A Parliament of Souls: In Search of Global Spirituality

A Parliament of Souls: In Search of Global Spirituality

edited by Michael Tobias, Jane Morrison, and Bettina Gray
KQED Books, 1995; paperback, 291 pages.

A Parliament of Souls proceeds on the presumption that with over 5,000 languages and dialects spoken in the world and nearly two hundred countries culturally intermingling in an unparalleled manner, the late twentieth century provides unprecedented opportunity for a human community that is strengthened with dialogue and tolerance. As a speculative hypothesis, this claim was tested in the historic forum provided three summers ago by the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago.

If the 1893 assembly held one hundred years earlier is recalled for initiating inter-religious dialogue and encouraging comparative studies of religion, the 1993 gathering is remembered for creating an international network connecting religious communities worldwide. Unlike the first parliament, the 1993 event was an assembly to which all the religions were invited and almost all participated.

Insightful and sometimes inspiring interviews with twenty-eight spiritual leaders are contained in this book, which was prepared as a companion volume to accompany the acclaimed public television series filmed during the 1993 Parliament. The book provides a spacious spectrum surveying contemporary religion, a virtual spiritual banquet with dishes served by Baha'i, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Jain , Jewish , Muslim, Native American, Sikh, Sufi, Taoist, and Zoroastrian adherents.

This commemorative book contains thoughtful presentations from H. H. the Dalai Lama, Harvard Prof. Diana L. Eck, University of Chicago Prof. Martin E. Marty, Notre Dame's Theodore Hesburgh, theologian Hans Kung, former UN Assistant Secretary General Robert Muller, Brother Wayne Teasdale, and Swami Chidananda.

Those represented in the book possess powerful hearts and analytical minds, which they apply to confront the countless crises and problems challenging contemporary societies. Among the perplexing problems raised are the possibility for a universal ethics code, the response required when hatred emanates from religious sources, ways to combat racial prejudice and ethnic bigotry, and the role of personal spirituality in daily life.

Shorn from the academia that dominates comparative religious study, the contributors illumine thoughts and feelings that might seem abstruse or esoteric. Unfortunately, most mass media coverage of the Parliament almost completely missed the wellsprings that flowed profusely during the event. Without contrivance, this aesthetically appealing anthology is pervaded with an intimate and experiential approach, expressing what Tobias describes as "a profound unity in pluralism." It illustrates that while religion sometimes earns an unfavorable reputation, still religious sources provide significant claim that must be addressed by every individual. It confirms the conclusion that the 1993 Parliament evoked, in Tobias' words, "an exhilarating experience to encounter deep feelings conveyed so intimately and shared among friends."


Autumn 1996