The other 9/11 that you’ve probably never heard of


Charlotte Coats, Staff Writer

On the anniversary of the tragedy that occurred 14 years ago, Americans take time from their day to remember and mourn. September 11, 2001 is a dark day in American history.

Unfortunately, this terrible has helped to perpetuate religious intolerance and misunderstanding. Though the events of 9/11 should by no means be forgotten, there is another anniversary that ought to be recognized on this day. It promotes acceptance and understanding between religions instead of ignorance and suspicion.

On September 11, 1893, twelve representatives from the world’s largest religions walked hand in hand up the steps to the first Parliament of World Religions. This meeting took place in what is now known as the Art Institute of Chicago, and was the largest of the many congresses held in the midst of the World’s Colombian Exposition (a.k.a Chicago’s World Fair). Approximately 4,000 people stood in the crowd for the first of 17 days meant to educate and find commonality between the world’s most influential religions.

Two years before the opening day, John Henry Barrows, a clergyman of First Presbyterian Church, was named chairman of the initiative. Barrows said of the congress: “The solemn charge which the Parliament preaches to all true believers is a return to the primitive unity of the world…The results may be far off, but they are certain.”

Unfortunately, the glaring problem of the Parliament was the overwhelming lack of adequate representation amongst the speakers and attendants. Out of 194 papers delivered, 152 were English-speaking Christians. The other 42 speeches were made by representatives of Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Parsi, Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism and Jainism. As you can see, even with this extensive list of influential world religions, there are serious discrepancies. There were many religions that were ignored, including any Native American beliefs.

Though the lack of representation is regrettable, the Parliament is known for opening a formal worldwide dialogue between religions. Nineteen women spoke which was unprecedented in 1893. Another positive occurrence of the Parliament was the speaker Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda was a Hindu monk who was a major force in the Hindu revival in India and Hinduism becoming a major world religion. His captivating speech became one of the most popular of the convention. In it, he introduced Hinduism to America and began with the words: “Sisters and brothers of America!”

On September 11, we as Americans remember and mourn the deaths caused by al-Qaeda terrorists. We can also take this day to recognize an attempt at unity and understanding during a time when interreligious dialogue was unheard of. We can celebrate the anniversary of when the doors of religious communication were opened and people from many different faiths came together to find commonality and understanding.