On September 15th the 3rd Global Conference on World’s Religions After September 11th was held at the Palais de Congres in Montreal. Among the distinguished speakers attending the gathering included Karen Armstrong, Gregory Baum, Deepak Chopra, Harvey Cox, Susannah Herschel, Manjit Singh, Amir Hussain, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The first such conference took place in 2006 and followed by another event in 2011.The theme of this year’s conference was “From Faith to Interfaith” with an emphasis on the worldwide problem of extremism and religious fanaticism. The goal of the conference was the adoption of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the world’s religions.
During a press conference to kick off the event keynote speaker Karen Armstrong, an author and religious historian, addressed the problem of radicalization at home and the rise of the politics of division personified by US presidential candidate Donald Trump. She went on to compare the jubilation heard around the world in 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down with the present day political atmosphere in which Trump’s supporters are applauding the creation of a new wall, this time separating the US and Mexico. Armstrong also pointed out the problems associated with nationalism and the fact that since the Brexit vote hate crime in London, England has risen an astonishing 500%.
Well known author Deepak Chopra urged all of us to use emotional and social intelligence, adding that, “It’s useless to engage in ideological debate.” Dartmouth College Professor of Jewish Studies Susannah Herschel commented on this time in history by saying that “we live in an era of rage.” She also touched on issues such as the contemptuous divisions not only between various religious traditions but also in relation to the interior fracturing taking place within faiths such as Judaism. She stressed that modern religion required a balance between theology and law.
McGill University’s Sikh chaplain, Manjit Singh referred to religious extremism in terms of being a behavioral problem driven by ego, greed, and the desire to control. Renown spiritual teacher and humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar addressed the need for the world’s religious leaders to endorse diversity and highlight inner peace. He advocated for an increase in interfaith festivals as opposed to the current atmosphere which promotes cultural isolation. Shankar also stressed the importance of providing children around the world with a multi religious education.
The Third Global Conference on World’s Religions After September 11th also featured meditation sessions as well as the The Reflective Mantra Series art exhibit featuring the intricate work of Juss Kaur. The artist skillfully combines oil pastel painting and calligraphy to create a unique and meaningful work of art. A variety of book signings also took place featuring such best selling authors as Harvey Cox and Deepak Chopra.
The conference, which was hosted by Patrice Brodeur got underway with remarks by McGill professor Arvind Sharma as well as a video address from human rights activist, lawyer, and founder of Iran’s Defenders of Human Rights Center Shirin Ebadi. Deepak Chopra’s presentation centered on science and concepts such as dark matter and the “hard problem of consciousness”. Whereas Harvard Divinity School Professor of Divinity Harvey Cox stressed the religion of the market and the role of consumerism in modern society.
The conference also included a thought provoking panel discussion on the cause and cure for fanaticism as well as the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the world’s religions, and a closing concert.
In a time when radical ideology and violence have all too often taken center stage The Third Global Conference on World’s Religions After September 11th serves as powerful proof that it’s possible for people of all faiths to come together in the spirit of peace, respect, and cooperation to reach a consensus on the importance of human rights throughout the world.