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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s

Parliament of Religions, 1893


—New Perspectives
Swami Narasimhananda

S
wami vivekananda lives even today and to the realisation of Self. To Swamiji, it was
through his words that shake the reader to Sri Ramakrishna, who staged the World’s Parlia-
IMAGE: WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION, 1893, CHIC AGO /

one’s very foundations. He is fulfilling his ment of Religions at Chicago in 1893.


prophecy: ‘It may be that I shall find it good to get
outside of my body—to cast it off like a disused Chronicling the Parliament
garment. But I shall not cease to work! I shall in- The proceedings of the World’s Parliament of Re-
spire men everywhere, until the world shall know ligions at Chicago in 1893 has been historically
GRAND BASIN AND COURT OF HONOUR

that it is one with God.’1 His words are not mere recorded with meticulous care by many people,
articulations of thought, but they represent the notable being the account by John Henry Bar-
most radical of ethos transmitted through power- rows (1847–1902), the clergyman of the First
ful spiritual energy that transforms all who receive Presbyterian Church, who was the chairman of
them and continues to grow as part of their per- the Parliament. Before the Parliament, Barrows
sonalities, and finally engulfs them in an ocean of announced that the
holy poise, and elevates those who show endeav- convention was to take place during the month
our, to the fulfilling knowledge of non-difference of September, 1893, and was to consist of a series

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34 Prabuddha Bharata

of separate congresses, which were to be fol- of Barrows and Houghton are the only complete
lowed by a massive seventeen-day Parliament of and most accurate records of the Parliament. Ac-
the world’s religions. Each of the seventeen days cording to Houghton, the ‘work of organization
was to be devoted to a specific theme—ethical, [for the Exposition] began in 1890, and was car-
social, historical, or theological. Thus the third
ried on by the committees until the opening of
day of the Parliament concerned itself with the
nature of man, the sixth with sacred books, the the congresses in May of 1893’.4 Unlike Barrows’s
ninth with the relationship of religion to science account, which was in two volumes, Houghton’s
and art, the eleventh with social problems, and account was in a single volume with the remark
the fifteenth with religious reunion. Upon each on the title page, ‘Two Volumes in One’. The
of these days international authorities were in- publisher’s note ends in a happy tone: ‘There is
vited to deliver addresses in the main auditorium no soaring dream of future perfection, no kindly
and participate in more intimate religious discus- thrill of goodness, no yearning for the unseen, no
sions in smaller rooms set aside for that purpose.2 prayer for light and truth, which may not be met
Barrows published the most authoritative ac- or answered in these triumphal announcements
count of the Parliament in two volumes with nu- of the faith of Humanity. The golden chain of
merous illustrations. He was quite hopeful of the brotherhood here forged shall endure and shall
readership of these volumes: lead all men up toward that heaven in which
This Book will also be read in the cloisters of there shall be no more sorrow, and the shad-
Japanese scholars, by the shores of the Yellow ows of parting shall be lifted for eternity’ (10).
Sea, by the watercourses of India and beneath Houghton’s account has the photo of Swamiji in
the shadows of Asiatic mountains near which
which he is holding a rolled-up paper (505). The
rose the primal habitations of man. It is be-
lieved that the Oriental reader will discover in last part of this volume contains ‘Biographies,
these volumes the source and strength of that Articles, and Opinions’ (971).
simple faith in Divine Fatherhood and Human Much before the Parliament or the Colum-
Brotherhood, which, embodied in an Asiatic bian Exposition, the Catholic community was
Peasant who was the Son of God and made celebrating the discovery of Columbus, who
divinely potent through Him, is clasping the ‘remained a hero for most of the nineteenth
globe with bands of heavenly light.3 century’.5 There was a great anticipation to know
In the end of the second volume, Barrows about other religions and faith-traditions through
comments upon the Parliament: ‘The Parliament the Parliament. For instance, Merwin-Marie Snell
was not a place for the suppression of opinions was quite hopeful about the Parliament:
but for their frankest utterance, and what made In the month of September there is to take
it so supremely successful was mutual tolerance, place in Chicago an event which promises to
extraordinary courtesy, and unabated good will. be epoch-making in the history of religions,
Christians who entered the Hall of Columbus and perhaps, by its ultimate consequences, in
the general history of mankind. I refer to the
with timidity and misgivings found themselves
World’s Parliament of Religions, at which the
entirely at home in an atmosphere charged with representatives of the Catholic, Oriental and
religious enthusiasm’ (2.1560). Protestant forms of Christianity, with their var-
Apart from Barrows’s account of the Parlia- ious sub-divisions, will meet on equal terms
ment, Walter R Houghton also recorded the pro- with those of the different sects of Judaism, Mo-
ceedings of the Parliament. By far, the accounts hammedanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism,

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 35

Parseeism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism, the pre-Aryan cults of Bactria and India, Mo-
and other non-christian systems. hammedan and Christian influences, the old
These religious bodies will present to the and new philosophical schools, and internal pro-
Parliament, through their accredited represen- cesses of corruption and decay or of constructive
tatives, a statement of their teachings, practices or agglutinative development? …
and claims, and many of them will also have The proceedings of the parliament will form
special congresses of their own, in which their an invaluable addition to the materials for the
doctrines, histories and practical methods will study of religions, but as many as possible of
be still more fully exhibited. … those who take a scientific interest, in the sub-
Only a small proportion of the sacred books ject, should attend the parliament in person, so
of the world have thus far been translated by Eu- that they may in face-to-face intercourse with
ropean scholars and placed within the reach of the picked representatives of the Christian, Jew-
the student; and these books can have but a par- ish, Moslem and pagan sects and sub-sects, if
tial and preliminary value so long as the com- not by their action in the great congress itself,
plicated systems which have produced them, bring out and note for their own use, and the
or grown out of them, have not been studied in future uses of science, the many facts which will
the details of their historical development, sub- otherwise fail to be collected.6
division, reproduction, interaction and fusion.
At the turn of the last decade of the nine-
What does European scholarship know,
teenth century, efforts were already underway
for example, about the religious development
of India, in spite of the vast amount of good to teach the major religions in schools in the US
work which has been done in that field by Vedic and some courses had already been developed.
scholars, general philologists, and other classes Emily Mace describes this development:
of students? There exists to this day but one Between 1890 and 1896, the Western Unitarian
professedly original résumé (and that very im- Sunday School Society (wusss), headquartered
perfect, and based to a large extent upon a na- in Chicago, disseminated a religious education
tive work) of the existing sects of Hinduism, and Swami Vivekananda and Other Indian Participants at the
from this all other descrip- World’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago
tions have been, for the most
part, copied or abstracted.
Who is there, even
among professional Indi-
anists, who is thoroughly
acquainted with the vari-
ous ramifications of either
Vaishnava, Saiva or Sakti
Hinduism, the dates and
circumstances of origin of
the sects into which they
are divided, the minutiae
and sources of their doctri-
nal and practical differences,
and their relative depen-
dence upon ancient Vedic
or non-Vedic Aryan religion,

PB September 2018 655


36 Prabuddha Bharata

curriculum called the ‘Six Years’ Course in Reli- larger two-volume history’ (12). We know from
gion’ to liberal Sunday schools across the coun- Jones that ‘the limits of Columbus Hall, accom-
try. The course, first published by the wusss modating about three thousand people, was main-
from 1890 to 1896, emerged out of the milieu tained to the end’ (ibid.). The extracts published in
of academic and popular interest in evolution-
this volume had been made from ‘remarkably full
ary understandings of the origins of religion,
comparative theology, the ‘science’ of compar- and satisfactory reports which appeared from day
ative religions, and the higher criticism of the to day in the Chicago Herald’ (ibid.). Only extracts
Bible. Most schools using the course included from Swamiji’s ‘Response to Welcome’, ‘Why We
flourishing Midwestern congregations in places Disagree’, ‘Paper on Hinduism’, and ‘Address at the
such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and St. Louis, Final Session’ are given in this volume. The other
and in cities and towns across the United States. two lectures, ‘Religion Not the Crying Need of
Congregations in places as far distant from each India’ and ‘Buddhism, the Fulfilment of Hindu-
other as Winchester, Massachusetts; Greenville,
ism’ have not been cited. Jones is not very enthu-
South Carolina; Greeley, Colorado; and Salem,
Oregon, all used the curriculum. Although the siastic about the outcome of the Parliament and
course never achieved anything close to the phe- believes that the Parliament ‘is not going to put an
nomenal success of the uniform lessons of the end to bigotry. There are those who distrusted the
American Sunday School Union, that this small project and who regret the triumph’ (17).
publication found favor in a variety of places Jones’s account ends with memoriam to Philip
across the United States nonetheless indicates Schaff (1819–93), the Protestant theologian, who
widespread interest in the work of the course.7 passed away the very next month after the Parlia-
Of course, in the education of comparative ment. In the appendices is an extract from a let-
religions, there was a major focus on the train- ter written to Jones by Anagarika Dharmapala
ing of the missionaries and the local languages (1864–1933) which reveals the idea of holding a
were also taught. As noted by The Biblical World, ‘Parliament of Religions in Benares’ (326). In the
‘An elementary knowledge of Hindi … [was] of appendices are also given a letter from a Chris-
special importance to intending missionaries’.8 tian who is concerned how Christianity ‘can be
Jenkin Lloyd Jones (1843–1918), a Unitar- regarded as a member of a Parliament of Reli-
ian minister brought out another recording of gions without assuming the equality of the other
the Parliament by the title A Chorus of Faith. It intended members and the parity of their position
‘contains one hundred and sixty-seven extracts and claims’ (321). So much for the catholicity of
from one hundred and fifteen different authors, the Catholics! The other two items of the appen-
all of them taken from the utterances of the main dices are extracts from addresses by the clergy. The
Parliament’.9 This account is neatly divided into extract from the address by Joseph Cook at the
various themes of ‘Greeting’, ‘Harmony of the Parliament ends with the note that ‘except Chris-
Prophets’, ‘Holy Bibles’, ‘Unity in Ethics’, ‘Broth- tianity, there is no religion under heaven or among
erhood’, ‘The Soul’, ‘The Thought of God’, ‘The men that effectively provides for the peace of the
Crowning Day’, and ‘Farewell’. Each section starts soul by its harmonization with this environment’
with a poem by a leading poet and contains some (323). The other address is by Arthur Cleveland
papers related to the theme. Jones acknowledges Coxe (1818–96), the second Episcopal bishop
the vastness of the record by Barrows and assures of Western New York, delivered at the Church
that his ‘little book will not take the place of the of the Epiphany, Chicago. Coxe affirms that

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893 37

non-Christians are ‘thieves and robbers’ in that stenographic reports, and the Congresses are
they have ‘robbed’ Jesus Christ ‘of millions of souls mainly written by eminent clergymen and oth-
who should have been sheep of his pasture’ (325). ers who participated in them.’12
Another report has twelve addresses deliv- Charles C Bonney, who originally thought of
ered by the missionaries of the Church of Christ the idea of the Parliament, hoped that the grand
in the World’s Congresses of Religions that was work so auspiciously inaugurated at Chicago in
also organised as part of the World’s Columbian 1893 go forward in renewed efforts, until all the
Exposition at Chicago in 1893. The popularity world shall respond to its benign and gracious
spirit; and the pure and noble peace it both
and attendance of these Congresses were not
prophesied and exemplified in the Parliament
anywhere near those of the Parliament. Never- of Religions shall prevail among all the peoples
theless, these talks were recorded as they ‘are able of the earth, exalting, not only their religious,
discussions of great living issues’.10 but at the same time their personal, social, busi-
There is another, smaller, account of the ness, and political life. This is the mission of the
World’s Parliament of Religions by Reverend World’s Religious Parliament Extension.13
L P Mercer, who confuses the Parliament with
the World’s Religious Congresses mentioned An Eye-Opener to the Eastern Thought
above. Mercer’s account is called a ‘review’ and The World’s Columbian Exposition held in 1893
has short summaries of most of the papers and at Chicago, of which the World’s Parliament of
complete versions of the opening speeches. Mer- Religions was a part, opened the eyes of the
cer is quite proud of the meetings that were aux- West to many things from the other side of the
iliary to the Columbian Exposition: globe of which the Westerners were oblivious.
When the record of the achievements of the Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

World’s Columbian Exposition shall have been


fully written and considered by those far enough
removed from the event to form impartial judg-
ments, it will be found that the most remarkable
and unique in kind and substantial in results
are those of the Auxiliary Congresses, covering
more than twenty departments of thought, and
embracing over two hundred distinct congresses,
participated in by distinguished specialists.11

The mistake of confusing the Parliament


with the World’s Religious Congresses is re-
peated by John Wesley Hanson. His account is
almost as large as Barrows’s, however, the same
cannot be said about its accuracy. It includes se-
lections from the Parliament and the Religious
Congresses. Hanson says in his preface: ‘This
volume contains the most and the best of the
Parliament and the Congresses. The Parliament
papers are largely from authors’ manuscripts or

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38 Prabuddha Bharata

The Exposition made a welcome departure in


‘The World’s First Parliament of Religions’, The
accommodating women as speakers on religion,
Homi­letic Review, 25 (May 1893), 387–93.
who actively participated and spoke in the pro- 3. The World’s Parliament of Religions, ed. Rev. John
ceedings. The proceedings of Second Biennial Henry Barrows, 2 vols (Chicago: Parliament
Convention of the World’s Woman Christian Publishing, 1893), 1.ix.
Temperance Union (wctu) and the twentieth 4. Neely’s History of the Parliament of Religions
and Religious Congresses at the World’s Colum-
Annual Convention of the National Women’s bian Exposition: Compiled from Original Manu-
Christian Temperance Union was published by scripts and Stenographic Reports, ed. Prof. Walter
their president Frances Elizabeth Caroline Wil- R Houghton (Chicago: Frank Tennyson Neely,
lard (1839–1898), the famous educationist. These 1893), 17.
5. Gerald P Fogarty, ‘1892 and 1992: From Cele-
proceedings took place in the very same Art In-
bration of Discovery to Encounter of Cultures’,
stitute building that housed the Parliament. This The Catholic Historical Review, 79/4 (October
convention took notice of the Eastern thought 1993), 621–47; 622.
and society and how women were treated there. 6. Merwin-Marie Snell, ‘An Exhibit of Religions’,
Denouncing alcoholism and emphasising the Science, 22/551 (25 August 1893), 99–100.
7. Emily Mace, ‘Comparative Religion and the
need to fight it, Willard said in this convention: Practice of Eclecticism: Intersections in Nine-
‘The high caste Hindoos have received the im- teenth-Century Liberal Religious Congrega-
pression that Christianity means intemperance tions’, The Journal of Religion, 94/1 ( January
… High caste women are total abstainers, and 2014), 74–96; 87–8.
they oppose Christianity on no other ground so 8. ‘Comparative-Religion Notes’, The Biblical
World, 4/4 (October 1894), 291–5; 294.
strongly as because it permits the use of alcohol- 9. Jenkin Lloyd Jones, A Chorus of Faith as Heard
ics [sic]. Although women are in subjection, they in the Parliament of Religions Held in Chicago,
still have much power in the home, and Hindoo Sept. 10–27, 1893 (Chicago: Unity, 1893), 11.
men do not like to return to their wives with the 10. Addresses Delivered at the World’s Congress and
General Missionary Conventions of the Church of
smell of strong drink on their breath.’14 Inter-
Christ Held at Chicago, in September 1893 (Chi-
esting observation indeed! The Parliament not cago: S J Clarke, 1893), 6.
only cleared misconceptions about Eastern faith- 11. Rev. L P Mercer, Review of the World’s Religious
traditions, it also cleared wrong ideas about the Congresses of the World’s Congress Auxiliary of
cultures of the East. As we know well, Swamiji the World’s Columbian Exposition Chicago, 1893
(Chicago: Rand and McNally, 1893), 7.
himself had clarified many misconceptions and 12. The World’s Congress of Religions: The Addresses
wrong ideas about Hinduism and India, during and Papers Delivered Before the Parliament and
the course of the Parliament. an Abstract of the Congresses Held in the Art In-
(To be continued) stitute, ed. J W Hanson (Chicago: Monarch,
1894).
References 13. Charles C Bonney, ‘The World’s Parliament of
Religions’, The Monist, 5/3 (April 1895), 321–44;
1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 344.
9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1–8, 1989; 14. Frances E Willard, Address Before the Second
9, 1997), 5.414. Biennial Convention of the World’s Woman’s
2. Egal Feldman, ‘American Ecumenicism: Chi- Christian Temperance Union and the Twenti-
cago’s World’s Parliament of Religions of 1893’, eth Annual Convention of the National Women’s
Journal of Church and State, 9/2 (Spring 1967), Christian Temperance Union (London: White
180–99; 183. Also see John Henry Barrows, Ribbon, 1893), 19.

658 PB September 2018


Swami Vivekananda and
the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893:
New Perspectives
Swami Narasimhananda
(Continued from the previous issue )

Analysing the Parliament economic, social and political freedom as a pre-

A
further:
ccording to Konden Rich Smith, the
‘Columbian World’s Fair of Chicago in
1893 was one of the most publicized
events of the nineteenth century’. He writes
lude to spiritual freedom’ (79). This points to the
broad vision that Swamiji had regarding the reli-
gious and spiritual life of an individual.
One of the aims of the Parliament was to
‘demonstrate the cumulative power of religion’
Its announced intentions were to represent the and to ‘show that religion was capable of produc-
beginning of a new age, one of cultural aware- ing a “cosmopolitan” person, who transcended
ness and also technological development. The the pitfalls of a parochial spirit, and who was
World’s Fair, which ran from May to October capable of having a “universal” outlook’.17 Ac-
1893, had three components, the ‘White City’, cording to Egal Feldman, a very important rea-
the ‘Midway Plaisance’, and the massive ‘Con- son for the ‘general approval in academic and
gress Auxiliary’. The White City celebrated the
religious circles both in home and abroad’ of the
glories of ‘secular’ government, commerce, and
manufacture; the Midway exploited cultural idea of the Parliament was ‘a growing interest in
as well as racial differences; and the Congress the study of comparative religions’.18
Auxiliary (which included 224 General Divi- It was definitely a great step on the part of the
sions in twenty departments) was devoted to orthodox Christians to organise such a Parlia-
even more diverse interests, ranging from the ment. Some shared an egalitarian vision of reli-
fine arts to the latest developments in surgery.15 gion. As James F Cleary argues,
1893 was a historic year. It ‘foreshadowed the Catholic participation in the parliament most
century that was to produce two world wars, the probably ought to be considered as an outgrowth
atomic bomb and nuclear weapons, unconsciona- of the liberal vision of the place of the Church
ble racism, religious intolerance and ethnic cleans- in America. It was their answer to charges that
the Church could not successfully accommo-
ing’.16 Thillayvel Naidoo believes that Swamiji’s
date itself to the American mode of life. They
‘addresses at the august gathering left upon all an believed that the Church belonged in the midst
“indelible impress”, as Gandhi described it. For of the other religions and maintained that the
Vivekananda the heart of religion lay in restating Church had nothing to fear from the scrutiny
the right of every person in the world to a life of of the world, but rather should welcome it.19

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893: New Perspectives 31

Also, ‘the Parliament … reflected growing in- of religion’.23 The Parliament ‘was the first time
terest of Americans in exotic non-Western reli- in history that leaders of so-called “Eastern” and
gions’.20 Mircea Eliade and Joseph M Kitagawa “Western” religions had come together for dia-
make this assessment of the Parliament: logue, seeking a common spiritual foundation
Among the participants were many notable for global unity’.24 The Parliament was also ‘one
scholars, including historians of religions, but of the first instances of contact between Ameri-
they attended the parliament as representatives cans and Asian religionists’.25
of their faiths or denominations and not of the David Mislin situates the Parliament in the
discipline of the history of religions. Neverthe- context of Protestant leaders and how they view
less, in the minds of many Americans, com-
religious pluralism.26 David F Burg states that
parative religion and the cause of the World
Parliament of Religions became inseparably re- ‘John Henry Barrows pointed out that it re-
lated. What interested many ardent supporters quired the parliament of all faiths to bring to-
of the parliament was the religious and philo- gether the dissident Christian faiths’.27 Tomoko
sophical inquiry into the possibility of the unity Masuzawa’s study of the Parliament ‘concerns
of all religions, and not the scholarly, religio- a particular aspect of the formation of modern
scientific study of religions. Nevertheless, the European identity, a fairly recent history of how
history of religions and comparative religion, Europe came to self-consciousness: Europe as
however they might be interpreted, became fa- a harbinger of universal history, as a prototype
vorite subjects in various educational institu-
of unity and plurality’.28 Lakshmi Niwas Jhunj-
tions in America.21
hunwala analyses the Parliament as the backdrop
Richard Hughes Seager follows Kitagawa in for colonial and missionary agenda, particularly,
giving the proper place that the Parliament de- unmasking the real motives of Max Muller.29
serves in history. Seager is concerned that it ‘is Swami Prabhananda argues that ‘history demon-
also instructive to consider those parties that strated that Swami Vivekananda practically
were underrepresented at the Par- seized control of the Parliament and
liament or were not there’.22 In forced it to a new goal’.30
the same vein, Eric J Ziol­ Lucien Arréat argues
kowski aims to ‘reassess about the Parliament that
the meaning and sig- a ‘A generous thought
nificance and the his- has however domi-
tories and legacies of nated this assembly,
the 1893 Parliament and the unanimous
as a meeting of re- applause provoked
ligious faiths and each time by the
to shed light upon words of frater-
the role of the event nity and concord
as a critical moment strongly testify that
in the development the peoples of today
of the very perspective claim a religion of peace
from which we now reas- and are tired of writing
sess it: that of the academic study the annals of the world with

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32 Prabuddha Bharata

blood.’31 Larry A Fader argues that occupy an important historical position as the
The 1893 Chicago World’s Parliament of Reli- first guru to accept Western disciples, thus inau-
gions was a significant event in the history of gurating a reverse transcultural religious flow.36
interreligious dialogue, generating excitement Many scholars concur that the Parliament
and anticipation on many levels. As a human failed in achieving its high aims. According to
spectacle, for example, consider the curiosity Smith, ‘However lofty its goals, the Parliament
aroused by the appearance of the many dele-
of Religions failed notably in inclusiveness and
gates espousing strange and little-known beliefs,
arriving from distant, mysterious lands, dressed actually highlighted evangelical Christianity’s
in alien garb, unfamiliar ways and speaking lan- growing inability to control the social and reli-
guages rarely heard by Americans.32 gious world around them. The final message of
the parliament was not the triumphalism of the
Some religious traditions used the Parliament Christian message but the limitations and sectar-
as a place to shift ‘from premillennial proselytiz- ian divisions of the Christian nation.’37
ing to a balance of evangelism and “exhibition”— Paul E Teed affirms that the ‘growing vi-
exhibition being intended, at least in part, to brancy and ferment of religious thought among
pave the way for evangelism’.33 Kirin Narayan Indian intellectuals, a trend embodied by men
says that Swamiji’s visit to America for the Par- like Vivekananda and Mazumdar, helped to con-
liament provided ‘the first concrete illustration vince American missionary societies that young
that the Hindu tradition was not just frozen in recruits heading into the field would need more
misshapen forms or buried in lofty texts but con- sophisticated knowledge of South Asia’s rich
tinued to be transmitted by living teachers’.34 Na- spiritual heritage in order to be effective advo-
rayan also analyses the last passage from Swamiji’s cates for their own’.38 Travis D Webster argues
‘Paper on Hinduism’: ‘Hail, Columbia, mother- that the Parliament ‘was a testament to nine-
land of liberty! It has been given to thee, who teenth century ideals of universalism’.39
never dipped her hand in her neighbour’s blood, Gwilym Beckerlegge argues that at the Parlia-
who never found out that the shortest way of be- ment ‘arguably for the first time, representatives
coming rich was by robbing one’s neighbours, it of different religions began to make common
has been given to thee to march at the vanguard cause in the light of their shared experience of
of civilisation with the flag of harmony.’35 global pressures exerted by scientific and other
Narayan says that this socio-economic forces. Vivekananda’s encounter
portrayal of a noninterventionist, nonimperial- with the sense of globality fostered at Chicago in
ist United States mocks history. It ignores the turn may have increased the pressure on him to
bloody conquest of the Americas. Ironically, identify and clarify the place of Hinduism in the
moreover, just five years after Vivekananda world.’40 Amy Kittelstrom argues that Swami-
spoke, the United States would acquire the Phil- ji’s ‘conviction of the social purpose of religion
ippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and also Ha-
waii in the aftermath of the Spanish-American turned out to be perfectly attuned to the mood
War of 1898. Nonetheless, Vivekananda’s empha- of the Parliament, its American Protestant orga-
sis on America’s acceptance of imported religions nizers, and its late Victorian audience’.41
is in many ways prescient. Despite the claims Ziolkowski argues that as
of Indian newspapers, Vivekananda did not an unprecedented meeting of representatives
convert vast numbers of Americans, but he did of the world’s major religions, the parliament

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893: New Perspectives 33

allowed certain Eastern faiths to be presented … direction’ of ‘the development of an audience


for the first time in America by spokesmen of for universal spirituality’.47
their own, and is justifiably remembered for Seager considers the Parliament to be an
having stimulated Western sympathy and curi- arousing call from America to the other nations
osity in Eastern spirituality, encouraged the
for gearing up towards a pluralistic understand-
study of comparative religion in American uni-
versities, and for having helped foster the ‘dia- ing of religions:
logue’ between East and West.42 The encounter on the Parliament floor can be
considered a call and response, with industri-
Ziolkowski traces the idea of the Parliament to alizing America, the young scion of the West,
the religious tradition of Din-i Ilahi propounded issuing a call for congresses … It was a grand,
by the ‘Mogul emperor Akbar, a figure whose life idealistic, and fundamentally liberal call invit-
ing the Asians to share in an expansive, global
and accomplishments were still not well known
vision, but one cast wholly in western, Chris-
in the West at the time of the parliament’.43 tian terms and partaking of an often smug
According to Dennis P McCann, the ‘repre- largess that depended upon the West’s racial,
sentatives of non-Western religions at the 1893 political, economic, and religious hegemony.48
Parliament generally were not in a position to
question the tacit understandings warranting Clarification of
the Social Gospel perspective; instead, they Some Facts of the Parliament
tried to show how their own traditions contrib- When any great historical event is fogged by
uted at least as effectively to the overall progress time, numerous theories and concoctions of
of humanity’.44 facts surface. New artefacts emerge and the
Carlos Hugo Parra has done his doctoral olden documents are forgotten. The World’s
research on the Catholic Church and the Par- Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893 is
liament. Though Parra concentrates on the per- no exception. There are mainly two distortions
spectives of the Catholics on the Parliament, he of fact that I would like to clarify here. Many
also delves on the Catholic interactions with detractors of Swamiji and Hinduism claim that
the other religions. He believes that Swamiji’s Swamiji’s ‘Response to Welcome’ did not evoke
speeches at the ‘Parliament is considered by the response and applause that it is said to have
many a highlight of the gathering. His speeches received. This claim is baseless because Barrows,
were acclaimed as the most insightful uttered at who later went against Swamiji, records: ‘When
the event. His visit to Chicago and subsequent Mr. Vivekananda addressed the audience as “sis-
trips to North America are recalled as key to the ters and brothers of America”, there arose a peal
penetration of Hindu thought and practices in of applause that lasted several minutes’.49
the West.’45 Another distortion of fact is the claim that
According to Peter van der Veer, Swamiji’s Swamiji’s voice was recorded in the Parliament.
‘translation of Ramakrishna’s message in terms While the Parliament has numerous accounts,
of “spirituality” was literally transferred to the many of which are verbatim, we find no descrip-
West during his trip to the United States … tion of any kind of public address system em-
Vivekananda’s spirituality was not modest or ployed there, much less of phonogram, which
meek; it was forceful, polemical, and proud.’46 was the only audio recording system extant in
He sees the Parliament as a ‘major step in [the] 1893. Also, Swamiji was not the only speaker at

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34 Prabuddha Bharata

the Parliament. It is highly implausible that all church authorities ‘endeavored to plan their ap-
the other distinguished speakers at the Parlia- pearances and speeches so that they would give no
ment did not have their voices recorded and notion of yielding a single point of Catholic doc-
only Swamiji’s voice was recorded. Also, there trine while urging the basic need of religion, there
is only one version of Swamiji’s speeches at the were several ambiguous circumstances over which
Parliament that is claimed to be his voice; the they had no control’.55 But, the charge ‘that the
other versions are expressedly, only readings of participating prelates had compromised the Cath-
his speeches. The version that is claimed to be olic position’ by allowing members of the other
Swamiji’s voice begins with an introduction by a religions to participate was denied on the ground
woman, whereas we find from Barrows’s account that much good ‘was accomplished by permitting
that all introductions for that session were done non-Catholics to hear Catholic doctrines’.56
by Barrows himself (1.96–101). Swamiji himself The intolerance of the orthodox Christians
tells this in his letter to Alasinga Perumal on 2 can be seen by the musings of this observer, just
November 1893: ‘I … bowed down to Devi Saras- after the Parliament:
vati and stepped up, and Dr Barrows introduced The Congress may have sinned by the excess
me.’50 The extant recording was published by of its mastery. The spirit of profound charity
an organisation in the early eighties to attract which animated it seems to have inspired it
some buyers and the voice had been artificially with too much indulgence for even contradic-
tory doctrines. It is not the syncretism of the
synthesised to give the archival feeling. This fact
honest elements of all religions that will be the
has been cleared up by the extensive research of basis of the cult of the future, as the promoters
M S Nanjundiah.51 Those who like to dupe less- of the work of the Congress seem to believe; it
knowing people into the attractions of artefacts will be the sincere, complete return to the One
by creating fake ones, need to know that history whom the Parliament has acclaimed and who
punishes such people by enveloping them into alone has been able to say: ‘I am the way, the
its dust. truth and the life!’57
Even after a century, the Parliament did not
The Intolerance of the Church seem to have a great effect in curbing the grow-
As is now well known, the core idea behind the ing intolerance of the Church. As Karen Arm-
organising of the Parliament was that ‘all “lower” strong observes,
religions would be subsumed as part of Christi- Western Christianity … since the Crusades, has
anity’.52 Feldman says that the ‘hope that the Par- found it notoriously difficult to live side by side
liament would promote the Christian faith was with other religions; it has also tended to lose
foremost in the minds of a number of its lead- sight of the agnostic approach and to seek an
ing American supporters’.53 ‘Unbending ortho- unrealistic certainty in religious matters. We in
the West are fond of castigating others for their
doxy had its say’ and at ‘one point, for example, a
intolerance, but the conservative venture has a
prayer was offered “for those blind heathens who special urgency for us, if we are not to fail the
attended the congress”,—especially Hindus, Mo- test of our century and are to hand on a com-
hammedans, Brahmans, “that God might have passionate faith to the next generation.58
mercy on them and open their eyes”, so that they
could “see their own errors and accept the truth Even in the Parliament, where other religions
of Christianity”’ (185).54 However, though the were supposed to be understood, what was seen

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893: New Perspectives 35

instead was ‘the tendency toward religious impe- how the migrants from the other side of the
rialism, where sincere but unmindful attempts at River Sindhu, called the practitioners of Sana-
inclusion end up excluding’.59 tana Dharma, ‘Hindus’, because they could not
Donald H Bishop argues that the Parliament pronounce the consonant ‘S’. This explanation
was ‘a classical example of the attitudes a follower has been twisted by the Christians to mean that
of one religion may take when he is confronted there was no religion named Hinduism and that
by other faiths. Three emerged at Chicago; they ‘it was constructed, piece by piece’.63 Hinduism
may be called exclusion, inclusion and pluralism. has been said to be ‘imagined’64 and its construc-
Exclusion is the attitude that there is only one tion has been held to be colonial. Some overen-
true religion which is destined to become uni- thusiastic thinkers had in the nineteenth century
versal. It was the attitude or view expressed most labelled Hinduism as ‘a way of life’ that has led
often at the Congress.’60 Derek H Davis reminds the missionaries and the quasi-liberals masquer-
us that ‘one of the founding principles [of the ading as Marxists to define Hinduism as an
Parliament] was that no religious group would ‘umbrella of religions’. By this logic, any person
be pressured into sacrificing its truth claims’.61 changing one’s name, changes into a completely
different person whose birth coincides with the
Denouncing Hinduism time of name change!
The religion that gained the maximum promi- Roderick Hindery argues that Swamiji ‘of-
nence out of the Parliament was Hinduism as fered his sophisticated defense of Advaitic neo-
was its gifted monastic proponent, Swamiji. The Hinduism as the matrix of what was spiritually
interest in Hinduism that was slowly develop- superior in every religion’.65 Hindery believes
ing in the West increased astronomically after that Swamiji tried to homogenise Hinduism, rel-
the Parliament. And it was not surprising that egating its rich tradition of mythic lore. Stephan
the Christians did not like this at all. Since then, Schlensog argues that Swamiji created a brand of
they started a systematic campaign to vilify the political Hinduism at the Parliament where he
religion and kept closely following Swamiji’s was ‘an imposing representative of a pluriform,
speeches to find out apparent ‘grey areas’, where tolerant, and cosmopolitan Hinduism’.66
they could dig a trench and hide there to destroy Robert Eric Frykenberg describes the so-
Hinduism. Of course, these ‘grey areas’ were and called ‘construction’ of Hinduism:
are visible only to the uneducated, who do not The ‘official’ (or establishment) structure, in
have the dedication to read into the contexts and summary, consisted of at least five elements:
true meanings of Hindu texts. (1) Hinduism as a nativistic synonym for all
It is no secret that the Christian missionaries things Indian (or pertaining to India); (2) Hin-
ridiculed and scoffed at the Hindus and went to duism as an ancient civilization, something
great lengths to proselytise them. However, the clearly identifiable before 1800 and going back
methods they adopted are appalling. In spite of 5,000 years; (3) Hinduism, as a loosely defined
label describing all socioreligious phenomena
great developments in Western thought, ‘there found or originating in India (comparable to,
was a feeling of religious superiority that the but less pejorative than, paganism as a label
colonialists felt they had acquired due to their for nonmonotheistic religions in the ancient
Christian revelation’.62 Graeco-Roman world); (4) Hinduism as an
Swamiji explained, in his lectures in the West, institutional/ideological instrument for the

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36 Prabuddha Bharata

sociocultural and sociopolitical integration of Influence on the United States of America


an All-India (imperial or national) sway; and There are numerous accounts of the impact that
(5) Hinduism as a single religion which, with the Parliament in general, and Swamiji in par-
the coming of Swami Narendrath Datta Vi- ticular, made on the US. A look at the new di-
vekananda to the First World Parliament of
mensions of this influence can be best begun by
Religions at Chicago in 1893, was gradually rec-
ognized and then elevated by liberally minded quoting this poem by Minnie Andrews Snell:
and eclectic Western clerics into the rank of a Aunt Hannah on the Parliament of Religions
world religion. A pragmatic, and sometimes, Minnie Andrews Snell
romantic blending of these five representations
… helped to reify Hinduism in popular imagi- Wall—I’m glad enough I’m hum agin—kin
nations. With Western impetus, this blending rest my weary brain,
was then projected onto the world.67 For I’ve seen an’ heered so much too much,
I guess I’ve heered in vain.
Axel Michaels divides Hinduism into three I thought th’ Fair was mixin’ an’ th’ Midway
‘religions’ of ‘sectarian religions’, ‘syncretically made me crawl,
founded religions’, and ‘founded, proselytised But th’ Parl’ment of Religions
religions’. He places Swamiji’s thought under was th’ mixin’est of all!
‘syncretically found religions’.68 Richard King I seen th’ Turks agoing round th’ Midway
calls Swamiji’s presentation of Hinduism as the in th’ Fair,
foundation of ‘a renascent intellectual move- But our minister reproved me when he seen
ment, which might more accurately be labelled me peep in thair.
“Neo-Hinduism” or “Neo-Vedanta” rather ‘Defilin’ place’ he called it,
than “Hinduism”’.69 an’ th’ Turk ‘a child of sin’;
But th’ Parl’ment of Religions took all them
Describing a congress of religions named
heathen in.
Dharma-Mahotsava that took place in Ajmer,
India in September 1895, Virchand R Gandhi, It made me squirm a little,
who participated in the Parliament, counters ar- to see some heathen’s air,
guments against Hinduism and India, and says As he told us Christians ‘bout out faults an’
laid ‘em out so bare,
that ‘the people of India, say our opponents, are
But thair flowin’ robes was tellin’ an’ th’air
merely speculative, visionary, unpractical. If one mighty takin’ folk,
tries to reach the ancient literature of India and So th’ Parl’ment of Religions clapped to every
dive deep into it, he shall know what the great word they spoke.
sages in the past have said about politics, law,
I listened to th’ Buddhist,
war, and polity in general.’70 in his robes of shinin’ white,
This discourse about ‘Imagined Hinduism’ As he told how like to Christ’s thair lives,
needs to be critically analysed and challenged while ours was not—a mite,
in another place as this is not the appropri- ’Tel I felt, to lead a Christian life,
ate venue for that. However, we need to un- a Buddhist I must be,
derstand that the Christian missionaries have An’ th’ Parl’ment of Religions brought reli-
repeatedly portrayed Swamiji’s success at the gious doubt to me.
Parliament as his attempt to create a new reli- Then I heered th’ han’some Hindu monk,
gion called ‘Hinduism’. drest up in orange dress,

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893: New Perspectives 37

Who sed that all humanity was part of God— Some scholars argue that interreligious dia-
no less, logue got a great impetus by the Parliament and
An’ he sed we was not sinners, if such dialogue were to be compared to a table,
so I comfort took, once more, ‘Guests have been sitting at this table, which has
While th’ Parl’ment of Religions roared
been conveniently moved around—especially
with approving roar.
since the 1893 first Parliament of the World’s Re-
Then a Cath’lic man got up an’ spoke, ligions in Chicago’.72 Some scholars argue that
about Christ an’ th’ cross; the ‘beginning of the interfaith movement dates
But th’ Christians of th’ other creeds, back to the World’s Parliament of Religions held
they giv’ thair heds a toss.
When th’ Babtist spoke,
in Chicago in 1893’.73 Patrice Brodeur argues that
th’ Presbyterians seemed to be fightin’ mad, a new attitude of non-proselytizing came to
’Tel th’ Parl’ment of Religions made my pore prevail during the Parliament in an otherwise
old soul feel sad. conservative Christian milieu. Several factors co-
incided to create this new space, three of which
I’ve harkened to th’ Buddhist, are: the new travel technologies resulting from
to th’ Hindu an’ th’ Turk; the industrial revolution; the new philosophies,
I’ve tried to find th’ truth that in our different both political and theological, that emerged
sects may lurk, from the growing Western scientific discourse;
’Tel my pore old brain it buzzes, and the new colonial discoveries about the diver-
like its goin’ religious mad— sity of human cultures. The idea of World Fairs
For th’ Parl’ment of Religions nigh put out th’ combined all of these factors. Yet one factor in
light I had. particular made the Chicago parliament unique
Must I leave all this sarchin’ ’tel within the history of World Fairs: its American
I reach th’ other side? social location allowed new forms of religious
I’ll treat all men as brothers explorations, such as the new concept of inter-
while on this airth I bide, faith dialogue, because of the social impact of
An’ let ‘Love’ be my motto, the First Amendment of the US Constitution.74
’tel I enter in th’ door.
B G Gokhale states that Swamiji ‘profoundly
Of that great Religious Parl’ment,
where creeds don’t count no more.71 impressed his audience [at the Parliament] by his
eloquence and earnestness, and his activities in
The entire poem stresses the catholicity of America became the basis of his fame and lead-
the Eastern religions in comparison to different ership upon his return to India’.75 Prem Shanker
forms of Christianity. The following paragraph and Uma Parameswaran argue that Swamiji, a
is a wonderful eulogy of Swamiji: Hindu monk, invited to speak at the World
Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893, was
Then I heered th’ han’some Hindu monk, sweeping across the United States like an efful-
drest up in orange dress, gent beam of light, illuminating areas of pos-
Who sed that all humanity was part of God— sible intellectual development that had been
no less, peripherally speculated upon but never thought
An’ he sed we was not sinners, of as integral to the science of psychology.
so I comfort took, once more, Swami Vivekananda’s visit to the United States
While th’ Parl’ment of Religions roared with had far-reaching effects in many fields, not the
approving roar. least important of which was psychology.76

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38 Prabuddha Bharata

The Lasting Impression Nor is it possible today to defend theories of


The World’s Parliament of Religions has an impact secularization that once held sway, when it was
that is felt even today. The spread of Indian philos- believed that religious faith and practice would
ophy in general and yoga in particular, owes much markedly decline in the U.S. and that religion’s
to Swamiji’s addresses at the Parliament. Even the social prominence and cultural influence would
predominantly ‘mental yoga equivalent to the Yoga likewise fade into obscurity’.82
Sutra’, which was later taught by Swamiji, gained Undoubtedly, if any one nation has benefited
more audience in the West after the Parliament.77 the most from the Parliament and Swamiji’s par-
The 1893 Parliament of Religions created a ticipation in it, it is India. In one masterly stroke,
great interest in interfaith dialogue and a de- with his famous address, ‘Sisters and Brothers of
mand for similar gatherings. The centenary of America’, Swamiji not only awakened the intrin-
the 1893 Parliament was observed as another Par- sic spirituality of the world, through the modern
liament in 1993 at Chicago. This was followed conglomeration of cultures that is the US, he
by Parliaments in 1999 at Cape Town; in 2004 reinvigorated India’s channels of renunciation
at Barcelona; in 2009 at Melbourne; in 2015 at and service and reminded her that her slumber
Salt Lake City, and the forthcoming Parliament was causing a global gloom, and that she had to
will be held in November 2018 at Toronto.78 The wake up, be free in all spheres, and uplift the en-
1993 Parliament called for a ‘mutual transforma- tire humanity to the lofty ideal and realisation of
tion of world religions’.79 identification with God.
Jon P Bloch is of the opinion that these Parlia- Swamiji’s speeches at the Parliament became
ments are not ‘receiving wider attention’.80 He ar- the seeds of a unique kind of integrative nation-
gues that ‘the Parliament’s understanding of global alism that has not yet been completely under-
religious ethic falls short insofar as addressing the stood. As Samta Pandya argues, ‘Commencing
inherent complexities of globalization’ (614). The with the postulate of the educative role of India
Parliament has to be studied and newer ways of to the west in the sphere of value, religion, and
addressing the phenomenon of religion have to be spirituality as per the 1893 Chicago address, the
effectively communicated to wider audiences. Bill insertion of “religion” as a keynote to the na-
J Leonard opines that ‘The World’s Parliament of tional life of India became integral.’83
Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, included rep- However, D N Dhanagere laments that
resentatives of the great world religions in an effort Swamiji’s ‘words of wisdom’ at the Parliament
to survey the changing spiritual environment of ‘have been either forgotten or their meaning mis-
the then “modern” world. A century later … few read by the American superpower. To dominate
observers of American culture would deny that the unipolar world, today, the United States, as-
there is an increasing curiosity about, if not partici- sisted by her mncs, is doing exactly the oppo-
pation in, varying dimensions of the spiritual life.’81 site’.84 His sentiment is shared by Jagmohan:
The Parliament was the harbinger of sweep-
By forgetting Vivekananda’s insightful message
ing changes in the religious tapestry across
to accept the entire planet as an inextricably en-
the world, particularly in the US. As R Marie meshed entity and recognise the common an-
Griffith notes, ‘it is no longer possible to describe cestry and common future of man, present-day
the United States as a Judeo-Christian nation, as United States is missing an epoch-making op-
many Americans once thought of their country. portunity to extend its strong helping hand to

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893: New Perspectives 39

propel human consciousness to a higher orbit religion again is found trailing humanity instead
of global fairness, balance and harmony. On the of being out to the fore and leading.’87
other hand, barring a few formal declarations, it After the Parliament and mainly after hear-
continues to act virtually as a ‘godfather’ of the ing Swamiji’s speeches, many faith-traditions be-
current system which is pumping huge quan-
came quite tolerant and even sold literature on
tities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,
overheating the Earth, transforming it into a Swamiji.88 Amanda Lucia argues that Swamiji
pressure-cooker, and exposing it to the grave ‘ushered in a new age of the guru as a public fig-
risk of explosion and resultant destruction of all ure with his American debut in 1893’.89 Dillip
life on our planet. At home, [India] too, the op- Kumar Maharana sees Swamiji’s ‘Response to
portunity to attain social cohesion and family Welcome’ as ‘one of the testimonies of Indian
stability has been lost because of the neglect of multiculturalism’.90 Rajeev Dubey states that
the soul-force which Vivekananda wanted the Swamiji’s success at the Parliament ‘is widely
Americans to develop along with development
considered to mark the beginning of “globalis-
of their economy and technology.85
ing” Hinduism’.91 Chandrakant Yatanoor be-
Diana L Eck succinctly describes how the lieves that Swamiji ‘brought Hinduism to the
challenges for interreligious understanding have West’ through the Parliament.92 Swami Nikhila­
changed today: nanda states that Swamiji was ‘the first cultural
The universalism so dominant 100 years ago is ambassador of India to the New World’.93
now challenged by fundamentalists and plural- Jeffery D Long argues that speaking ‘truth to
ists alike, though for different reasons. For the power, not unlike the biblical prophets, Vive-
fundamentalist, the very idea that all religions kananda delivered [the message of plurality] …
have a common kernel and core undermines the as an Indian at a time when European coloniza-
particularity of one’s own faith and reduces those
tion of much of the earth was being justified as
well-defended boundaries to mere husks. For
the pluralist, universalism poses a more covert the “white man’s burden” and as a Hindu in a
problem. As the Parliament so clearly demon- land where the superiority of Christianity was
strated, and as the early phases of the compara- taken for granted’.94
tive study of religion confirmed, the universal Phillip Charles Lucas argues that ‘Vive-
is usually somebody’s particular writ large. Plu- kananda attempted to combine Advaita Ve-
ralism, however, is a distinctively different per- danta’s teaching of non-dual reality with a more
spective. The pluralist does not expect or desire Western concern for progressive activism’.95 Ac-
the emergence of a universal religion, a kind of cording to H D Sankalia, Swamiji’s message of
religious Esperanto. Nor does the pluralist seek
‘the essential oneness of all religions of the world
a common essence in all religions, though much
that is common may be discovered. The com- … thrilled the vast concourse and lifted the pro-
mitment of the pluralist is rather to engage the ceedings [of the Parliament] which until then
diversity, in the mutually transformative process had been flowing in narrow, separate grooves,
of understanding, rather than to obliterate it.86 each participant speaking for his religion only’.96
According to Rolland Emerson Wolfe, ‘A S K Pachauri argues that Swamiji’s Parliament
good start [at interreligious understanding] speeches generated goodwill ‘between the
was made at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 American and Indian peoples’.97
when the “Parliament of Religions” was formed, Swamiji’s speeches at the Parliament con-
but that movement was allowed to die. As it is, tinue to influence believers from across religious

PB October 2018 707


40 Prabuddha Bharata

traditions. A Jewish believer asserts that ‘it was a wide range of American interests than they have
Vivekananda who not only helped me to un- been for 50 years. They cannot be safely ignored
derstand the spirit of tolerance in the Hindu in the future, as they have been in the past.’102
tradition but also led me to see that this spirit of Seager argues that ‘Vivekananda’s Hindu the-
tolerance is present in my own tradition’.98 ism was the basis for an inclusivist theological
Jitish Kallat, an artist, converted Swamiji’s ‘Re- vision that made a major contribution to the Par-
sponse to Welcome’ on 11 September 1893 to a liament’s protean ambiguities’.103 In his review
led display on each of the ‘118 risers of the his- of Seager’s The World’s Parliament of Religions:
toric Woman’s Board Grand Staircase of the Art The East/West Encounter, James E Ketelaar says:
Institute of Chicago, adjacent to the site of Vi- Seager interprets the Parliament from different
vekananda’s original address. Drawing attention perspectives: as a singular event in American
to the great chasm between this speech of toler- religious history, as a facet of the Columbian
ance and the very different events of September Exposition, and as an event with global conse-
quences. He suggests that the Parliament as an
11, 2001, the text of the speech … [was] displayed
expression of eighteenth-century classical reviv-
in the colors of the United States’ Department of alism embodied the iconic style for Anglo-Prot-
Homeland Security alert system’.99 estant civil religion. … The Parliament was thus
Thus, Vivekananda’s speech is presented on the ‘a struggle over the content of a myth of America’
risers of the Grand Staircase with 68,700 glow- and, Seager concludes, it ‘was a liberal, western,
ing led (light-emitting diode) lights in the five and American quest for world religious unity
colors of the threat codes in a font that was that failed’ … Recognizing that ‘there was no sin-
specially created for this work. A computer- gle World’s Parliament of Religions, but many’ …
generated program was used to distribute the Seager for his part chooses to place ‘the Asians
application of the five colors randomly through- and the East/ West encounter’ at center stage
out the text. The speech begins on the lowest ris- of his analysis … His discussion of Indian, Chi-
ers of the staircase and progresses upward, so that nese, and Japanese delegates to the Parliament,
whichever path a visitor takes up the three flights, though significantly hampered by the exclusive
he or she will walk through the entire speech.100 reliance upon English language materials, is a
The display was exhibited from 11 September noteworthy attempt to rethink the roles of these
2010 to 12 September 2011. ‘Oriental others’ in the Parliamentary vision of
Kallat has imbibed Swamiji’s broad vision and religion and civilization. Through a richly tex-
tured discussion of the Asian delegates, Seager
feels that ‘the idea of the nation isn’t any more a
effectively demonstrates that the Parliament was
potent tool to comprehend artistic practice. So at- shot through with ‘parochialism, ethnocentrism,
taching the noun “Indian” like an adjective to de- imperial pretensions, and hegemonic intentions’
scribe an artist may not hold good as the syntactic … In such an environment, he concludes, ‘Asians
precision or descriptive capability of the adjective and their religions could only operate as second-
to differentiate has dissolved somewhat in today’s ary, subordinate signs in a global discourse’.104
world, integrated though it may be by satellites Homi K Bhabha has a poignant portrayal of
in the sky and fiber-optic cables under the sea’.101 Swamiji’s influence:
Swamiji presented India to the world through Vivekananda’s national ‘public’ is a cosmopol-
the Parliament and that has led to the understand- itan public sphere consisting of citizens, ref-
ing that ‘in a transformed international order, … ugees, diasporics; it is an ethical community
[India’s] assets and resources are more relevant to that respects the rights and representation of

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Swami Vivekananda and the World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893: New Perspectives 41

minorities. Vivekananda’s affective mode of ad-


dress represents the voice of the citizen of one Exposition of 1893’, Journal of Mormon History,
34/4 (Fall 2008), 153–80; 153–4.
country signifying the religious and political
16. Thillayvel Naidoo, ‘A Century Along the Road
polyphony of the wretched of the earth. This is of Truth, Non-Violence and Religious Dia-
a public sphere that cannot be identified in the logue’, Journal for the Study of Religion, 8/1
simple spatial polarities of local/global for two (March 1995), 71–84; 73.
reasons: first, the historical insight that modern 17. Angelyn Dries, ‘American Catholics and World
national territories are often sites of global set- Religions, Theory and Praxis: 1893–1959’
tlements and the disruption or displacements of American Catholic Studies, 113/1–2 (Spring-
national minorities; second, ‘local’ and ‘global’ Summer 2002), 31–50; 33.
as spatial norms and measures cannot track the 18. Egal Feldman, ‘American Ecumenicism: Chi-
complex, contingent ways in which national cago’s World’s Parliament of Religions of 1893’,
imperatives and global interests intersect in the Journal of Church and State, 9/2 (Spring 1967),
struggle between sovereignty and solidarity. 180–99, 181.
19. James F Cleary, ‘Catholic Participation in the
Thus, Swamiji’s Chicago speeches continue to World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893’,
inspire countless, who want to experience freedom The Catholic Historical Review, 55/4 ( January
1970), 585–609; 586–7.
at various levels. However, we need to have a deep 20. Joseph M Kitagawa, ‘Humanistic and Theo-
understanding of his ideas and strive to actualise logical History of Religions with Special Ref-
them. Swamiji’s idea of religion was person-centric erence to the North American Scene’, Numen,
and was devoid of the entanglements and imposi- 27/2 (December 1980), 198–221; 198.
tions of institutions. He wanted every person to 21. Joseph M Kitagawa, ‘The History of Religions
in America’, The History of Religions: Essays in
have the freedom to have one’s own religion. He Methodology, eds Mircea Eliade and Joseph M
wanted everyone to accept this as a reality of life Kitagawa <https://www.religion-online.org/
and look upon every other being only as a divine book-chapter/the-history-of-religions-in-amer-
being, whose true nature is quite above the mun- ica-by-joseph-m-kitagawa/> accessed 14 August
2018. Also see The History of Religions: Essays in
dane characterisations we see to be associated with Methodology, eds Mircea Eliade and Joseph M
a person. When would Swamiji’s idea of religion Kitagawa (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1959).
be realised by everyone in the world? We need not 22. The Dawn of Religious Pluralism: Voices from the
worry and have to only strive towards that goal, World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893, ed. Richard
because as cited in the beginning of this paper, Hughes Seager (La Salle: Open Court, 1994), 6.
23. A Museum of Faiths: Histories and Legacies of the
Swamiji would not rest, until every person has re- 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, ed. Eric J
alised one’s Self. He does not want Hinduism to Ziolkowski (Atlanta: Scholars, 1993), 4.
prevail. He does not want Christianity to prevail. 24. Tiffany Puett, ‘On Transforming Our World:
He does not want Buddhism, Islam, or Sikhism to Critical Pedagogy for Interfaith Education’, Cross-
Currents, 55/2 (Summer 2005), 264–73, 266.
prevail. He does not want any ism to prevail. All
25. John R McRae, ‘Oriental Verities on the Ameri-
he wants from us is that we do not get stuck with can Frontier: The 1893 World’s Parliament of
the labels of religion, spirituality, or even human- Religions and the Thought of Masao Abe’, Bud-
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