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.
- ©© 2009 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture