Others With Vision and Purpose

Shem Center Gingko Tree

As the oldest surviving species of tree known to exist, the Ginkgo tree has become a symbol of strength, hope and peace. Shem Center supports other organizations whose work, like the Ginkgo tree, symbolizes and embodies strength, hope and peace in our world.

Parliament of the World’s Religions, 1893

This historic event convened again in Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004), Melbourne (2009), Salt Lake City (2015), Toronto (2018) and virtually (2021). These Parliament convenings are the world’s oldest, largest, and most inclusive gatherings of the global interfaith movement. Nearly 60,000 people across the world have gathered in an enduring commitment to justice, peace, and sustainability through the lens of interfaith dialogue and cooperation. 

Convened at the building now occupied by the Art Institute of Chicago, Gonzales Hall, 1893.


“The solemn charge which the Parliament preaches to all true believers is a return to the primitive unity of the world…The results may be far off, but they are certain.” 

-John Henry Barrows, 1893

In 1893, the world turned its attention to Chicago when the city hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition. During the Exposition, congresses were held in the areas of government, jurisprudence, finance, science, literature, and religion “to bring about a real fraternity of nations and unite the enlightened people of the whole earth in a general cooperation for the attainment of the great ends for which humanity is organized.”

The Parliament was the first formal public meeting of representatives of the major religions in the history of the world. It has been called a watershed event in American history. It saw the assertion of Catholicism and Judaism as mainstream American religions, and it recognized both African Americans and women as religious leaders. An unprecedented number of 19 women spoke at this Parliament from various spiritual backgrounds. It marked the beginning of interfaith dialogue in the modern world.

Non-Western religions also have recognized its importance. Several, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, trace their beginnings in the West to their participation in the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions. A captivating Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, addressed 5,000 assembled delegates, greeting them with the words, “Sisters and brothers of America!” His declaration introduced Hinduism to America. Buddhist, Jain, and Muslim speakers were also present at the gathering.

As one contemporary described the event, “It was, perhaps, the most important religious gathering which has ever assembled.” According to another,  the Parliament marked, “a new era in the evolution of religious life for the world.”

The first Parliament left Chicago with both a legacy of interfaith dialogue and an unfinished agenda for greater cooperation and understanding which lies at the heart of the mission of our organization.

Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality
708 North Harvey Avenue
Oak Park, IL 60302

(708) 848-1095

Photo Credits: Emory Mead, Stephen B. Starr, Joseph Kilikevice

The Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality website is awarded a 2022 American Digital Design Award for excellence in design and user experience.

2022 American Digital Design Awards