The summit's second day featured speeches from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and billionaire media czar Ted Turner.
Following a Monday evening of prayers by clan mothers and church fathers, chief rabbis and high priests, Annan addressed the morning session.
"Religious practices and beliefs are among the phenomena that define us as human," he said. But "religion has often been yoked to nationalism, stoking the flames of violent conflict.... Religious leaders have not always spoken out when their voices could have helped combat hatred and persecution."
Turner, whose U.N. Foundation, Better World Fund, helped pay for the conference, struck a more informal note.
"I was born in a Christian family," said Turner, who once said publicly that Christianity was "for losers."
He dreamed of becoming "a man of the cloth," he said, but was bothered that his religious group taught that only Christians were going to heaven.
"I thought heaven was going to be a mighty empty place," he said. "Now I believe there may be one God who manifests himself in different ways to different people.... And I can't believe God wants us to blow ourselves to kingdom come. He wants us to love each other and live in peace."
Sadhvi Shilapiji, a Jain nun, said she found Turner's speech "fascinating."
"It was the feeling of the common man not burdened by any religious or political affiliation," Shilapiji said. "It came from his heart."
Other speakers Tuesday included Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; and Abdullah al-Obaid, secretary-general of the World Muslim League.
Somewhat jarringly given the general interfaith tone, American evangelical Protestant Anne Graham, daughter of famed evangelist Billy Graham, told the gathering that the way to world peace was through acceptance of Jesus as "the prince of peace."
Participants say they hope the summit, which runs through Thursday, will result in a declaration on peace, poverty, and the environment, as well as the formation of a council of religious leaders to advise the United Nations on preventing and settling disputes. Sessions were scheduled on the role of religion in conflict resolution.
"This afternoon, this General Assembly hall has become a sanctuary," said Bawa Jain, the summit general secretary.
But religious and political concerns collided earlier this month when participants learned that conference organizers did not invite the Dalai Lama to the first two days of the event for fear of offending China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council. China accuses the Tibetan Buddhist leader of "creating turmoil" in Tibet, which he fled in 1959 after an abortive uprising against China's occupation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the head of the eight-member Tibetan Buddhist delegation, Drikung Chestsang Rinpoche, read a statement by the Dalai Lama in which he called for "dialogue and compromise" for settling differences.
China has repeatedly refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, who has long urged talks with Beijing to resolve the Tibet question.
The Office of Tibet, the U.S. representative of the Dalai Lama, said Tuesday was the first time Tibetans representing the Buddhist leader have spoken in the General Assembly Hall since the early 1960s.
"I feel very sad, and I feel happy," said another Dalai Lama disciple, the Rev. Tsona Gontse Rinpoche. "This is a historic occasion."
Organizers invited the Dalai Lama only to the last two days of the conference-- being held at a New York hotel. He declined. Several hundred pro-Dalai Lama demonstrators protested Tuesday near the United Nations.
The United Nations did not sponsor the event or issue invitations. An interfaith coalition organized the program and picked the participants. The only delegations chosen by their government were China's and Vietnam's. Both nations have been criticized by human rights groups for limiting religious freedoms.
Among the other leaders on the program were the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Cambodian Buddhist leader Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda, and the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric. Leaders who declined to come include Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who sent a videotaped message, and Jerusalem Mufti Ikrema Sabri, who has refused to meet with Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Meir Lau.