Towards a Global Congress of World Religions 1979 - Edited by Warren Lewis
With this small volume, we continue the history and add to the documentation of an international, inter-religious movement, Towards a Global Congress of World Religions1.
The proposal to convene a Global Congress was announced by the Unification Theological Seminary at a conference held just following the sixth annual International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS) in San Francisco, 1977. The history of this interest in a Global Congress is briefly sketched in the introductory remarks to the proceedings of that first Conference, published in 1978, which include as well proceedings of conferences concerning African autochthonous religions held in Barrytown, New York, and Bristol, England. The present volume presents the proceedings of the second Conference, held in Boston, 1978. The third annual Conference is to be held in Los Angeles, in 1979; and the fourth and possibly the last is already being planned to follow the ninth ICUS, scheduled for Seoul, Korea, 1980. It will be the last, for, we hope, the Global Congress itself shall, by that time, have become a reality.
The Boston Conference was held on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning following Thanksgiving, 1978, after the close of the seventh ICUS. Approximately one hundred fifty persons attended the first session, and approximately eighty-five stayed on for the second. The first two speakers, Francis Botchway of Ghana and the University of Cincinnati and Ali Mazrui of Kenya and the University of Michigan, continued a previous interest of the Conference in Africa and African religions.
Mazrui, in a swift and pointed overview of Islamic cultural impact, enlarged the perceptions of the audience regarding the mutual influence of African autochthonous religions, sub-Saharan indigenized Islam and Christianity. He suggested the arresting idea of Africa as the religious common ground between East and West, and thus re-confirmed the sense of religious Africa as an equal and potent partner among the world's faiths.
Botchway reported the progress of his efforts to establish an African Institute for the Study of Humanistic Values. His co-visionary in this dream, who was also present, is Kwame Gyekye, of the University of Ghana. Were an Institute of this nature to be founded, it could, in addition to serving its own primary intentions, provide the focus and platform in Africa for Global Congress-related activities.
The Monday session was devoted to discussion of the history of inter-religious activity in general and Gandhi's contribution in particular. Marcus Braybrooke, Rector of Swainswick, chief administrator of the English World Congress of Faiths, and editor of its journal, World Faiths, discussed the less than one-hundred-year old attempt to foster interfaith dialogue and cooperation among the world's religions. Drawing on his own, unique history of interfaith dialogue2, he selected two outstanding examples: the World Congress of Faiths, founded by Sir Francis Younghusband in 1936, and the World Conference for Religion and Peace, headed by Dr. Homer Jack at the United Nations. Braybrooke soberly described this history, fraught with as much failure as crowned with success, and hopeful, nevertheless, suggested ways to go in the future in the founding of the Global Congress.
K.L. Seshagiri Rao, of India and the University of Virginia, editor of Insight, a journal published by the Temple of Understanding, discussed Mahatma Gandhi's contribution to inter-religious toleration and his religious vision and practice of non-violence. Rao showed how political impact and social relevance were immediately forthcoming from Gandhi's religious perspective. Gandhi pursued his religious vision with singleness of heart, never allowing it to become a tool of political activism.
During the discussion periods, the Conference audience were the main speakers. They affirmed again and again approval of the idea of a Global Congress, providing it could be designed as an effective means of further hominization of the world and not "just another conference." Their concern was evident for bringing the resource of the religions in Congress to bear on illuminating and resolving pervasive human problems. One nuclear physicist kept telling us to look above, to the Holy Spirit, for leading.
A number of issues for further consideration were raised. Among these, Seshagiri Rao suggested, and it was generally agreed, that the name of our undertaking should be slightly modified. Instead of Global Congress of "World Religions," he proposed that we say "of the World's Religions." A decision on this proposed amendment will probably be made by the Committee for the Global Congress when it meets for the first time during the Los Angeles Conference.
The other most significant issue explored in Boston is the formation and function of this planning group, the international, inter-religious Committee for the Global Congress, which has now been gathered to take the responsibility for organizing and hosting the next concrete steps towards establishing the Global Congress. The names of the Committee members are to be announced at the Los Angeles Conference. The Committee comprises individuals noted for their active part in inter-religious dialogue and collaboration.
In response to a concern of the Conference, persons of acknowledged individuality have been sought in order to insure a posture of independence for the Committee and the Global Congress. Final decisions regarding preliminary policy and the agenda of the first Global Congress lie solely with the Committee for the Global Congress, and not with any supporter of the Global Congress, whether the Unification Theological Seminary or any other. Marcus Braybrooke's discussion of the history of interfaith activity made clear the necessity of the widest possible base of sponsorship and greatest plurality of leadership, keeping the Global Congress free from the slightest hint of partisan influence. In complete agreement with this development, the Unification Theological Seminary has freely relinquished any institutional claims it might have had to control of plans either for the "Conference of the Groups" or the Global Congress itself. The Seminary reaffirms its support of the Committee for a Global Congress, invites others to share in this support, and is prepared to cooperate fully in the direction taken by the Committee.
Plans are now growing for a Conference of the dozens of common-interest organizations around the world involved in inter-religious dialogue and cooperation. Invitation to the Conference of the Groups will be extended by the Committee for the Global Congress to dialogue groups, academic societies, peace organizations, health and food groups, and any others whose activities relate to the wholeness of the human family somehow on the base of the world's many faiths. The purpose of the Conference of the Groups is to afford the many similar bodies an opportunity to communicate directly with one another concerning their work, their ideologies, and their history, as well as to allow them to explore the possibility of closer and greater collaboration. The Committee for a Global Congress expects to be able to announce the first convocation of the Global Congress on this broader foundation of the original bodies of inter-religious action worldwide. The Conference of Groups will most likely take place in 1980.
We, the faculty of Unification Theological Seminary, who are responsible for the publication of these Conference proceedings, invite you as a reader of this book to correspond with us and with the Committee for a Global Congress concerning the proposal discussed within these pages. We dedicate these published proceedings to Judith Hollister and her many colleagues at the Temple of Understanding.
for the Faculty
Unification Theological Seminary
Barrytown, New York
1 See Towards a Global Congress of World Religions, ed. Warren Lewis, Barrytown, N. Y.: Distributed by the Rose of Sharon Press, 1978, pp. vii-viii.
2 Marcus Braybrooke, Interfaith Organizations: A Selective Review of Their Aims, History and Achievements from 1893 to 1976. Toronto and New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1979.