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The International Social Turn: Unity and Brotherhood at the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2018


When the World's Parliament of Religions convened at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893, it brought together delegates of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, and several varieties of Christianity. Recent critics of the event have noted that the overwhelmingly Protestant organizers imposed their own culturally specific views of what constitutes religion on the non-Christian participants. But the guiding refrain of the Parliament—the unity of God and the brotherhood of man—reflects not only the specifically Social Gospel theology of the Protestant organizers but also a much wider consensus on the proper character, scope, and function of religion in a modernizing, globalizing, secularizing world. Buddhists from Japan, Hindus and Jains from India, and Buddhists from Ceylon actively participated in this international turn toward social religion as a way of pursuing their own culturally specific claims of distinct national identity, while Jews and Catholics in the United States equally adeptly claimed ownership of this central rhetoric of social religion in order to penetrate the American cultural mainstream.

Research Article
Copyright © Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 2009

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This article would not exist without the support of the Mary Baker Eddy Library, which provided a fellowship and a rich work environment for the initial research, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, where most of the rest of the research and the first writing occurred, and the generous critical readings of Charles Capper, Richard Wightman Fox, David D. Hall, James T. Kloppenberg, Sarah T. Phillips, Jon H. Roberts, and Jeffrey Sklansky.

1. Vivekananda, Swami, Letters of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1964), 49, 51, 52.Google Scholar

2. On Asian successes at the Parliament, see in particular Seager, Richard Hughes, The World's Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995)Google Scholar, and his edited anthology of addresses, The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the World's Parliament of Religions, 1893 (LaSalle: Open Court Press, 1993); Snodgrass, Judith, Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and the Columbian Exposition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003)Google Scholar; Eck, Diana L., “Frontiers of Encounter: The Meeting of East and West since the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions,” in Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Benares (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003), 2244 Google Scholar; Bramen, Carrie Tirado, The Uses of Variety: Modern Americanism and the Quest for National Distinctiveness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000)Google Scholar, and her article “Christian Maidens and Heathen Monks: Oratorical Seduction at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions,” in The Puritan Origins of American Sex: Religion, Sexuality, and National Identity in American Literature ed. Tracy Fessenden, Nicholas F. Radel, and Magdalena J. Zaborowska (New York: Routledge, 2001), 191–212; the essays by James Edward Ketelaar, Tessa Bartholomeusz, and Kitagawa, Joseph M. in A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions, ed. Ziolkowski, Eric J. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993)Google Scholar; and Tweed, Thomas A., The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844–1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992)Google Scholar. For the claim that the Parliament idea died with it, see Szasz, Ferenc, The Divided Mind of Protestant America, 1880–1930 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1982), 13 Google Scholar; Carter, Paul A., The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971), 209 Google Scholar; Burris, John P., Exhibiting Religion: Colonialism and Spectacle at International Exhibitions, 1851–1893 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001)Google Scholar; Ziolkowski, , Museum of Faiths, 2425 Google Scholar; and Hutchison, William R., Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 179–82Google Scholar. On threats to Protestant authority in America and the World's Parliament, see Wacker, Grant, “A Plural World: The Protestant Awakening to World Religions,” in Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, 1900–1960, ed. Hutchison, William R. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 253–77Google Scholar. On the Parliament as an expression of religious modernism, see Marty, Martin E., Modern American Religion, vol. 1, The Irony of It All, 1893- 1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 1724 Google Scholar; and Dorrien, Gary J., The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion, 1805–1900 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 323 Google Scholar.

3. On the opening day, one news article carried the subhead “All Bring the Same Message,” which was specified in the body of the article as “Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of Man.” Chicago Tribune, September 11, 1893, last edition, 2. Seager picked up on the fatherhood/brotherhood theme in World's Parliament, 66, 79. William R. Hutchison suggested that the social gospel derived from English Protestantism in Hutchison, “The Americanness of the Social Gospel: An Inquiry in Comparative History,” Church History 44 (September 1975): 1–15. The contested idea that modernization spurred the development of the Social Gospel is chiefly argued in Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America: 1820–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978).

4. Rauschenbusch quoted in Gorrell, Donald K., The Age of Social Responsibility: The Social Gospel in the Progressive Era, 1900–1920 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1988), 1 Google Scholar; see also his description of the period before 1900 as “one of more latency than accomplishment” (19). This claim goes back to the still useful Hopkins, Charles Howard, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 290–91, 302Google Scholar; and Curtis, Susan, A Consuming Faith: The Social Gospel and Modern American Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 2, 8–9Google Scholar. See also Fishburn, Janet Forsythe, The Fatherhood of God and the Victorian Family: The Social Gospel in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981), 89 Google Scholar, and her article, “The Social Gospel as Missionary Ideology,” in North American Foreign Missions, 1810–1914: Theology, Theory, and Policy, ed. Wilbert R. Shenk (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 9, 14. For the social justice movement in American Judaism, see Mervis, Leonard J., “The Social Justice Movement and the American Reform Rabbi,” American Jewish Archives 7 (June 1955): 171230 Google Scholar.

5. On the acceptance of Darwin, see, among others, Roberts, Jon H., Darwinism and the Divine: Protestant Intellectuals and Organic Evolution, 1859–1900 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988)Google Scholar. Haskell's argument on the rise of the humanitarian sensibility with capitalism can be found in Objectivity Is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 235–79. Also see Clark, Elizabeth D., “The Sacred Rights of the Weak: Pain, Sympathy, and the Culture of Individual Rights in Antebellum America,” Journal of American History 82 (September 1995): 463–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6. Barrows, John Henry, ed., The World's Parliament of Religions: An Illustrated and Popular Story of the World's First Parliament of Religions, Held in Chicago in Connection with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, vol. 1 (Chicago: Parliament Publishing Company, 1893), 310 Google Scholar. Grant Wacker says that new theologians like Barrows thought “they were living in an age throbbing with redemptive power.” See Wacker, , “The Holy Spirit and the Spirit of the Age in American Protestantism, 1880–1910,” Journal of American History 72 (June 1985): 59 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7. Barrows, Mary Eleanor, John Henry Barrows: A Memoir (Chicago: Revell, 1904), 267 Google Scholar. On Chicago and progressive-era America, see Leidenberger, Georg, Chicago's Progressive Alliance: Labor and the Bid for Public Streetcars (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; and Schneirov, Richard, Labor and Urban Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago, 1864–97 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998)Google Scholar. Gorrell calls Chicago a focal center of social gospel activity in Age of Social Responsibility, 46.

8. The press report is titled simply “A Parliament of Religions,” Current Literature 10 (June 1892): 221–22; “Will Unite Religion,” Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1893, front page; Barrows, World's Parliament, 1: 26–27, 57–61; Joseph Cook, “Strategic Certainties of Comparative Religion,” in Barrows, World's Parliament, 1: 536–42. On the Evangelic Alliance, see Wacker, “The Holy Spirit and the Spirit of the Age,” 45–47; and Jordan, Philip D., The Evangelical Alliance for the United States of America, 1847–1900: Ecumenism, Identity, and the Religion of the Republic (New York: Mellen Press, 1982)Google Scholar.

9. Barrows, John Henry, Christianity, the World-Religion: Lectures Delivered in India and Japan (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1897)Google Scholar. Their evangelical nature is praised in the review, “The ‘Barrows Lectures’ in India,” Biblical World 9 (May 1897): 375–79.

10. Indeed, Schaff's doctors advised against attending the Parliament, saying it might kill him, to which he replied, “Well, let it kill me. I was determined to bear my last dying testimony to the cause of Christian Union, to which I have devoted my entire life.” Barrows, World's Parliament, 1: 139; 2: 1193–1201.

11. Barrows, World's Parliament, 1: 784; 2: 1024, 1059. On the Social Gospel, see Curtis, Consuming Faith; Fishburn, “Social Gospel as Missionary Ideology”; White, Ronald C. Jr., Liberty and Justice for All: Racial Reform and the Social Gospel 1877–1925 (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990)Google Scholar; and Luker, Ralph E., The Social Gospel in Black and White: American Racial Reform, 1885–1912 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991)Google Scholar.

12. Barrows, Mary, John Henry Barrows, 261–62Google Scholar; Barrows, , World's Parliament, 1: 1078; 2: 1105, 1114, 1230, 1441–44.Google Scholar

13. Barrows, , World's Parliament, 1: 494,Google Scholar 500, 650, 677; 2: 1056, 1082. On modernism and the Swing and Briggs heresy trials, the best source is still Hutchison, William R., The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976)Google Scholar. On the Brotherhood of the Kingdom, see Dorrien, , Making of American Liberal Theology, 91 Google Scholar; Dorrien also notes that Munger did not hew to the social activist side of the New Theology, which for Dorrien constitutes the test of membership in the social gospel (304).

14. Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1893, evening edition, front page; Barrows, , World's Parliament, 2: 1070 Google Scholar.

15. The Catholic Congress was covered in the 1893 Chicago Tribune, September 5, 12; September 6, front page; September 9, 8. Powell, Aaron M., “The Grounds of Sympathy and Fraternity among Religious Men,” in The World's Congress of Religions, the Addresses and Papers Delivered before the Parliament, and an Abstract of the Congresses Held in the Art Institute, Chicago, ed. Hanso, J. W. (Chicago: W. B. Conkey, 1894), 600604 Google Scholar. Peabody's address, along with the subsequent quoted material, appeared in the Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1893, front page.

16. Barrows, Mary, John Henry Barrows, 256–57Google Scholar.

17. Ibid., 257.

18. Moloney, Deirdre M., Catholic Lay Groups and Transatlantic Social Reform in the Progressive Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Wood, Thomas E. Jr., The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004)Google Scholar; and Cross, Robert D., The Emergence of Liberal Catholicism in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959)Google Scholar.

19. Wangler, Thomas E., “American Catholic Expansionism: 1886-1894,” Harvard Theological Review 75 (July 1982): 369–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

20. Moloney, , Catholic Lay Groups and Transatlantic Social Reform, 22 Google Scholar; Ireland, John, “The Mission of Catholics in America,” in Ireland, John, The Church and Modern Society: Lectures and Addresses (New York: D. H. McBride, 1903), 73, 76Google Scholar. On the Archbishop of Canterbury's refusal to participate, see Barrows, , World's Parliament, 1: 2022 Google Scholar. In truth, the archbishop was too shrewd to say anything about Catholicism, demurring instead on the grounds that participation by non-Christians amounted to granting their positions equality, but formal Anglicanism was not consistent on the question of whether Catholicism itself was Christian, that is, on whether Catholics were saved, and there is no doubt that the Archbishop of Canterbury did not look benignly on the prospect of Catholic expansion.

21. Barrows, , World's Parliament, 1: 80 Google Scholar, 485–93; 2: 1032–36, 1152–57.

22. John Keane in ibid., 1: 182.

23. The other prominent Jewish delegate to the Parliament was Dr. H. Pereira Mendes, an Orthodox rabbi and co-founder of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who worked for unity across North American Jewish Orthodoxy. His address at the Parliament also stressed the themes of unity and brotherhood; see Barrows, , World's Parliament, 1: 52735 Google Scholar. On Berkowitz, see Rieser, Andrew C., The Chautauqua Moment: Protestants, Progressives, and the Culture of Modern Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 124 Google Scholar. For Jewish participation in the Social Gospel within the context of Jewish immigration to the United States, see Sorin, Gerald, A Time for Building: The Third Migration, 1880–1920 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 194–95Google Scholar.

24. Benny Kraut, “Judaism Triumphant: Isaac Mayer Wise on Unitarianism and Liberal Christianity,” AJS Review 7 (1982): 179–230; quoted lines from 184, 193; Wise, Isaac Mayer, “The Theology of Judaism,” in Barrows, , World's Parliament, 1, 291–95Google Scholar.

25. Berman, Lila Corwin, “Mission to America: The Reform Movement's Missionary Experiments, 1919–1960,” Religion and American Culture 13 (Summer 2003): 205–39Google Scholar; Kaufmann Kohler, “HumanBrotherhood as Taught by the Religions Based on the Bible,” in Barrows, World's Parliament, 1: 366–73.

26. Kaufmann Kohler, “Human Brotherhood as Taught by the Religions Based on the Bible,” reprinted in Seager, , Dawn of Religious Pluralism, 216–18Google Scholar; Emil Gustav Hirsch, “Elements of Universal Religion,” in ibid., 221. Herberg based his critical portrait of Americans’ Judeo- Christian heritage on the Bible and the “American way of life,” including the supreme values of brotherhood and pluralism; see Herberg, Will, Protestant-Catholic-Jew (New York: Doubleday, 1955)Google Scholar.

27. Henry Berkowitz, “The Voice of the Mother of Religions on the Social Question,” in Seager, , Dawn of Religious Pluralism, 230–32Google Scholar. On the Pittsburgh platform and its context, important for Parliament speakers Berkowitz, Hirsch, Kohler, and Wise, see Sarna, Jonathan D., “The Late Nineteenth-Century American Jewish Awakening,” in Religious Diversity and American Religious History: Studies in Traditions and Cultures, ed. Conser, Walter H. Jr., and Twiss, Sumner B. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997), 125 Google Scholar.

28. Cohen, Naomi, “The Challenges of Darwinism and the Higher Criticism to American Judaism,” Modern Judaism 4 (May 1984): 121–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29. Snell's poem was published in the organ of Paul Carus, advocate of the “religion of science” and devotee of religious pluralism; Minnie Andrews Snell, “Aunt Hannah on the Parliament of Religions,” Open Court (October 12, 1893): 3838. Carrie Tirado Bramen uses Snell's poem as an effective motif in her chapter on the Parliament; see Bramen, “East Meets West at the World's Parliament of Religions,” in Uses of Variety, 250–91.

30. The Chinese delegates fit into the Parliament credo less well than those from Japan, India, and Ceylon; they were less likely to speak English and less likely to be deeply familiar with Christian teachings. Strauss's conversion was heralded in the Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1893.

31. Kopf, David, The Brahmo Somaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979)Google Scholar; Brekke, Torkel, Makers of Modern Indian Religion in the Late Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Snodgrass, , Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West, 1 Google Scholar. For a terrific popular account of modernism and religion in India, see Mishra, Pankaj, An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)Google Scholar.

32. His opening address is in Barrows, World's Parliament, 1: 95–96. His career is described in Brekke, Makers of Modern Indian Religion, 69–84.

33. On India as the mother of religions, see Clarke, J. J., Oriental Enlightenment: The Encounter between Asian and Western Thought (New York: Routledge, 1997)Google Scholar. On Vivekananda's education, see Brekke, , Makers of Modern Indian Religion, 3541 Google Scholar.

34. Vivekananda's first address was reported in the Chicago Tribune, September 11, 1893 (last edition), 3. On Vivekananda and Ramakrishna, see Kopf, Brahmo Somaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind, 204–5, 266–67.

35. Reported in the Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1893, 2; Vivekananda, “Impromptu Comments,” in Seager, , Dawn of Religious Pluralism, 336 Google Scholar.

36. “Outcome of the Parliament of Religions,” Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1893, 3. Majumdar (“Mozoomdar”) led the “Universal Prayer” on the morning of September 13; see Seager, , Dawn of Religious Pluralism, 450 Google Scholar. For Hirai and Shaku, see Barrows, World's Parliament, 1: 440; 2: 1285.

37. The anthem appears in Gupta, Kedarnath Das, Essence of Religions (New York: World Fellowship of Faiths, 1941), 195–96Google Scholar.

38. Leigh Eric Schmidt uses the story of Sarah Farmer's Greenacre community to illuminate the American liberal religious tradition in Schmidt, , Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 181225 Google Scholar, esp. 188. Caroline Haskell endowed the position at Chicago and the lecture series; see Masuzawa, Tomoko, The Invention of World Religions, or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 278 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On Carnegie's 1914 meeting and the beginnings of the church peace movement, MacFarland, Charles S., Pioneers for Peace through Religion (New York: Revell, 1946), 10, 18–21, 23Google Scholar. A very useful list of the ecumenical conferences that proceeded from the World's Parliament is found in Sharpe, Eric J., Comparative Religion: A History (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Press, 1986), 140–41, 253–61Google Scholar.

39. The melee at the 1993 Parliament is vividly described in Bramen, , Uses of Variety, 288–90Google Scholar.

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