"Talking Dialogue": Exploring The History Behind The 1993 Parliament of The World’s Religions

1 December 2014

© Maryam (back right) and Janna Ditz working in the archive of DePaul University.

Janna Ditz is a German student from the University of Hamburg’s “Religions, Dialogue and Education” masters programme who, as part of KAICIID’s “Talking Dialogue” project, has been conducting archival work in Chicago, USA. Her research for the Talking Dialogue project was focused on the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, which gathered over 8000 religious leaders from all over the world in Chicago for 10 days of discussion on interreligious dialogue, the state of the environment, and how to approach religion in education. A book written for the Parliament, A Sourcebook for the Community of Religions, is still widely used in classrooms across the world. Janna is currently writing her masters’ thesis in the international research project "Religion and Dialogue in Modern Societies"

Archive work 

Within the framework of the ‘Talking Dialogue Project’ of KAICIID, Maryam Mouzzouri and I are currently doing research in Chicago, USA. The Special Collections and Archives at DePaul University in Chicago hold the documents of both the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions and the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions. While Maryam Mouzzouri is looking at the 1893 Parliament, I am researching the centennial. Our task is to identify a ‘core episode’ of the formation phase and to analyze this episode in its greater framework.

The Special Collections and Archives of DePaul University are situated on the 3rd floor of John T. Richardson Library. We enjoy a light-flooded and well-equipped workplace, beautifully decorated with art and relics.  Moreover the staff is extraordinarily supportive and friendly.

The material situation of our research differs a lot. While I am overwhelmed by the 60 boxes (or 16 feet) of documents the archive holds on the 1993 Parliament, Maryam unfortunately has to rely primarily on secondary sources, as the original documents of the 1893 Parliament burnt down some time ago. But with the help of the archivists, our own initiative and consultative talks with each other, we both cope with the situation very well.

Interesting Material and Fun Findings

The archive material I have encountered is very interesting and insightful, but can also sometimes be unordered or fragmentary; some documents are also held multiple times, so detective work was required to find my way through them. Interesting documents include information regarding a restructuring that had to be done during the planning phase of the Parliament due to financial difficulties.

There has also been material that made me smirk. It includes a postcard with greetings from the Bahamas, a handwritten note with a song about a boy that likes books and a letter that suggests encouraging children, with the help of cookies, soft drinks and stuffed animals, to participate in TV interviews during the Parliament.

Meeting with the Parliament Staff 

In the third week of our research, Maryam and I were invited by the current Parliament staff to their office in downtown Chicago. We had a fruitful exchange about our backgrounds, KAICIID, the archival research and the historical and current activities of the Parliament. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. The staff of the Parliament invited us to an iftar event, to visits of the Baha’i and a Hindu temple in Chicago and offered to be our connection to members of the 1993 Parliament planning staff, whom we will ask for short (phone) interviews. Furthermore they will supply us with a room in their office, where we can conduct the interviews and work for the rest of our stay. We are moved by their kindness and generosity.