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Doctoral Dissertation Announcement
Candidate: Cynthia Visscher
Doctor of Philosophy
Title: The Religious Aspects of the 1893 Columbian Exposition: A Case Study of Interreligious Interaction, and Religious Pluralism in the Public Square
Dr. Vyacheslav Karpov, Chair
Dr. Elena Lisovskaya
Dr. David Hartmann
Dr. Yuan-Kang Wang
Date: Friday, May 18, 2012 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
2526 Sangren Hall
How increasing religious diversity in the United States will affect social structure is an important debate in the sociology of religion. The proposed outcomes range from the concept that religious diversity will dilute the influence of any one group and lead to privatization of religion to the concept that religious ideas have always influenced formation of public policy. The problem is that this debate is waged largely in normative theory. There is little that either side offers in terms of how a pluralistic public square could exist; and if it could, what its foundations would be.
The increasing religious diversity in the United States has largely occurred through immigration. Three waves of immigration have occurred in the United States, and the fourth wave is occurring currently. Exploring the effect that inter-religious interaction had on society during the third wave of immigration provides a framework for understanding how increases in religious diversity could affect public life during the fourth wave of immigration. One major event, the 1893 Columbian Exposition or Chicago World’s Fair stands out as being well suited for exploration. The Columbian Exposition was nationally and internationally significant, and encapsulated several conditions that could provide a window into formal and informal; intended and unintended, and; cooperative and conflict ridden interreligious interaction.
Three types of interreligious interaction occurred during the Columbian Exposition. Religiously conservative and liberal Americans engaged in a battle regarding Sunday closing at the fair; the fairgrounds contained live “village” exhibits where people from throughout the globe lived closely together for six months, and: the Parliament of Religions was an international effort to bring all religions to the public square in order to counter act the “secular revolution” that was still gathering steam, but had not yet affected public institutions (Smith 2003). This case study allows for an empirical investigation of the accommodation of religious diversity in a society that was in early stages of secularization. This approach may help address the questions involved in whether a secularized or de-secularized society is better able to accommodate religious diversity, rather than whether one or the other should support that accommodation.