In Bosnia, chasms of blood flow amid the rivalries that separate Orthodox Christians and Muslims.
Look to the East and see the banners of Islam and Judaism waved by the bitterest opponents of peace in biblical lands, and Hindus and Sikhs at each other's throats in India. Look to the West, and Protestants and Catholics kill in Northern Ireland.
This was not the new world order religious leaders envisioned a century ago at the first World's Parliament of Religion in Chicago, nor in the decades of soul-searching after the Holocaust.
But even as the cycle of religion and violence persists, leaders of the world's faiths are gathering again in Chicago to pursue their common dream--peace on Earth.
"It's so obvious that it hurts--that so many of the things that are wrong that are going on in the world are actually due to religious conflicts," said Rabbi Herbert Schaalman of the board of trustees of the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions.
"I would like to think in the face of the kind of problems our world encounters . . . the religious leaders may have been induced both by their self-understandings and their beliefs in God (that) it is up to them to finally step forward."
During the nine-day parliament beginning today, prominent Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Hindus, Jains, Zoroastrians and others hope to reach agreement on a universal declaration of human values, and perhaps even lay the groundwork for an organization akin to a United Nations of Religions.
"It's much more than a celebration. People are hoping it will become an icon in the midst of chaos and discord," said Daniel Gomez-Ibanez, a Hindu and executive director of the parliament. "They just don't want to talk. They want to act."
The birth of the interfaith movement may be traced to the 1893 Parliament, held during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' expedition to the Americas. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims met with Catholic cardinals and Protestant leaders for the first time in a public forum.
But after a replica of the Liberty Bell tolled 10 times--once for each of the major religions represented--to open the parliament, historians say, it was clear that the event was largely a Protestant Christian undertaking.
The purpose was more evangelical than ecumenical: Let's become better acquainted with other religions since it will help missionaries move the world toward one--Christian--religion.
This time, the organizing committee is representative of the world's faiths, and hundreds of followers from each of the world's major religions are expected to be among the 5,000 to 6,000 participants.
A century ago, Islam was represented by one American Muslim convert; this time, Inamullah Khan, secretary-general of the World Muslim Congress, and Abdullah Omar Naseef, secretary-general of the Muslim World League, are scheduled to participate. The Dalai Lama, exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, and Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, are among the prominent Buddhists expected.
The underlying theme of the 1993 parliament is not theological unity, but working toward peace in a world were more than two-thirds of armed conflicts have religion at their core.
Leaders the world's mainstream religious communities have largely stopped seeing one another as potential converts and have begun to accept the integrity of other faiths.
"Look what's happened in the 100 years since the first parliament. It's amazing," said John Meyer, associate professor of religious studies at Bradley University. "Not that we've had that many mergers and reunions. At least they're not fighting with one another anymore."
But many parliament participants dream of something more than breaking bread with one another. A consultation of 200 to 250 spiritual leaders will try to reach agreement on a common human ethic based on such principles as peace and brotherhood.
"That will not change the world overnight, but it will begin to establish an alternative framework for religion to which people would be held accountable," said the Rev. David Ramage, chairman of the council sponsoring the event.
Others seek more, including some form of international organization to carry on the work of the parliament.
"I'm very much in favor of a United Nations of Religions," said Asad Husain, president of the American Islamic College in Chicago and a trustee of the parliament. "We are going to give (the) lead . . . for a religious renaissance that will give real hope and happiness to the people of the world."
But even the dreamers acknowledge that there are problems.
The first is deciding who will participate. Catholicism has a hierarchical structure made for such a forum, but many other faiths, particularly the Eastern religions, do not.
In Buddhism, there are many different kinds of Zen Buddhists, not to mention the breakdown into groups such as Thai Buddhists, Cambodian Buddhists, Laotian Buddhists, Vietnamese Buddhists and a variety of other expressions.