The Exhibit Hall
At the physical center of the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions was the Parliament Bazaar. With a record number of 205 booths, religious traditions, non-profit groups, and international vendors showcased a wide variety of items, this was no ordinary exhibit hall!
In keeping with the intention for all Parliament spaces, the exhibitors called on people to get involved; to experience new ideas, to build new relationships and to taste and feel the textures of cultural wares from around the world.
The Parliament’s generous sponsors were represented with large and inviting spaces at the center of the Exhibit Hall. KAICIID welcomed major speakers and all other attendees to engage in dialogue while enjoying refreshments, and Claremont Lincoln University conducted live interviews so that people could share their Parliament experience in real time.
At the Parliament’s own booth, major speakers stopped by to sign books and invite casual conversations. Parliament staff members were on hand to answer questions and sign up new members to the Parliament. The Parliament’s Sacred Spaces Ambassador, Suzanne Morgan, displayed the winning models of an architecture competition in partnership with the University of Utah to create the sacred in public space.
As great as it was to meet a favorite author, to learn more about an unfamiliar tradition, or to buy something special as a reminder of the Parliament, it was the shared conversations and newly-formed relationships that made the Parliament Bazaar so powerful.
Gathering 10,000 people around faith necessitates making room for prayer. With the talents of local Utah religious communities, 12 sacred spaces were curated to host visitors for worship and engagement programs, meditation, lectures, and workshops. Dedicated havens made space for Hinduism, Judaism, Jainism, Islam, Buddhism, Baha’i, Indigenous Peoples, Pagans, Christians, Sikhs, in addition to the Women’s Sacred Space and an Interfaith Prayer Room. These sanctuaries became a real-world “neighborhood of religions” far exceeding the efforts made to accommodate religious diversity inherent in other world-class international meetings. For comparison, the 2016 Rio Olympics built a multifaith center limited to just five major world faiths (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism).
The Gathering Place & Cultural Hall
Connected to the main lobby of the Salt Palace, the bright and airy space was comfortably furnished through a generous partnership between Salt Lake City and its local chapter of Rotary International. It was the perfect place to catch up with an old colleague, meet a new friend, or hold a small group.
Next door, exhibits displayed selections that bridged medium and genres, coming together in some of the most relevant historic memorials and cultural masterpieces in the world today. These works served to orient participants to sensitive subject matter; the expressions of different groups often unaware of their own historically similar experiences.
• A Gandhi, King, Ikeda Exhibit from Morehouse College explored the heroism of nonviolent mobilizing and peacemaking in the 20th century, while urgent lessons about nuclear warfare were found in works from the Hiroshima Peace Museum.
• An authentic wagon driven westward during the migration of Mormon pioneers (who would settle in Utah) highlighted the suffering born of social persecution and “othering”, a history shared by many traditions.
• Dharma Master Hsin Tao shared collections from the Taipei-based Museum of World Religions.
• The F-Word: Stories of Forgiveness project presented generation-spanning stories rising from atrocities and genocides to educate, encourage, empower, and explore the nature of forgiveness and alternatives to conflict and revenge.
Pop-Up Spiritual Stations
A Buddhist Mandala begins with a few grains of sand. Sands dyed different colors, meticulously placed by monks, begin to morph into a beautiful canvas of unity, love and understanding; a stark visual representation of what it means to attend a Parliament conference.
An influx of people from different ethnicities, nationalities, and beliefs. Alone they are individual stories, but together they represent what makes the Parliament unique. Just like the mandala, once completed, admired and observed in all it’s greatness, the Parliament breaks back down to it’s individual grains of sand: people, changed from this monumental experience of belonging and ready to re-enter the world to foster the spirit of sharing and understanding learned at the Parliament.
That spirit was enriched by surprises placed around every corner of the Salt Palace. A perfect model reconstruction of a Jain Temple flanked the otherwise quiet help desk, a marvelous display and reminder of the teachings of “ahimsa” (nonviolence). Ornately woven banners hung throughout the center and filled the Salt Palace with symbols of the world’s faiths and natural beauty. Paper birds flew from the ceiling canopy straight into another hallway adorned with handmade textiles of Goddesses. Participants found themselves enveloped by art and music at each turn, where installations like the Parliament’s Meditation Cube reflected light into the crowds. Interactive booths drew passers-by in to learn, to add their signature to a commemorative climate change display, or to share their personal life stories with filmmakers and archivists.