Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Vyacheslav Karpov

Second Advisor

Dr. David Hartmann

Third Advisor

Dr. Elena Lisovskaya

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Yuan-Kang Wang


This case study of the religious aspects of the 1893 Columbian Exposition examines the conditions that supported religious pluralism in the public square in the nineteenth century; compares these conditions to contemporary social contexts, and; contributes to the sociological debate regarding the effect of increasing religious diversity on social structure in the United States.

The existing literature is more often focused on normative theory rather than empirical examination. This case study offers an empirical investigation of the accommodation of religious diversity in a society that was in early stages of secularization and addresses how a pluralistic public square existed. Specifically, foundations of a religiously pluralistic public square, the conditions under which religious co-existence results in normative religious pluralism, and the nineteenth century motivations for religiously pluralistic discourse are explored using large amounts of primary data sources.

The conditions where interreligious co-existence resulted in a normative religious pluralism were protection for religious expression and structures that / supported accommodation of cultural differences and encouraged interreligious interaction. It is argued that some of the conditions of nineteenth century religious pluralism in the public square are possible in the contemporary context. Religious and cultural associations have the potential to communicate local concerns through national networks, and the internet can provide a platform for citizen-driven communication that is a functional equivalent to the nineteenth century press.

However, several other essential conditions do not translate to the current social context of institutional secularization. The social ideal that religious ideas can serve as a moral resource; federal government support for intentional interreligious dialog, and; the ability for religious groups and "legislators as religious citizens and representatives" to carry out religious conversations as a part of the legislative process are unlikely to occur under current conditions. Finally, motivations regarding interreligious interaction in both centuries range from a high interest in interfaith relations to a heightened avoidance and mistrust in diverse communities. I suggest that conditions for establishing a normative religious pluralism do exist in the current social context but the strong limiting forces of a social ideal of secular discourse, institutional secularization, and American avoidance of ethnic and religious diversity also exist.


A print copy can be found in Waldo Library at call number BL 9999.V577.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access