Parliament of the World’s Religions: How religious identity is used and abused

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Religion helps manifest an individual’s innate underlying truth, but it can also serve as a roadblock to allowing the human race to uphold common identities. Respect for belief and bridging such divisions is one reason for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Anindita N. Balslev, Swami Yogatmananda, Rev. Janet M. Cooper Nelson and Rabbi Bob Carroll address questions from the audience at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. (Cassidy Hansen)

“We do have multiple social identities, such as national identity, gender identity, ethnic identity, and racial identity. All of these identities can coexist, even if divergent,” explained Anindita N. Balslev, during a panel discussion on Saturday.

Balslev conducts research in consciousness, cross cultural and interfaith studies, and is is the founder of Cross Cultural Conversation.

Swami Yogatmananda, a interfaith lecturer, explained that identity is unchanging in the midst of all things changing. He compared identity to a moving vehicle, explaining that while the views outside the window change as a person arrives travels to their destination, the vehicle remains constant.

Swami Yogatmananda discussed how each individual has an innate sense of truth that exists within as part of an unchanging identity. He said this intrinsic sense of truth is what people base their decisions on.

“Religious identity is one of the various social identities that undeniably contributes to the making of an embodied social being,” said Balslev.

While each journey is unique to each person, the final destination is marked by finding a unity with others that assimilates differences and is inclusive of all diversity, according to Swami Yogatmananda.

Rev. Janet M. Cooper Nelson talks with participants at the 2015 World Parliament of the World’s Religions. (Cassidy Hansen)

Rev. Janet M. Cooper Nelson, chaplain at Brown University, explained how she has witnessed such assimilation with the beginning of each new school year, when students ask one another, “where are you from?”

Nelson insists that the process of students discovering one another’s identities is a crucial process to forming an underlying unity. She also described how she has performed several interfaith marriage ceremonies, where spiritual traditions from both members of the couple were incorporated within the ceremony.

Rabbi Bob Carroll, director of the Interfaith Encounter Association in Jerusalem, discussed how religion helps cultivate unity and identity, but that it can also help create great danger.

“The fire of religious fervor can bring warmth, light and compassion; but it can also burn homes and houses of worship and even countries,” said Carroll. He explained that without respecting other faiths and religions, the worship of God is false and meaningless.

Speakers also addressed their optimism for the rising generation of youth and their quest for unity, hoping that they continue to develop a sense of community and acceptance.

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