For a week (Dec. 3rd – 9th) in 2009, Melbourne was awash with religious diversity when an estimated 5,000 people from around the world plus thousands from interstate descended on Melbourne to attend the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions, the world’s most important interfaith gathering. Officers and volunteers from Religions for Peace (Australia) participated and facilitated this event and engaged in a leading role in winning this event for Melbourne.
Following expressions of interest by 20 other global cities, Melbourne – with its 238-page bid document – won the right to host the event over Delhi and Singapore because of our cultural and religious diversity, our management of inter-religious and multicultural harmony, the focus on our indigenous spiritualities, the presence of our large Holocaust community, and our changing demographic profile with Chinese replacing Italian as Australia’s second language.
While it is true that Australia has become more secularised in the past two decades with the decline of mainstream Christianity, paradoxically over the past decade Australia has become more religious. But religious in a different way with the rise of the non-Christian faith communities and the other private spiritualities usually focussed on the environment and its beauty.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is not only the world’s largest interfaith gathering, it is also the most diverse. Any and all religious groups are invited and welcome. The Parliament of the World’s Religions aim is to enable the myriad of religious and spiritual groups to inform each other about themselves, to work together on projects if they choose and to tell the world about their approach to the mysteries of life or to global issues.
The Parliament is not a religious event in the strict sense. It is an interreligious event designed to bring about peace and harmony between the world’s different faiths and cultures; it is designed to encourage the creation of social wealth for a nation; it is designed to ensure that faith communities respect each other. Its focus is not on divine salvation but on social cohesion and global peace.
One of the reasons Melbourne has been selected was its religious diversity. Melbourne manages that diversity well. The Chicago team that assessed Melbourne’s bid to hold the Parliament was very impressed that on short notice a large lecture theatre holding nearly 500 people could be filled with such a range of people representing many of Melbourne’s religions and spiritualities. What was even more impressive was the apparent respect with which each group regarded the others and the concerns expressed that PWR2009 be an event to showcase how we do this and to entrench positive multi-faith relations in Australia and beyond.
2009 Melbourne Parliament Logo and literature © Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions; Images courtesy Parliament Photographer Ray Messner, Flickr