The Words of the Watson Family

Council for the World's Religion Second Interfaith Conference

Justin Watson
August 20-24, 1987
Harrison Hot Springs, Vancouver, Canada

Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios gives his plenary address.

This August, 98 religious leaders and scholars gathered at a beautiful lakeside resort near Vancouver, Canada, for a conference sponsored by the Council for the World's Religions (CWR), its second conference on the challenges faced by the worldwide interfaith movement. (The first such conference was held in August 1986 in Bad Nauheim, West Germany.)

The CWR, a project of the International Religious Foundation (IRF), was created by Father at the 1984 God Conference to foster harmony and mutual respect among the religions and religious believers of the world. For 1987, its third year of operation, the CWR scheduled five conferences devoted to intra-religious dialogue in such diverse locations as Sri Lanka (Buddhism), West Germany (Christianity), Nairobi (traditional African religions), upstate New York (Judaism), and Casablanca, Morocco (Islam). So far, each has been attended by 20-30 distinguished scholars and religious leaders, who discussed the causes of and practical solutions to divisions within their own communities of faith.

The Role of Ritual

A sixth and larger conference, held in Harrison Hot Springs, Vancouver, brought together religious leaders, scholars, and members of worldwide interfaith organizations to discuss the topic "Ritual, Symbol, and Participation in the Quest for Interfaith Cooperation" Traditionally, interfaith dialogue has centered on the discussion of doctrines, beliefs, and ideas. But these aspects of religious traditions do not capture some of the most profound and crucial aspects of religious experience. This conference explored the ritualistic and symbolic dimensions of particular traditions and the issue of participation across traditions. Can we find ways of taking part in the rituals, prayers, meditations, dances, and gestures of other religions with integrity? Or is such participation impossible? The CWR Harrison conference was an attempt to bring interfaith discussion and encounter to an exciting new level -- beyond mere intellect and into the realm of shared experience.

These questions were explored in a variety of ways. First, each participant was asked to prepare a written contribution on one of four topics:

1. Ritual and Symbol: Their Roles in My Tradition

2. Interfaith Rituals, Symbols, and Experience: Working Reports on their Promise and Problems

3. Theological Explorations of Participating in One Another's Rituals

4. Boundaries of Community and Communion: What Is at Stake?

Eight small groups of 10-15 people discussed these papers and provided the primary framework for dialogue and encounter.

Plenary addresses were given by representatives of the world's major religions, each of whom explored the conference theme from the standpoint of his own tradition. Plenary speakers included: Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios, archbishop of the Orthodox Church of India and a president of the World Council of Churches; Professor K. B. Ramakrishna Rao, a scholar of Hindu philosophy; Dr. Dawud Noibi, a Nigerian Muslim scholar; Dr. Wande Abimbola, a practitioner of a traditional African religion and vice-chancellor of a major Nigerian university; Dr. Avtar Singh, head of the philosophy department of Punjabi University, Punjab, India, who read a special prayer for world peace composed by Sant Giani Naranjan Singh, the most eminent living Sikh guru, who also attended; and Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, chairman and president of IRF.

Other important religious leaders in attendance included: Retired Catholic Bishop Ratna Bamrungtrakul from Chiang Mai, Thailand; Dr. Raymond J. Hammer, secretary to the Patriarch of the Anglican Church, London; Dr. Doboom Tulku, assistant to the Dalai Lama, New Delhi, India; Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman, president and founder of The New Seminary, New York; Shrivatsa Goswami, the leader of one of the main denominations of Hinduism in India; and Dr. Hu-Hsiang Fung, a Confucian scholar from Taiwan. 

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