From November 1-7, 2018, more than 8,000 people will converge on the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to participate in one of the largest gatherings of people learning about humanity’s religious and spiritual inheritance.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions began in 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as an effort to promote an emerging international movement devoted to promoting dialogue among religions. Since that time, it has been held in Chicago, Cape Town, Barcelona, Melbourne, Salt Lake City, and this year in Toronto.
For Baha’is, the inaugural Parliament in 1893 holds a special significance as the first public mention of the Baha’i Faith in North America. Rev. Henry Jessup’s paper on “The Religious Mission of the English-Speaking Nations” included as his closing remarks the words of Baha’u’llah as they were recorded by Prof. Edward Granville Brown:
That all nations should become one in faith, and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should, and differences of race, be annulled; what harm is there in this? Yet so it shall be. These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the "most great peace" shall come. Do not you in Europe need this also? Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this that he loves his kind.
Motivated by this vision of promoting greater religious harmony, many Baha’is have sought out ways in which to serve the goals of the Parliament. Charles Hill, a Baha’i from Richmond Hill, has been serving on the Board of Directors for the Toronto organizing committee of the Parliament. He said, “The Parliament is bringing people together from all walks of life with the goal of helping them to understand each other, and to discover new insights about how Faith can bring peace to the world. I am excited to help this happen in Toronto.”
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada is one of the sponsors of the Parliament, alongside dozens of other religious communities. Its contribution has focused on supporting the inclusion of Indigenous peoples and content in the Parliament. The Baha’i community has also assisted with the planning for the Parliament by hosting the international Board of Trustees during its meeting in Toronto.
“Canada is in many ways a natural place for the gathering to take place, as a country that has a long history of safeguarding and promoting religious toleration and coexistence,” said Dr. Geoffrey Cameron, Director of Public Affairs for Baha’i Community of Canada. “As Baha’is, we are eager to lend our support to this effort to advance a movement that is focused on the role of religion in building a more just and peaceful world.”
The program for the Parliament has recently been published on its website. It includes dozens of prominent keynote speakers, including Canadians Margaret Atwood, Dr. John Ralston Saul, Hon. Irwin Cotler, Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell and Dr. James Orbinski. Other keynote speakers at the event are Bani Dugal (Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community at the United Nations), Hugh Locke (President, Smallholder Farmers Alliance), and Dr. Payam Akhavan (Associate Professor of International Law, McGill University).
Around 30 breakout presentations at the Parliament will draw insights from the Baha’i teachings to illuminate a range of topics, including: the moral empowerment of youth from diverse backgrounds, the role of justice and unity in dismantling racism, raising children, environmental preservation, the equality of women and men, and religion, citizenship and belonging.
Registration for the Parliament is open, with special discounts for volunteers.