Commemorating 130 Years of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
Originally published by the Chicago History Museum on August 8 by Rebekah Coffman
Next week, Chicago welcomes the convening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions at McCormick Place from August 14–18, 2023. CHM curator of religion and community history Rebekah Coffman writes about the event’s origins and its legacy as the genesis of the interfaith movement.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR) is a legacy of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE). The WCE saw a wide range of national and international representation through its pavilions and attractions. As a complement, the World’s Congress Auxiliary held numerous programs on a wide range of social and cultural topics with the slogan “Not things, but men,” alluding to the congress’s aims to have conversational programs rather than static displays.
Throughout the run of the fair, more than 200 individual Congresses were held with nineteen departments represented. Just a sample of the covered topics include women’s progress, commerce and finance, art, government, medicine, and religion. The congresses were organized by Charles C. Bonney, a Chicago judge and author, who, in addition to legal writings, contributed several publications about the world’s fair congresses.
Perhaps the best known today, the Parliament of the World’s Religions was one such congress. Convened from September 11 to 27, 1893, the PWR is regarded today as the origin of the modern interfaith movement. Chicago-based Presbyterian minister Rev. John Henry Barrows served as chairman and, following the Parliament, compiled the event’s proceedings into a two-volume account through his Christian-centered lens.