Parliament of the World's Religions under way in Melbourne

4 December 2009

MELBOURNE, Australia — Baha'is from five continents are making presentations at the Parliament of the World's Religions – an event now held every five years in the modern continuation of an initiative begun more than a century ago.

The seven-day parliament, which opened on 3 December in Melbourne, is expected to draw as many as 8,000 individuals from virtually every world religion and faith group. Among those expected to participate are such international figures as the Dalai Lama and theologian Hans Kung.

It was at the inaugural Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, that the Baha'i Faith received one of its first public mentions in the West.

"That earlier gathering, which in some respects represents the beginning of the interfaith movement, created hope for a new spirit of unity among the religions," said Natalie Mobini, spokeswoman for the Australian Baha'i community.

"The main organizer said later that it had emancipated the world from bigotry," she said. "At first, there indeed were signs of change. But it is apparent that we have a great deal more work to do to achieve our common aim of establishing brotherhood and peace.

"The belief that all the major religions come from God and are part of His plan for humanity is central to the Baha'i Faith," she continued. "Thus the work to strengthen ties among the different religions is an arena of activity that we feel passionately about."

More than 70 Baha'is are attending the Melbourne event, participating at virtually every level of the parliament – from panel discussions on climate change and interfaith relations to artistic presentations to hosting a devotional gathering.

Among the Baha'i participants are:

– Professor Brian Lepard, a human rights specialist from the University of Nebraska in the United States, who is examining from a Baha'i perspective the concept of the right to development. Dr. A. K. Merchant, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India, will speak at the same session.

– Lucretia Warren, a Baha'i from Botswana and a speaker at the past two parliaments, who is participating in a session on "Interfaith and the Future of Africa."

– Native American Kevin Locke, a well-known performer of the Lakota hoop dance, who is leading a session titled "There are no back row seats in the Hoop of Life."

– British authors Moojan Momen and Wendi Momen, who are presenting a panel discussion on "Building Peace in the Pursuit of Justice: A Baha'i Approach."

– Australian Baha'i Arini Beaumaris, who will speak on "Spirituality and Women's Leadership."

– Recording artists Shadi and Shidan Toloui-Wallace, who will perform during the concert of sacred music scheduled for the evening of 6 December.

Baha'is also are making presentations on environmental topics, consistent with the overall theme of the parliament, "Make a world of difference: Hearing each other, healing the earth."

"The healing of the physical planet ... requires that we address spiritual principles," Dr. Mobini added.

Baha'is of Australia are hosting a spiritual observance open to all participants at the parliament; an evening of music, drama, and dance featuring national and international artists; and presentations on topics ranging from the journey of the soul to the role of women in interfaith work.

The modern Parliament of World Religions began in 1993 in Chicago on the centenary of the original event. It is now held every five years. In 1999 it took place in Cape Town, South Africa, and in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain.

Information about the parliament is available at http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/