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John Henry Barrows: Producing the First Parliament of Religions

Rev. John Henry Barrows, the “architect” of the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions.

by Marcus Braybrooke
from The Interfaith Dispatch

John Henry Barrows was the architect of the 1893 Parliament of Religions. Charles Carroll Bonney has been properly credited for coming up with the idea of a World Parliament of Religions. It was Bonney’s notion that the World Fair in Chicago and its great exhibits should be accompanied by a series of “congresses” or parliaments to provide a forum for discussing the state of anthropology, art, commerce and finance, education, labor, literature, medicine, philosophy, temperance, and religion. The most important congresses to Bonney were about religion. He, therefore, established a committee to organise them and appointed Rev. Dr. John Henry Barrows the chair.

Barrows, born in 1847, was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He had studied at Yale, at Union Theological (NY) and Andover Newton seminaries, and served congregations in Kansas, Massachusetts, and Paris. Rather than trying to describe the Parliament itself, this essay briefly summarizes Barrow’s contribution and theological stance.

Rev. Barrows, known as a powerful preacher, was clearly a tireless worker. Besides the World Parliament, his Committee organised 45 denominational congresses. In preparation for the Parliament of Religions, some ten thousand personal letters – not to mention forty thousand documents – were sent to the far corners of the world inviting support. “We affectionately invite the representatives of all faiths,” the letter said, “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.”

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