2 major religious conventions coming to S.L.

Published: Saturday, June 6 2009 12:17 a.m. MDT

Despite Utah's reputation for being one-dimensional when it comes to faith, its capital city will host two major religious conventions this month with topics including everything from Islam and Scientology to Unitarian Universalism and Mormonism.

Next weekend, the 22nd International Conference of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) will convene at the Salt Lake City-County Building. The group, which draws religion scholars from across the globe, met in Salt Lake City in 2002. The conference has only met five times in the United States, including the upcoming event.

And from 5,000 to 7,000 members of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) will convene June 24-28 at the Salt Palace Convention Center for their annual General Assembly.

In anticipation of the event, the Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church wrote to congregants in his monthly newsletter that "for five days, downtown will feel a little like Boston and the shot of liberal religion will be an adrenaline rush as though Ralph Waldo Emerson himself were taking a stroll around Temple Square."

Both gatherings are set to include academically rigorous sessions as well as those a bit more faith-focused.

CESNUR's agenda includes an examination of mainstreaming and marginalization of new religious movements around the world, with sessions as wide-ranging as: "The Independence Missouri Temple Lot and its Meaning to Latter-day Saints;" "Aliens and Atheism: The 'Central Raelian' Argument for the Nonexistence of God;" and "True Children of True Parents: The Triumphs and Travails of the Children of Sun Myung Moon."

Several sessions will include issues on both historical and contemporary Mormonism, with local participants to include Bishop John Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City; Elder Robert S. Wood of the Quorums of the Seventy representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Foreign scholars participating will represent universities in London, Paris, Milan, Rome and Belfast and also hail from The Netherlands, Ireland, Taipei, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and Estonia.

Sessions will begin Thursday morning and end Saturday night. At least one presentation, "The Family International: Establishing a Culture of Innovation and Progress," is scheduled to include the founders of a religious movement that created public controversy after its creation in the late 1960s after reports that it advocated adult-child sexual contact and subsequent investigations by law enforcement officials. Another session will examine the possibilities for the future of the communal group.

The Unitarian General Assembly will include sessions for youths and adults, worship services, multiple topics on social ministry programming and a public witness event on behalf of Utah's immigrant population.

Unitarian Universalist Association President Bill Sinkford will join Bishop Wester of the Catholic Diocese and Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of Utah's Episcopal Diocese at the rally on Friday, June 26, at 5:15 p.m. at the Gallivan Plaza.

For detailed information about CESNUR and its Salt Lake programming, visit www.cesnur.org. To see the UUA program schedule, visit www. uua.org/events/generalassembly/index.shtml.

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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