There have been several meetings referred to as a Parliament of the World’s Religions, most notably the World's Parliament of Religions of 1893, the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths. The event was celebrated by another conference on its centenary in 1993. This led to a new series of conferences under the official title "Parliament of the World's Religions".
In 1893, the city of Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition, an early world’s fair. So many people were coming to Chicago from all over the world that many smaller conferences, called Congresses and Parliaments, were scheduled to take advantage of this unprecedented gathering. A number of congresses were held in conjunction with the exposition, including those dealing with anthropology (one of the major themes of Exposition exhibits), labor, medicine, temperance, commerce and finance, literature, history, art, philosophy, and science. One of these was the World’s Parliament of Religions. The Parliament of Religions was by far the largest of the congresses held in conjunction with the Exposition. Rev. Dr. John Henry Barrows, a clergyman, was the first Chairman of the General Committee on '1893 World's Parliament of Religions'. John Henry Barrows was appointed as Chairman by Charles Carroll Bonney to administer General Committee.
The 1893 Parliament, which ran from September 11 to September 27, had marked the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.
Absent from this event were Native American religious figures, Sikhs and other Indigenous and Earth centered religionists. (It would not be until the 1993 Parliament that these religions and spiritual traditions would be represented.) The conference did include new religious movements of the time, such as Spiritualism and Christian Science. The latter was represented by its founder Mary Baker Eddy. Rev. Henry Jessup addressing the World Parliament of Religions was the first to mention the Bahá'í Faith in the United States (it had previously been known in Europe). Since then Bahá'ís have become active participants.
Islam was represented by Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb an Anglo-American convert to Islam.
In 1893, the Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala was invited there as a representative of "Southern Buddhism" - which was the term applied at that time to the Theravada. He was a great success and by his early thirties he was already a global figure, continuing to travel and give lectures and establish viharas around the world during the next forty years. An essay by the Japanese Pure Land master Kiyozawa Manshi, "Skeleton of the philosophy of religion" was read in his absence. The Jain preacher Virchand Gandhi was invited there as representative of Jainism and his defending speech was admired. And Dharampala and Virchand Gandhi captivated western public 
Swami Vivekananda (12 January 1863–4 July 1902), a wandering Hindu monk (Parivrajaka) represented India as a delegate. He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech beginning with "Sisters and Brothers of America," through which he introduced Hinduism at the opening session of the Parliament on September 11. Thereafter he conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating tenets of Hindu philosophy in America, England and Europe. In America Vivekananda became India's spiritual ambassador. His mission there was the interpretation of India's spiritual culture and heritage. He also tried to enrich the religious consciousness of Americans through the teachings of the Vedanta philosophy. He established the Vedanta societies in America and England. He was a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world and was credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion in the late 19th century. After a comprehensive tour of four years in the West he returned to India in 1897. Later he became a major force in the revival of Hinduism in India and contributed to the notion of nationalism in colonial India. In Swami Vivekananda's own words, he was "condensed India". William James, the Harvard philosopher, called Vivekananda the "paragon of Vedantists". Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's suggestion (to Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland) was– "If you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive and nothing negative."
In 1932 the first Sarva Dharma Sammelan was held in India.
In 1993, the Parliament convened at the Palmer House hotel in Chicago. Over 8,000 people from all over the world, from many diverse religions, gathered to celebrate, discuss and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues which confront the world. Dr. Gerald Barney of the Millennium Institute gave the keynote address on the state of the environment. This keynote and the introduction of the document, Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration, mainly drafted by Hans Küng, set the tone for the subsequent ten days of discussion. This global ethic was endorsed by many of the attending religious and spiritual leaders who were part of the Parliament Assembly.
|opening Ceremony 1993|
Also created for the 1993 Parliament was a book, A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions by the late Joel Beversluis which has become a standard textbook in religion classes. Unlike most textbooks of religion each entry was written by members of the religion in question. The text of the revised Sourcebook is available online at Sourcebook Common
More than 7,000 individuals from over 80 countries attended 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa. The Parliament began with a showing of the International AIDS Quilt to highlight the epidemic of AIDS in South Africa, and of the role that religious and spiritual traditions play in facing the critical issues that face the world. The event continued with hundreds of panels, symposia and workshops, offerings of prayer and meditation, plenaries and performances. The programs emphasized issues of religious, spiritual, and cultural identity, approaches to interreligious dialogue, and the role of religion in response to the critical issues facing the world today.
The Parliament Assembly considered a document called A Call to Our Guiding Institutions, addressed to religion, government, business, education, and media inviting these institutions to reflect on and transform their roles at the threshold of the next century.
In addition to the Call, the Parliament staff had created a book Gifts of Service to the World showcasing over 300 projects making a difference in the world. Assembly attendees also deliberated about Gifts of Service which they could offer or could pledge to support among those gathered in the Gifts document.
It was celebrated in the Universal Forum of Cultures. More than 8,900 individuals attended the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona, Spain. Having created the declaration Towards a Global Ethic at the 1993 Parliament and attempted to engage guiding institutions at the 1999 Parliament, the 2004 Parliament concentrated on four pressing issues: mitigating religiously motivated violence, access to safe water, the fate of refugees worldwide, and the elimination of external debt in developing countries. Attendees were asked to make a commitment to a "simple and profound act" to work on one of these issues.
|opening Ceremony 2004|
Over the next five to six years people around the world will implement their commitments. Then this vibrant embodiment of the international interfaith community will again come together to strive to, in the words of the CPWR mission statement, "cultivate harmony between the world's religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its other guiding institutions in order to achieve a peaceful, just, and sustainable world".
Forum Monterrey 2007 was an international event which included Parliament-style events and dialogues. It was held as part of the 2007 Universal Forum of Cultures, which featured international congresses, dialogues, exhibitions, and spectacles on the themes of peace, diversity, sustainability and knowledge. Special emphasis was placed on the eight objectives of Millennium Development goals for eradicating abject poverty around the world.
The Melbourne Parliament addressed issues of aboriginal reconciliation. The issues of sustainability and global climate change were explored through the lens of indigenous spiritualities. Environmental issues and the spirituality of youth were also be key areas of dialogue.
The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions suggested that the Melbourne Parliament would "educate participants for global peace and justice" through exploring religious conflict and globalization, creating community and cross-cultural networks and addressing issues of religious violence. It supported "strengthening religious and spiritual communities" by providing a special focus on indigenous and Aboriginal spiritualities; facilitating cooperation between Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Bahai, Jain, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu communities; crafting new responses to religious extremism; and confronting homegrown terrorism and violence.
In 2011, The Parliament of World's Religions announced that the 2014 Parliament would take place in Brussels, Belgium. In November 2012, a joint statement from Brussels and CPWR announced that because of the financial crisis in Europe, Brussels was unable to raise the funds required for a Parliament. The Parliament, now led by interim director Dr. Mary Nelson, will still hold the Parliament in 2014 or 2015, and plans to make an announcement in the Summer of 2013 regarding the location and details of the event.
The Parliament of World's Religions has been criticised by some Christians for denying the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. As far back as 1925, Christian orthodox G. K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man,
|“||The Theosophists build a pantheon; but it is only a pantheon for pantheists. They call a Parliament of Religions as a reunion of all the peoples; but it is only a reunion of all the prigs. Yet exactly such a pantheon had been set up two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon. It was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history. If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were already melting.||”|
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