It is fairly easy to get lost at McCormick Place. After all, the convention center - located on the south loop of Chicago, IL - is the largest in the United States. Meanderingly large, cavernous in design, and inclusive of at least four separate buildings all connected via skyway, the enormity of McCormick’s Place seemed fitting for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, where the Ansari Institute held a prominent role this past week.
With a mission of creating and cultivating “harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities” and fostering engagement to “to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world” the Parliament’s mission is both ambitious and sweeping. It would seem to require an enormous space especially because the Parliament specifically invites, “individuals and communities who are equally invested in attaining this goal.” That’s a lot of people with a lot of diverse religious traditions.
For members of the Ansari delegation, it was immediately apparent that we were surrounded by kindred spirits: individuals committed to recognizing the dignity and spiritual practices of each person while still wholly embracing our own unique identity. “A Catholic, a Muslim, and Bahai walk into a room…” Not a joke at the Parliament, rather this was a common site. Along with Jews, Hindus, Pagans and more. The Opening plenary included large delegations of Buddhists in their orange robes, Sikhs in their turbans, and even Chinese dragons. All of the participants were offered a warm welcome from a representative of the Potawatomi peoples on whose land the Parliament was held. It was clear from the start that each and every person who was fortunate to attend the Parliament was also committed to its mission.
Towards a Global Ethic Assembly
The Ansari Institute’s prominent placement at the Parliament - including in a large banner over the hallway through which most people entered - was in large part due to its sponsorship of the Global Ethic Assembly that occurred as part of the first three days of the Parliament. Ethics, after all, is something the University of Notre Dame leads the way in thus the Ansari Institute’s sponsorship was wholly appropriate.
As part of the Global Ethic Assembly, Ansari Institute Executive Director, Mahan Mirza, offered initial insights on day one saying that at the Ansari Institute we refer to a cohesive and fully embodied ethic as “the world as it should be” offering “training, implementing transformative educational programs, and generating ideas on how religion can continue to serve as a force for good in the world.”
Then throughout the course of the week Ansari affiliate faculty members Margaret Gower, Chad Meister, and Robert Stockman - along with Professor Mirza - contributed to panels on the Global Ethics Irrevocable Directives which include:
Commitment to a Culture of Solidarity and a Just Economic Order
Commitment to a Culture of Tolerance and a Life of Truthfulness
Commitment to a Culture of Sustainability and Care for the earth
Nasr Book Prize and the General Service Award with Religions for Peace
In addition to the prominent contribution to the dialogue around the Global Ethic, the Ansari Institute co-sponsored a panel on day four of the Parliament with its longtime collaborator Religions for Peace. The panel was titled The Pen and the Sword and included both the bestowing of awards as well as a compelling and dynamic discussion around Ethics in Action for Sustainable Development..
In the first part, author Anthony Annett, accepted the Nasr Book Prize via a brief video speech for his thought-provoking and challenging book Cathonomics. This video was followed by professor emeritus Anantanand Rambachan who offered insightful remarks on both Cathonomics as well as the related tome Ethics in Action, to which he had personally contributed. During his remarks, Professor Rambachan called upon economists - and particularly economics departments forming future economists - to include ethics as an intrinsic part of the educational system.
Following these challenging comments, Mahan Mirza then facilitated a dynamic conversation between Professor Rambachan as well as the two other distinguished guests: William Vendley, emeritus secretary general of Religions for Peace as well as Azza Karam, former secretary general of that same distinguished international organization and member of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism. The three participants offered helpful and bold commentary related to just economic order and the global ethic.
To conclude The Pen and the Sword, Religions for Peace International Youth Committee representative Lyka Mtambo introduced Rabbi David Rosen, Co-President of Religions for Peace. Rabbi Rosen then had the honor of presenting the Religions for Peace’s Lifetime Service Award. This year the award for general service was given to Ravinder Kaur Nijjar. Ms. Kaur Nijjar is the Chair of Religions for Peace UK Women of Faith Network, Sikh Representative on the Scottish Religious Leaders Forum, Vice-Chair, Religions for Peace UK. For over thirty years she initiated many projects to promote interfaith dialogue, respect, and peace between communities nationally and internationally.
Over the course of the weeklong Parliament, the Ansari Institute was honored to have had a booth adjacent to the Hartford International University for Religion and Peace as well as the aforementioned Religions for Peace so it was especially difficult to say goodbye after a great week of fellowship. At that booth we had enjoyed visits from many people including Farah Siddiqui, Religious Diversity leader for Google, Antje Jackelén, recently retired Bishop of the Church of Sweden, and Daisy Khan, executive director of the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality.
The final day of the Parliament was filled with warm well wishes and promises to stay connected after a week's time together with delegates from all different organizations representing all different spiritual commitments from across the globe. The shared experience of having come and been present at the life shaping Parliament was enough to create a seeming solidarity amongst participants. In fact, one Ansari delegate even promised to make a special delivery from Malawi to a small town in Northern Indiana once she returned home. Most members of the Ansari delegation attended the final langar (read more about that on our blog) and Professor Mirza also attended the closing ceremony.
The Parliament seeks to create and cultivate harmony and - as Pope Francis states - this is best achieved through encounter. “The culture of encounter is built in the search for harmony among diversity, a harmony that requires acceptance, openness and creativity.” What a fitting way to bring together the vastness of our difference under the unifying force of encounter at the Parliament.