At the first Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893, Indian spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda thrilled the diverse crowd of observers with a call for global unity and the recognition of the oneness of religion. More than 100 years later, that spirit is still at the center of present-day interfaith gatherings.
Although smaller in scale than the 1893 event, the Parliament-inspired World Congress of Religions, held this past weekend in Washington, D.C., sought to similarly strengthen the bridge between the East and the West, and in particular honor the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda. The Congress featured topics ranging from world peace to the advancement of women. Keynote speakers included former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Martin Luther King III, and the newly elected House Representative from Hawaii (and first practicing Hindu in Congress) Tulsi Gabbard.
Given the focus on Swami Vivekananda and the fact that the event organizers were mainly associated with the Kali Temple in surburan Maryland, attendance at the Congress heavily favored Hindus and/or Indians. However, there was still a strong presence from Bahá'ís, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, as well as individuals who claimed multiple faith traditions or simply accepted all as one without identifying themselves with any labels.
Inspired by the gorgeous portrait series by Muslim photographer Ridwan Adhami from the most recent ISNA Conference, I set out to capture pictures of some of the diverse and colorful characters who attended this inaugural World Congress of Religions. Many thanks to the organizers and participants who gave me such heartfelt support and encouragement.
Dr. Pradip K. Ghosh, Chairman of the World Congress of Religions, whose vision it was to convene the event.
Jay Kansara, Associate Director of the Hindu American Foundation.
Zamin Danty. Asked about his religious affiliation: "I am new wine that couldn't fit into an old bottle."
Dr. Ved Nanda, Law Professor at the University of Denver, where he taught Dr. Condoleezza Rice. "She always kept in touch. Even after she became Secretary of State."
Swami Gurucharanananda of the Satchidananda Ashram (also known as Yogaville).
Ven. J. Fritz Bazin of the Episcopal Diocese of Miami. Describing his role as Archdeacon: "I'm a shock absorber for the Bishop."
Sudheer Shukla of the Vedanta Center of Greater Washington, D.C., an organization that has its roots in Swami Vivekananda's visit to the USA in the 1890s.
Dr. D. Doreion Colter of the Interfaith Fairness Coalition of Maryland. Asked about his religious affiliation: "I am a good follower of the historic Jesus who became the Christ of faith."
Rev. Anthony Farmer of the Visions of the Heart Spiritual Life Center in Takoma Park, Md.
Dr. Rajwant Singh of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education.
Jacqueline F. Fuller, producer of TV program Interfaith Connections.
Samira Daniels, Media Director for the 9/11 Unity Walk.
Daniel Epstein. Asked about his religious affiliation: "I need God and I'll take her anyway I find her."
Dr. Iva E. Carruthers, Secretary General of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, a national interdenominational organization within the African American faith tradition focused on social justice issues.
Sapna Gopalasubramanian of the Moksha dance group at the University of Maryland College Park.
Dr. Sakena Yacoobi of the Aghan Institute of Learning, which provides education for Afghan women.
Sister Jenna of the Brahma Kumaris spiritual community.
Shruti Rastogi, World Congress of Religions volunteer.
Brahmachari Mural Bhai, of the Indian social service organization Dakshineswar Ramakrishna Sangha Adyapeath.
Zhenjie Yu, who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese government for practicing Falun Gong.
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