The World’s Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893

Seager, Richard Hughes. The World’s Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995.

The World’s Parliament of Religions, by Richard Hughes Seager, narrates the historic encounter between representatives of the Eastern (Asian and Middle Eastern) and Western (Judeo-Christian) world religions which took place during the Parliament’s seventeen-day-long assembly at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. The author interprets this “watershed event” through the lens of the “Columbian Myth of America,” interpreted as an ethnocentric posture which portrayed the West (and particularly America) as culturally and religiously superior, the standard by which the world was measured. He demonstrates, though, that the presence and reasoned pleas of the Eastern delegates—representing both Christian and non-Christian religions—ultimately undercut America’s and Christianity’s (and particularly Protestantism’s) triumphalist and universalist claims, opening the United States to religious pluralism. <p> Seager divides the book into three parts. Part One, “A Millennial City,” surveys the World’s Columbian Exposition, examining the meaning of the Columbian Myth of America and touring the “ideological landscape” of the Columbiad’s architectural marvel, the White City, and its less spectacular though intriguing Midway Plaisance. Part Two, “An Ingathering of Nations and Tribes,” listens in on the exchanges which took place at the Parliament and probes into their underlying theological, cultural and worldview assumptions shared by the representatives. Part Three, “Further and Fractious Missions,” looks at the responses of Eastern and Western voices to the proceedings, and considers the consequences of the Parliament for shaping modernity and religious pluralism in the 20th century.