Opening Our Hearts to the World: Compassion in Action
The evening of Saturday, October 16th marked the opening of the eighth Convening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The 2021 Parliament of the World’s Religions was unique for a variety of reasons: it was the first Parliament to take place over the course of 48 hours, it was the first Parliament to host three regional symposiums, and it was the first Parliament to be hosted completely online.
So why virtual? In response to established safety standards in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliament joined interfaith organizations across the globe in drawing on our diversity of beliefs and practices and we committed to serving as a convener of the interfaith movement, virtually.
At the 2021 Parliament individuals, communities, and world-renowned luminaries answered this call, convening as a movement for another historic interfaith gathering on the theme of “Opening our Hearts to the World: Compassion in Action.”
About the Theme
Opening our Hearts to the World: Compassion in Action was deeply inspired by the response of faith and spiritual communities to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rising hate crimes and hate speech against communities of color, and countless other moral viruses. The theme was strategically developed to guide participants in a dynamic arc stretching from the Opening, to Grief, Hope, Compassion in Action, and the concluding Opening Our Hearts to the Future of the World.
In inviting participants to “open our hearts”, the Parliament strived to address the debilitating grief and loss shared by communities in the midst of the moral and physical viruses facing the world. In sharing messages of “hope”, the Parliament aimed to emphasize the capacity of faith and spiritual traditions to address these viruses. In advocating for “compassionate action”, the Parliament challenged the interfaith movement to commit to just, peaceful and sustainable action to serve as antidotes to these viruses.
“Our faith and spiritual communities have continuously risen to be antidotes to these moral and physical viruses and we need to gather to highlight this action-based work, share best practices, learn from one another, and celebrate the successes.” – Rev. Stephen Avino
The theme of the 2021 Parliament Convening was conceptualized under the leadership of the Parliament’s Program Committee and its Chair, Rev. HPs. Phyllis Curott. Keeping in mind the virtual nature of the Convening and the time constraints, the theme and the plenaries of the 2021 Parliament addressed the critical issues and constituencies of the Parliament by inviting carefully selected speakers. Invitations were extended to a historically diverse, gender-balanced, and international \roster of plenary speakers and performers, approximately 100 of whom presented.
The programming of the 2021 Parliament of the World’s Religions was designed to reflect on the Convenings theme while enhancing understanding, best practices, and skillsets advancing the mission of the Parliament for a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. The Parliament was aided in this endeavor by Committees, Task Forces, and working groups dedicated to highlighting the organization’s critical issues and engaging its critical constituencies.
Sixteen tracks offered participants unique opportunities to learn, connect, and engage in faith and interfaith understanding, religious and spiritual observances, film and art features, and faith-inspired performances. Of these tracks, three were sponsored by organizations committed to a common mission of interfaith, compassion and a more loving world. Want to explore the full agenda of the 2021 Parliament Convening? Visit Accelevents.com for more information.
Among the unique offerings at the 2021 Parliament of the World’s Religions were distinguished Regional Symposiums inspired by the Convening’s theme of “Opening Our Hearts to the World: Compassion in Action.”
The Symposiums provide attendees an opportunity to connect with faith and spiritual leaders from Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Organized in partnership by Parliament Trustees and grassroots organizations in these regions, the Symposiums were as distinctive as their region of origin. They highlighted critical regional issues and powerful voices of justice, peace and sustainability around the world.
Full recordings of programs offered at the 2021 Parliament Convening are available exclusively to supporting members of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Learn more here.
BEYOND THE PROGRAMS
A Convening of Community
Parliament Convenings are at their core, a community gathering. People of faith and conscience coming together to learn, to reflect, to be inspired and to connect with each other. At the 2021 Parliament Convening, the opportunity to network and connect even in the midst of a virtual space was a critical goal and as attendees reported in the post-event survey was achieved.
Six networking sessions, organized in between program offerings, allowed attendees a space to match with other random attendees for short discussions leading to 2,755 one-on-one conversations. On average, attendees who participated in the networking sessions met 7 new people.
Lounges were deliberately created to offer open social spaces for attendees to write posts, share media, and engage in chat rooms & video calls with other attendees that shared a commonality – location, religion, demographic, and interests. 27 lounges in total, including sponsored lounges by Charter for Compassion and United Religions Initiative (URI), hosted Parliament attendees.
Art & Exhibits
Parliament Convenings in the past have featured landmark opportunities for attendees to connect with organizations, institutions, and communities of faith as part of the Exhibit Hall. At the 2021 Parliament Convening, the Expo served as this critical networking opportunity for attendees and featured a virtual exhibit hall of organizations and religious communities each with their own interactive booths. Additionally, the Expo also featured art galleries to explore inspiring and interactive art, stores offering books and faith-focused products, and countless opportunities to connect.
In total 53 exhibit booths provided diverse engagement opportunities for attendees, including:
- 5 unique art galleries, each providing an experience to view existing art and art inspired by the 2021 Parliament
- 7 stores where attendees could shop for the latest books and other merchandise and media from luminaries, featured presenters, and more
- 8 universities and seminaries sharing information about interfaith studies programs
- 32 regional and international organizations promoting their programs, sharing resources, and engaging with attendees via chat and video
The Visual Statement
The Parliament proudly presented The Turning Point, a visual statement drafted and endorsed during the 2021 Parliament of the World’s Religions. The statement illustrated the declaration of the roles and responsibilities of individuals and communities of faith in the face of the twin threats of climate change and COVID-19.
Drafted by the Parliament’s Climate Action Task Force with feedback from the diverse global community who participated in dedicated workshops, the Visual Statement was refined before and during the virtual convening. Task Force Chair David Hales emphasized that, “The Visual Statement is designed to provide each person the opportunity to engage with their loved ones about the future they want for their children and grandchildren. If the images and facts in the Statement speak to someone, then that person must become the voice of the Statement in loving conversation with others.”
The Film Festival
The Film Festival at the 2021 Parliament of the World’s Religions offered participants a unique opportunity to enjoy documentaries from award-winning directors, heartfelt stories of faith, profound stories of justice, and outstanding interfaith stories.
Featuring full-length documentaries, short films, and feature-length films, the festival reflected the rich programmatic diversity offered by the 2021 Parliament highlighting themes of hope, joy, gender equality, compassion and activism. In total, 25 films offered enriching programmatic opportunities during the 48 hours of the Convening.