different faiths, who have led by example in their peacebuilding rugby league.

In 2015, the Parliament’s breakout star was also the youngest to ever deliver a keynote speech. 14-year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney, an activist, singer and actress from Canada’s Tla’Amin First Nation, was a face of each critical constituency (Women, Emerging Leaders, and Indigenous Peoples) and channeled the power of all three: a treasure of the ancient wisdom far beyond her years, and a paragon of rising feminine leadership. Ta’Kaiya was prolific across the Parliament programs and plenaries and a prime representative of the growing interest in youth leadership on the world’s most critical issues.

Dr. Eboo Patel not only contributed his dazzling charm to the Parliament by co-hosting the evening plenary, but he also spoke as the first featured expert in a customized Massive Open Online Course in Interreligious Studies, co-produced by the Utah Valley University and the Parliament of the World’s Religions for participating students.

The Parliament’s Emerging Leaders convened outside of plenary programming in earnest, authentic ways. Through Family Groups led by PeaceJam, young adults met each evening to form bonds around the critical issues and constituencies of the 2015 Parliament. These cohorts made commitments on each track and pledged to remain connected in order to remain accountable in their plans on each issue. To enrich the experience of young people and expand the intergenerational dynamic of the gathering, a Fellowship Program mentored by Brian Birch (Chair of the Emerging Leader’s Task Force) rallied student volunteers from Utah universities to engage in critical conversations with visiting scholars.