Parliament of World Religions 2023 spotlights diversity and inclusivity

By Parveen Chopra 

Chicago: Parliament of World Religions 2023 opened in Chicago on August 14 under the chairmanship of an Indian American and Jain, Nitin Ajmera, who stressed the importance in today’s world of ‘Defending Freedom & Human Rights’, the title theme of the convention. 

Parliament of World Religions (PoWR) has emerged as the biggest interfaith movement in the world after it was revived in 1993, a century after its first convening in Chicago in 1893, made world famous by the sensational speech by Swami Vivekananda and enlightening speech by a Jain scholar Virchand Gandhi. 

Last week over 6,500 people from 95 countries belonging to over 200 religious-spiritual groups ranging from Buddhists to Zoroastrians attended the massive event at the cavernous McCormick Place convention center in the Windy City. I’ve had the lifetime opportunity to be among them, admiring the diversity of humankind and the bonhomie witnessed among people wearing their colorful ethnic attires. An estimated 500 people had flown in from India. 

The convention was opened by the Mayor of Chicago, Brandon Johnson. Rashad Husain, US ambassador-at-large for religious freedom said the US strives to protect religious freedom for all everywhere in the world. Dignitaries who sent video messages included UN Secretary-General António Guterres and US Senator Dick Durbin. 

The Parade of Faiths was another colorful affair with hundreds of people from different faith groups marching near the convention venue. There I spotted spiritual guru Amma Sri Karunamayi ensconced in a ceremonial horse-driven carriage. The Sikh group was the largest. Sikh community also organized the langar lunch for all convention attendees over 5 days. 

Arvind Vora, of Shanti Fund from New York, a veteran of PoWRs in Salt Lake City (2015), Toronto (2018), and 2021 (Virtual), found the 2023 convening “the most inclusive with over 600 panels and workshops making it hard to choose which ones to attend.”  

You also need many hours to browse over a hundred booths in the exhibition hall, or gawk at the art exhibits including a labyrinth installed on the east side terrace. From this terrace a view of the ocean-like Michigan Lake is the best exhibit, I would say.

Image courtesy of Provided

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