Salt Lake City first U.S. city to host Parliament of World Religions

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Mary Nelson, executive director of the Parliament of the World's Religions, right, speaks with Sande Hart, chair for the North America Region of the United Religions Initiative, center, and Arun Gandhi, fifth grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, left, after a press conference announcing Salt Lake City as host of the Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015 Global Interfaith Summit at Salt Palace Convention Center. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)
Mary Nelson, executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, right, speaks with Sande Hart, chair for the North America Region of the United Religions Initiative, center, and Arun Gandhi, fifth grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, left, after a press conference announcing Salt Lake City as host of the Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015 Global Interfaith Summit at Salt Palace Convention Center. (Michelle Tessier, Deseret News)

The Beehive State will welcome the world’s largest and most historic interfaith gathering to Salt Lake City in 2015.

This is the first time in 22 years the Parliament of the Word’s Religions has voted to hold its conference in the United States.

“America is the home base of the interfaith movement, and it’s about time the Parliament come back home,” Parliament Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid said in an announcement.

Reid Neilson, managing director of the LDS Church’s Historian Department, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Parliament. Neilson pointed out the significance of the Parliament’s choice of Salt Lake City, the global center for the Church.

“This says the Church is being taken seriously,” Neilson said. “We are a global face and should be included in any major global conversation.”

Salt Lake City will host religious and spiritual leaders from around the globe at the Salt Lake Palace Convention Center Oct. 15–19,  2015.

“The world is no stranger to Salt Lake, and we are no stranger to the world,” said Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Visit Salt Lake company. “Salt Lake has hosted various international gatherings, including the 2002 Olympic Games and Rotary International. We are excited to again welcome a national and international audience to experience what Salt Lake has to offer, both physically and spiritually.”

First held in Chicago in 1893, the Parliament has convened every five years in a major international city since 1993. Its mission is to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world through cultivating religious harmony and global engagement.

“Parliament of the World’s Religions is not about uniting to create one religion, but we strive for something that is more achievable, that is, harmony between people of different faiths,” Mujahid said. “The Parliament is the largest summit of interfaith activists around the globe which provides listening, learning and sharing opportunities.”

The 2009 Parliament, held in Melbourne, Australia, attracted more than 10,000 attendees. The Parliament expects similar numbers for the 2015 conference, with representatives from 80 different countries. Previous Parliament guests include the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The conference will engage international religious representatives as well as the local faiths in the Salt Lake Area, including those of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This is marked improvement from more than a century ago, when the Church was first allowed to represent itself at the 1893 Chicago World Fair but not at the Parliament’s Congress, held that same year.

“We feel that there is an extraordinary openness and desire on the part of the LDS Church to be a part of the multi-religious movement,” Mujahid said in a recent press conference. “We have been very thankful for their openness and hospitality.”

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, chair of the Board of the Parliament of the World's Religions, addresses audiences at a conference that announced Salt Lake City as home to the 2015 Global Intefaith Summit. The conference will be held in Oct. 2015. (Parliament of World's Religions)
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, chair of the Board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, addresses audiences at a conference that announced Salt Lake City as home to the 2015 Global Intefaith Summit. The conference will be held in Oct. 2015. (Parliament of World’s Religions)

It is not known who will represent the LDS Church at the 2015 conference. LDS area authorities and BYU professor Fred Woods attended the Parliament conference in 2009. Perhaps Church leaders will attend the conference alongside other prominent worldwide religious leaders.

Beck is excited for Salt Lake City’s opportunity to host this historic interfaith gathering and hopes all those who attend will come away with a greater appreciation for the city and its community.

“Having the honor to again host thousands of people from dozens of countries representing scores of religions offers us, Salt Lake and the state of Utah, a fantastic opportunity to display our truly welcoming community,” Beck said. “Those attending the Parliament, I believe, will come away from their time in Utah with an appreciation of Salt Lake as a globally aware and service-minded community.”

Mauro Properzi, assistant professor of religion and world religions professor at BYU, said it is a great honor for Utah to host the Parliament.

“The gospel teaches us to love and respect people from all nations and religious perspectives as our brothers and sisters,” Properzi said. “Mutual understanding facilitates this process of brotherly care and cooperation without obscuring the obvious doctrinal differences that are key to our distinctive religious identities. If the Parliament of the World’s Religions has these objectives, then it is an honor for Utah and Salt Lake City to be able to host it.”

Visit http://www.parliamentofreligions.org to register for the event. Student discounts are available.