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Exhibiting Religion

Colonialism and Spectacle at International Expositions, 1851–1893
John P. Burris

BUY Cloth · 240 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813920832 · $55.00 · Jan 2002

World’s fairs contributed mightily to defining a relationship between religion and the wider world of human culture. Even at the base level of popular culture found on the midways of the earliest international expositions—where Victorian ladies gawked at displays of non-Western, "primitive" life—the concept of religion as an independent field of study began to take hold in public consciousness. The World’s Parliament of Religions at the Chicago exposition of 1893 did as much as any other single event to introduce the idea that religion could be viewed as simply one concern among many within the rapidly diversifying modern lifestyle.

A chronicle of the emergence and development of religion as a field of intellectual inquiry, Exhibiting Religion: Colonialism and Spectacle at International Expositions, 1851-1893 is an extensive survey of world’s fairs from the inaugural Great Exhibition in London to the Chicago Columbian Exposition and World’s Parliament of Religions. As the first broad gatherings of people from across the world, these events were pivotal as forums in which the central elements of a field of religion came into contact with one another.

John Burris argues that comparative religion was the focal point for early attempts at comparative culture and that both were defined more by the intercultural politics and material exchanges of colonialism than by the spirit of objective intellectual inquiry. Equally a work of American and British religious history and a cultural history of the emerging field of religion, this book offers definitive theoretical insights into the discipline of religious studies in its early formation.


Exhibiting Religion is authoritative and will eagerly be read by all those interested in the relationship between the concept of religion and the geo-politics of modernity. This book is significantly different from virtually all treatments of such events as the World’s Parliament, since the norm among contemporary scholars is to celebrate it uncritically, rather than thoroughly historicize it, as John Burris has very nicely done.

Russell T. McCutcheonUniversity of Alabama, author of Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia

"John Burris’s perspective brings a mass of information into a new focus, which allows him to build a frequently compelling argument about the broad cultural role industrial and cultural exhibitions played in the second half of the nineteenth century in the West.

Gary Ebersole, University of Missouri-Kansas City, author of Captured by Texts: Puritan to Postmodern Images of Indian Captivity

About the Author(s): 

John P. Burris is Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Stetson University and the editor of Reflections in the Mirror of Religion.

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