Held in 1893 in Chicago at the time of the great Columbian Exposition, the World’s Parliament of Religions brought people of widely different religious traditions together for the first time on American soil. Parliament Chairman John Henry Barrows recalls the planning, the vision, and the 10,000 letters of invitation sent out around the world:
Early in June, 1891, the General Committee sent out to the world a Preliminary Address. They called attention to the creative and regulative power of Religion as a factor in human development. They expressed a desire for the cooperation of the representatives of all the great historical faiths; they believed that the time was ripe for new manifestations of human fraternity.
Humanity, though sundered by oceans and languages and widely diverse forms of Religion, was one in need if not altogether in hope.
The Address reviewed the fact that the literatures of the great historic faiths were more and more studied in the spirit of candor and brotherhood. Disclaiming any purpose to create a temple of indifferentism, the Committee urged that a friendly conference of eminent men, strong in their personal convictions, would be useful in showing what are the supreme truths, and what light Religion affords to the great problems of the time.
The Committee said:
“Believing that God is, and that he has not left himself without witness; believing that the influence of Religion tends to advance the general welfare, and is the most vital force in the social order of every people, and convinced that of a truth God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted of him, we affectionately invite the representatives of all faiths to aid us in presenting to the world, at the Exposition of 1893, the religious harmonies and unities of humanity, and also in showing forth the moral and spiritual agencies which are at the root of human progress. It is proposed to consider the foundations of religious Faith, to review the triumphs of Religion in all ages, to set forth the present state of Religion among the nations and its influence over Literature, Art, Commerce, Government and the Family Life, to indicate its power in promoting Temperance and Social Purity and its harmony with true Science, to show its dominance in the higher institutions of learning, to make prominent the value of the weekly rest-day on religious and other grounds, and to contribute to those forces which shall bring about the unity of the race in the worship of God and the service of man.”
[From Rev. John Henry Barrows, ed., The World’s Parliament of Religions, vol. 1 (Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893), 10.]