Stories from the Big House

03 September 2011

Our Connection to The Parliament of World's Religions and the World's Fair Columbian Exposition of 1893

One of the most fascinating "Stories from the Big House" is the connection of the Hegeler and Carus Families with the Parliament of World's Religions, the first attempt to create a dialogue between faiths.

The first Parliament of World's Religions was held in 1893 in Chicago.  This event was held in conjunction with The Worlds Fair Columbian Exposition which many called The White City because of the white washed architecture of the fair buildings.  There has been renewed interest in the fair of 1893, due to the bestselling book, "The Devil in the White City."
The fair itself was a momentus occasion in history.  Many new things had their public debut at the fair, such as the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit Gum, the post card, Quaker Oats and shredded wheat.

People were coming to Chicago from all over the world to visit the fair.  Smaller conferences called "Parliaments" specialized in different areas of interest were scheduled. The Parliament of World's Religions was by far the largest of the conferences held in conjunction with the Exposition.  The Parliament ran from September 11 to September 27, 1893 had marked the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide.

In 1893, Edward Hegeler and Paul Carus attended the Parliament of World's Religions.  While there they met many religious leaders of their time.  Carus is proposed to be a pioneer in the promotion of interfaith dialogue. He explored the relationship of science and religion, and was instrumental in introducing Eastern traditions and ideas to the West. Carus's book "The Gospel of Buddha" which he wrote and translated with D.T. Suzuki made him a key figure in the introduction of Buddhism to the western world.  Carus had a lifelong working friendship with Buddhist Master, Soyen Shaku. Carus’ interest in Asian religions seems to have intensified after he attended the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893.
For years afterwards, Carus was a strong sympathizer of Buddhist ideas, but stopped short of committing fully to this, or any other, religion. Carus worked for the rest of his life trying to organize another Parliament of Worlds Religions.  The Parliament of World's Religions gives the Paul Carus Award to those who have great acheivment in peace among religions through interfaith dialogue.

TodayA fantastic Art installation has been on display in Chicago at the Art Institute for almost a year.  Public Notice #3 is presented on the grand staircase.  September 11, 1893 was the opening day for the Parliament which took place at what is now Fullerton Hall in the Art Institute.  The terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon happened on that very date, 108 years later.  Public Notice 3, has the speech given by Swami Vivekananda from 1893, which called for an end to all "bigotry and fanaticism" written in multi colored LED lights. Viewers enter the art work by climbing the stairs from two sides and follow the words of peace up the stairs to four cardinal directions. 

Some of our Hegeler Carus Foundation members were fortunate to be invited to walk through this space and view this very powerful art installation.  It is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago until September 11, 2011. 


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