Reflections on the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Eric Roux at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, November 2018
Eric Roux at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, November 2018

Blog by Rev. Eric Roux, president of Union of Churches of Scientology of France and Vice President of the Church of Scientology European Office of Public Affairs and Human Rights, on the Parliament of the World’s Religions 2018

Parliament of the World's Religions, first organized in 1893 in Chicago, was the first major initiative to bring together world religions, Western and Eastern, in one place, and to provide a platform for understanding, meeting and joint action—a completely revolutionary idea at that time.

Catholics, Protestants, Hindus (including a historic speech by Swami Vivekananda), Jains, Muslims, Jews, Christian Science faithful, Buddhists, Theosophists, and others came together that first year. In all, more than 5,000 delegates from various world religions were present. Interreligious dialogue on a planetary scale was born.

It was a century before a second Parliament took place. In 1993, at the initiative of disciples of Swami Vivekananda, more than 150 religious leaders gathered again in Chicago and decided to continue the work of mutual understanding and dialogue. To the religions present in 1893 were added the Tibetan Buddhists represented by the Dalai Lama, Sikhs, and various Native American and other indigenous religions.

In 1999, the Parliament was hosted in Cape Town, South Africa, with a special appearance by Mr. Nelson Mandela, followed by Parliaments in 2004 in Barcelona, 2009 in Melbourne, 2015 in Salt Lake City, and this year in Toronto, where more than 10,000 met to dialogue and learn about one another’s religions.

The Parliament was an opportunity to meet members of many different religious traditions and learn more about their religions—from Sikhs and Baha'is to a Taiwanese Dharma Master and members of First Nations traditions who shared their vision of the world—and to welcome people of all faiths to the Scientology information booth to answer their questions and forge alliances for common social programs. It was an extraordinary experience.

I had the opportunity to meet the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, a man of great intelligence and philosophy, and many other exceptional people. I gained even greater respect for the diverse faiths attending, the wealth of similarities and differences among us and the value of the Parliament.

There exists in France—but not only there—a form of religious illiteracy affecting both nonreligious and religious people, who know very little about faiths apart from their own. The absence of this understanding spawns and perpetuates an impressive number of prejudices, stereotypes, misunderstandings and tensions.

Despite the use of religion over the centuries and even today, to create discord, violence, even atrocities, it must not be forgotten that the source of this is a small minority and that religion can be, above all, a route to spiritual discovery, peace, and deep understanding of others.

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