The seven-day event is expected to draw more than 10,000 people, and offer more than 500 programs, workshops, and dialogues. In addition to this, there will be exhibitions of dance, photography, music, art, and various related events presented by representatives of religious communities and cultural institutions from around the world.Toronto is the largest city in Canada, and the seventh largest in North America. It was recognized by the United Nations as the most diverse city in the world with more than 140 different languages and dialects being spoken by its inhabitants. It is also known as a city of immigrants with half of the population being born outside of Canada.
In a statement to the press, professor Mark Toulouse, co-chair of the host committee, declared, “As one of the most international, multicultural, and religiously pluralistic cities in the world, Toronto provides a perfect venue for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.”
The lone Pagan representative on the Parliament’s board of trustees is Andras Corban-Arthen. Based out of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, he also serves as chair of the site selection committee. Additionally, he is spiritual director of the EarthSpirit Community, and president and international interfaith liaison of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions.
In an interview with The Wild Hunt, he said, “Toronto has become a model for how cities can successfully address the tensions and problems that can arise from having large immigrant populations. It seems only fitting, then, that the most diverse interfaith gathering in the world should come to the most diverse city.”
The Parliament began in 1893, at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was brought back to life in 1993, once again in Chicago. Since then it has been held in 1999 in Cape Town, South Africa, 2004 in Barcelona, Spain, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia, and most recently in 2015 in Salt Lake City, United States. Toronto 2018 will be the seventh parliament, and is anticipated to become the largest to date.
The mission statement of the parliament is to “cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”
The topics that will be discussed cover many that are hot in Pagan communities right now, as Corban-Arthen describes: “climate change, economic justice, human and environmental rights, religiously motivated violence, the survival of indigenous traditions, equality for women, the elimination of racism, upholding the rights of LGBTQ people, promoting the leadership and involvement of the younger generations, etc. – will continue to play a central role in our programs.”
It is too early to say who the guest speakers for 2018 will be, but past years have featured such luminaries as Dr. Jane Goodall, President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Chief Arvol Looking Horse. Periodic announcements will be made over the coming months as special guests for 2018 are confirmed.
The 1993 Parliament in Chicago was the first major interfaith event to include a substantial number of Pagan programs, and as Corban-Arthen recalls, it introduced Paganism to the world interfaith community. Many of the presentations were standing-room only, and some were repeated in order to fulfill the demand.
“We showed people of other religions various facets of who we are – they took it all in, and left with a new understanding of Paganism that countered whatever stereotypes they had previously held,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2018, there will be a full week of programming to fill, providing Pagans and Heathens with many opportunities to participate. The number of programs allotted to any religious grouping is determined by how many representatives from that group register to attend. If Pagans and Heathens want to be represented on the program, registering and showing up will be key.
As Corban–Arthen sees it, there are two main reasons to attend, to teach and to learn.
“Most of the people who attend the parliament are not just individuals, they are also members of many religious, spiritual, and cultural networks. As we have continued to share our practices and beliefs with them, the image of paganism has changed around the world. The interfaith movement is one of our biggest and most effective allies.”
As for learning, Corban-Arthen points out, “Pagans are not immune from harboring prejudices, and the Parliament provides a place where we can challenge some of our own misconceptions.
“And we can learn how other religions manage internal conflicts, for instance, or how they develop community, or find ways to create infrastructures that help to insure continuity and permanence.”Response from the local Pagan communities in Toronto has been enthusiastic so far. Ross Carter, a Wiccan chaplain who serves within the prison system in Ontario, was excited to hear Tuesday’s announcement.
“I am looking forward to this and I trust that the Toronto Pagan community will be involved in some fashion. I work with chaplains of many faiths and will do my part to raise awareness of this event among my colleagues. I would encourage people of all of our pagan communities to be involved in this.”
Also enthusiastic to learn about the coming of the parliament to Toronto is local Pagan storyteller and professional spiritual care specialist Brian Walsh.
“I’ve just met with one of the Parliament’s organizers, and I think this will be an opportunity to discover commonalities amidst religious diversity. It’s also a unique stage on which to highlight Paganism’s unique contribution to how humanity understands the world and its problems.”
Registration to attend the event is already open for the general public, and program proposal information will be announced in the near future.
For Pagans looking to discuss the gathering, and network, a Facebook group called “Pagans at the Toronto Parliament of the World’s Religions” has already been set up for registered attendees.