The parliament and religious tolerance on Westminster's campus

The Westminster Parliament of the World’s Religions fellows hope to spread religious tolerance at Westminster.  Photos by Rachel Robertson

The Westminster Parliament of the World’s Religions fellows hope to spread religious tolerance at Westminster.  Photos by Rachel Robertson

From Chicago to Cape Town, to Barcelona to Melbourne and, finally, to Salt Lake City. The Parliament of the World's Religions was here Oct.15–19, and Westminster students took part.

The parliament started in 1893 in Chicago, and its next meeting took place in 1993. Since then, it’s taken place every five years. The purpose of the parliament is to gather people from all over the world to come together to work on social justice issues that affect people of all different religions.

“It creates a space where we can all work together,” said Jan Saeed, director of spiritual life at Westminster.

The parliament’s goal at this meeting was to “reclaim the heart of humanity.” To work toward this goal, there were three main focuses at the conference—ending war and hate crimes, disparity of wealth, and poverty and environmental issues.

The Westminster Parliament of the World’s Religions fellows meet with Jan Saeed before attending the parliament on Oct. 15.

The Westminster Parliament of the World’s Religions fellows meet with Jan Saeed before attending the parliament on Oct. 15.

Over 80 nations and 50 faiths took part in this year’s parliament. There were speakers and supporters from many different faiths. Though he couldn’t attend this parliament, the Dalai Lama has played a role in the parliament since 1993.

“He’s a foundational supporter of the parliament,” Saeed said.

Saeed worked for 11 years to bring the parliament to Salt Lake City. She helped get an Olympic version of the book “A World of Faith” published alongside Peggy Fletcher Stack. The book included the Golden Rule of many of the religions included in the back and the Olympic Rings on the cover. Saeed also became the chairperson of the interfaith round table for the 2002 Olympics and attended the 2004 parliament in Barcelona.

“[Because of] Salt Lake’s interfaith movement, the parliament decided to [come] here,” Saeed said.

Over 40 members of the Westminster community took part during the event—26 of which were students, also known as fellows.

Saeed said she was very excited about the diversity among the fellows, many of which were international students.

Westminster students represented many different countries and religions. Fellows were Buddhist, Christian, Baha’i, Humanist and Agnostic. They come from Europe, the Middle East and the U.S.

Gulsum Bayazitova, junior environmental studies major, fellow and performer at the parliament, looked forward to meeting inspirational people and attending the workshops.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Bayazitova said. “Students have a really unique opportunity.”

The event consisted of 400 workshops, Faith Spaces (places of worship), a food court and booths to learn and buy goods.

“Westminster College has a chance to take advantage of this event, to educate and talk more about religious tolerance,” Bayazitova said.

Saeed, director of spiritual life, said she hopes that the parliament is just a stepping stone in building a more religiously-aware community on Westminster’s campus. One of the tasks she’s working on is having a center for global prosperity and international service (GPIS).

Jan Saaed talks about “A World of Faith," the book that helped start her passion in bringing the Parliament of World Religions to Salt Lake City.

Jan Saaed talks about “A World of Faith," the book that helped start her passion in bringing the Parliament of World Religions to Salt Lake City.

“I think our school is almost religiously indifferent,” Saeed said.

She recounted a couple events in which students have told her that religious tolerance on this campus doesn’t spread to all religions.

“Students of the LDS and Jewish faith have said they don’t feel like their faith is accepted on this campus,” Saeed said.

Michael Louder, senior math major and president of the LDS Student Association at Westminster, said he thinks the culture can sometimes get confused with the religion.

“People can have their guard up, and the liberal nature of the school doesn’t make some [LDS students] feel comfortable,” Louder said.

Saeed, director or spiritual life, said she hopes to increase a greater level of respect on Westminster’s campus.

“The basic spirit of the campus is one of wanting openness and critical thinking,” Saeed said. “When people think about critical thinking, they become critical instead of using the power to discern understanding.”