2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions Report

Report by Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative, and Alison Van Dyk, TOU Executive Director
 
The Temple of Understanding greatly enjoyed connecting with colleagues and friends at this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Ontario. We are especially proud to have worked with environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva at her second Parliament. Dr. Shiva’s new book is entitled Oneness Versus the 0%: Shattering Illusions, Seeing Freedom (check it out via Spinifex Press or Amazon).
 

Executive Director Alison Van Dyk, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Board member
Laxmi Shah, and UN Representative Grove Harris, Toronto, 2018

 

Dr. Shiva first spoke at a Temple of Understanding event at the 2012 UN Rio Conference, and the TOU helped seed her work by bringing her to the Parliament for the first time in 2015. At the Toronto Parliament this year, she came as a major speaker in the Climate Change plenary. Dr. Shiva appeared on multiple panels and was increasingly warmly received, so that at her last session she spoke to a packed room. Her decades of advocacy and her passion for seed freedom and environmental justice helped Parliament participants move forward in their understanding of climate issues.
 
 

Highlights from the 2018 Parliament

Our colleague Joyce Dubensky of Tanenbaum has provided reflections on the Parliament of World Religions that include the full text of the plenary speech of Dr. P.L. de Silva, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD). His talk entitled “Cultivation of Hatred” was offered as part of the Countering War, Hate, and Violence Assembly. Dr. de Silva writes of “Pope Francis’ condemnation of the sowing of hatred” and asks, “Aren’t those who cultivate hate culpable?” He suggests “the leading armaments countries… be condemned as war profiteers” and concludes that “reconciliation, faith and ethical leadership is what is most URGENTLY needed.”
 
The Parliament of the World’s Religions has posted short highlights of the Parliament as well as 13 full live streamed videos of major plenaries on their Facebook page.
 
 

The Temple of Understanding at the Parliament, 1993-2018

When the Parliament of the World’s Religions was launched in 1993, Juliet Hollister was invited to represent the Temple of Understanding as founder of the organization. Incorporated in 1960 and having been active at that time for over thirty years, the TOU participated in the Parliament as one of the oldest American organizations in the international interfaith movement.

Juliet brought a delegation of her board and staff to the 1993 gathering and walked in the opening procession of leaders of the interfaith movement. Rather than seeking special recognition for the TOU’s early contributions to the interfaith movement in the United States, Juliet’s position was as a kind of “Johnny Appleseed” of interfaith. Since, as she maintained, the job was “too big for any one organization,” she saw organizations like the TOU and Parliament as collaborating to spread seeds of dialogue, peace, and justice throughout the world.

Nelson Mandela, Cape Town, 1999

 

At the 1999 Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, the TOU organized a wide variety of programs and honored Nelson Mandela with a Hollister Award. By the time of the third modern Parliament gathering in 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, the TOU had launched an educational cooperative with eleven interfaith organizations called the Consultation for Interfaith Education (CIE). CIE sponsored a three-day symposium at the Parliament and featured Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter and now a Hollister award recipient, as a speaker. Hollister Awards were presented to Dr. Hans Kung for his work on Towards a Global Ethic (a document articulating the ethical commitments held in common by the world’s religious traditions) and to Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan for his leadership in the interfaith movement representing Sufism. The event was capped by two stunning performances by the Taiko drummers. 

In Melbourne, Australia in 2009, the TOU again collaborated as part of the CIE on a one-day experiential process including a group mosaic art project and the sharing of Indigenous perspectives by Chief Oren Lyons and Chief Jake Swamp. The program ended with a workshop from a group of Indigenous Maori elders, who taught the use of animal postures in dance as a form of nonverbal communication. The day ended with an open invitation to all to view the finished mosaic project and experience a group dance circle.

Starhawk, Grove Harris, and Vandana Shiva, Salt Lake City, 2015

 

In Salt Lake City, Utah in 2015, the Temple of Understanding brought environmentalist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva to the Parliament, where many religious leaders were exposed to her work for the first time. The TOU also connected its work at the United Nations with its long-standing goals of interfaith education by presenting a panel on “Faith at the United Nations” that focused on the Sustainable Development Goals. Vandana Shiva joined our own UN representative Grove Harris and ecofeminist theologian Starhawk for a panel on community resilience around food and water justice.

In Toronto, Ontario in 2018, the TOU contributed panels on topics including ecojustice, climate change, and women’s leadership in interfaith, and we hosted Dr. Vandana Shiva at three of those panels. We were also pleased that our film Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women, and Eco-Justice was accepted for presentation in the Parliament’s film category. 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament in Toronto, Ontario

We started our interfaith work in Toronto a day before the Parliament by attending the Unity Earth Toronto Convergence, where our colleague A.K. Merchant from the Temple of Understanding–India spoke. This convening laid groundwork for mutual understanding and future events around the globe.

AK Merchant, Temple of
Understanding–India, 2018

 

Our first Parliament panel “Religion and the Work of the United Nations” included brilliant colleagues from our UN work, including Azza Karam, Denise Scotto, Levi Bautista, Lopa Banerjee and Bruce Knotts (not pictured).

“Religion and the Work of the United Nations” speakers, 2018

 

We were proud to support our youth representative 2018 TOU summer intern Larkin Cleland as he spoke on “Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence.” This session was sponsored by the India chapter of the Temple of Understanding and the text of Larkin’s presentation can be found here.

Larkin Cleland, 2018 TOU Summer Intern

 

As part of the innovative Women’s Mentorship program, Lopa Banerjee spoke to a full room of younger attendees, which provided a more intimate setting for interaction. 

Banerjee said that human rights underpin harmony and prosperity, and now in a new world order, national interests are seen as if they are in opposition to global interests. Movements of faith can extend to political acts. The UN SDGs are defending human rights and morality, with social justice at the center. We can reclaim faith’s moral core and the UN’s moral core.

Lopa Banerjee speaking as part of the Parliament’s Women’s Mentorship program, 2018

 

We decorated the panel on cracking the “stained glass ceiling” that women face in interfaith leadership with color and focused on gratitude for those who have taught us and gone before in the work. The panel addressed obstacles, but focused more on kinship among women, including sharing diverse perspectives.

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith, 2018

 

On our panel on women of faith speaking out, Dr. Shiva spoke of the immense concentration of wealth from large corporate mergers, so that approximately five men own most of the world’s agro-chemical industry. We must find courageous compassion and pursue caring for the earth as the highest religion; protection with love is a duty. 

Women of Faith Speak Out: Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass, 2018 
Alison Van Dyk, Chung Ohun Lee, Vandana Shiva, Azza Karam, Lopa Banerjee

 

Chris Peters spoke as part of Dr. Shiva’s panel on Earth Democracy. As part of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, he presented a powerful “Platform for Action: To Do More Than Survive, Thrive.

Click for PDF in English and Spanish >>

 

Speaker Hugh Locke joined us for Dr. Shiva’s panel on seed freedom. He is co-founder of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, doing innovative social justice work around “tree currency“. 

Hugh Locke at “Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change”

 

Speaker Grove Harris opened and closed the session on “Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present and Future.”

Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Donna Bollinger, Sari Heidenreich

 

And of course, there was time for “selfies”! Here Alison and Grove pose with plenary speaker P.L. de Silva.

Grove Harris, PL de Silva, Alison van Dyk

TOU at the 2018 Parliament: Full Schedule of Events

Please join the Temple of Understanding at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions for programs featuring our staff and UN colleagues, as well as environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva.

 

Religion and the Work of the United Nations
Friday, Nov. 2, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 714A

The United Nations is made up of member states, agencies, civil society, and business partnerships. Religion is considered part of civil society. In this session, senior UN staff and longtime Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) representatives will discuss various aspects of how the world’s religions relate to the UN system. The topics will include religion and development, the sustainable development goals (SDGS), gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5), peace, climate change, the environment, migration, and more. To conclude, the participants will be left with ways to be involved and the tools of the UN to serve their local community.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Liberato C. Bautista, UN Representative, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
  • Bruce Knotts, Director, Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO)
  • Denise Scotto, Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence
(Temple of Understanding–India)
Friday, Nov. 2, 3:15-4:00pm, Room 605

Awareness of the richness and diversity of world cultures, faith communities, and religions is vital in the age of globalization. This project would help to forge strategies and lines of action to create better relationships between peoples; encourage understanding of how people appreciate the multiple identities akin to a garden with variety of flora and fauna, fragrances and hues. At the root is holistic, and all-encompassing detailed view of reality at every level of existence, from Individual to Family, Society, Nations and the Globe. Humans need to understand the intrinsic principle of harmony and appreciate the virtue of healthy co-existence in creation.

Speakers

  • A.K. Merchant, Executive Secretary, Temple of Understanding India Foundation; Trustee, Bahá’í Community of India and Lotus Temple in New Delhi
  • Vivasvat Chauhan, Dara Shikoh Centre for the Arts
  • Larkin Cleland, 2018 Summer Intern, Temple of Understanding
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith
Saturday, Nov. 3, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 718A

Women play vital roles in development and peacebuilding. As governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organizations commit to Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of engaging women is obvious. Yet despite intellectual and theoretical agreement, glass ceilings are not breaking quickly and completely enough – in particular in religious leadership. Faith activists, leaders and faith inspired organizations have irreplaceable roles to play in achieving the SDGs’ vision. And yet, when world religious bodies and multilateral organizations invite religious leadership, they include too few women. This panel convenes women leaders to consider honestly how, together, we can break that stained-glass ceiling.

Speakers

  • Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, President, Divine Shakti Foundation; Secretary-General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
  • Audrey E. Kitagawa, President, Light of Awareness International Spiritual Family; Founder, International Academy for Transcultural Cooperation
  • Sarah Snyder, Theologian, Cambridge Interfaith Programme; Director, Rose Castle International Centre for Reconciliation
  • Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum
  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

Women of Faith Speak Out:
Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 718A

Four visionaries share their understanding of a Moral Compass as a metaphor for structural change. Their passionate action to reset the compass means to center on compassion and interconnectedness. Each presenter will speak to diverse strategies for structural change: recognition of all religious actors, not just official leaders (Dr. Azza Karam), protecting the diversity of living resources (Dr. Vandana Shiva), peace through diplomacy and justice (Venerable Dr. Chung Ohun Lee), and advocacy for women’s human rights through the United Nations (Lopa Banerjee). Their work lays out a blueprint for a world beyond greed.

Speakers

  • Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chung Ohun Lee, Founder, World Friends for a New Civilization (WFNC); Executive Director, UN and Interfaith Affairs of Won Buddhism International
  • Lopa Banerjee, Director, Civil Society Division, UN Women
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Vandana Shiva and Friends on Earth Democracy
Sunday, Nov. 4, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

Earth Democracy is a call for people’s sovereignty over seeds, food, land, and water. Only by recognizing humanity’s relationship to, and its intimate place in, nature can there be a re-alignment of commerce to support life – human life and the life of the planetary ecosystem. Social justice and Earth justice are indivisible; there must be a shift away from cultures of domination and violence to cultures of justice, non-violence, and creative responses to the challenges faced by the global community. A new paradigm drawing on ancient traditional knowledge is required to get at the root causes of environmental degradation and address racism, sexism, colonialism, and genocide. The Earth Democracy movement provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, are connected to each other through love and compassion, rather than through hatred and violence, and ecological responsibility and economic justice replace greed, consumerism, and competition as objectives of human life.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Chris Peters, Grassroots Community Organizer; President and CEO, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples
  • Heather Eaton, Professor, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul University
  • Teresia M. Hinga, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University; Founding Member, Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change
Monday, Nov. 5, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 701A

This session features a short, powerful 10 minute film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice, that includes women’s voices from India, El Salvador, USA, the United Nations Environmental Program, and the UN Commission on Trade and Development. We will then hear from women visionaries and accomplished change agents including Dr. Vandana Shiva of Seed Freedom in India. These leaders foster women’s empowerment as an integral pathway towards rejuvenating our soil, our food, our air, our psyche and our communities. Each will reflect on how their faith sustains their social justice work.

Speakers

  • Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya
  • Alison Van Dyk, Executive Director, Temple of Understanding
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding (moderator)

Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present, and Future
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

This interactive panel will explore the interfaith and interreligious movement. The first part will be a discussion held from the lens of what has been accomplished and why it still remains on the fringes of most major religious traditions. What motivates people of faith to engage with religious others? Why has such engagement not become mainstream? The second part of the discussion will focus on how do we deepen the interfaith commitment of those already engaged in the interfaith circle and how do we expand the circle? And what does the future hold for the movement in terms of opportunities and tensions?

Speakers

  • Karen Hamilton, Faculty, Trinity College, The University of Toronto; Former General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
  • Jaideep Singh, Co-Founder, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding
  • Donna Bollinger, Executive Director, Religions for Peace–USA
  • Sari Heidenreich, Regional Coordinator, URI–North America
  • Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Founding Trustee, Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations; Special Advisor, Religions for Peace–USA

Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 6:00-7:00pm, Room 103A

The ten-minute film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty and Eco-Justice features women’s spirited calls to change our global direction. In this visually striking short film, women warn of the current realities and looming threats of food crisis, climate change, and corruption. Women’s leadership and ownership in local systems of food production are desperately needed-as is the collaboration of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. This leadership and ownership is what is meant by food sovereignty. This film features excerpts of speakers at the Temple of Understanding’s events at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Speakers

  • Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Temple of Understanding is thrilled to be presenting four programs, collaborating on another, and having our representative to the UN speak at still two more programs at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, November 1-7, 2018.

Our first program on Friday features our colleagues at the United Nations, for a more nuanced conversation following our introductory program last Parliament.

This will be the second Parliament where we have worked to bring Dr. Vandana Shiva, with her prophetic wisdom combining science and activism towards earth democracy. Theologian Carol Christ writes that Vandana Shiva “is telling women to confront ‘deceitful, dishonest, brutal power.’ She is telling women to teach those who rule the world how to live with nature, how to share, how to care.” (Read more: A Prophet in Our Midst: Vandana Shiva by Carol P. Christ) Women, as the majority of farmers in the world, need access to land ownership to protect localized agriculture from the devastating impacts of industrial agriculture.

Programs featuring Vandana Shiva and other stellar speakers include:

The TOU will also present:

Our UN Representative Grove Harris will speak during the following additional sessions: