East and West Encounters Yesterday and Today

One of the delights of the 2012 centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s journey to North America is finding digital resources exploring the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century encounters between East and West. Among such encounters were two visitors—Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore–who brought to the West and to Americans mostly unfamiliar with them information about their cultures and the teachings of Hinduism.

In 1893 Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), a Hindu from India, participated in the Parliament of the World’s Religions meeting in Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago. His talks prepared Americans for considering the truths of other religions and thus set the conditions for the establishment of the Baha’i Faith in the United States.

In 2010 the Art Institute opened an art installation by contemporary Indian artist Jitish Kallat noting the coincidence that Swami Vivekananda gave a speech on peace at the Parliament on September 11, 1893, 108 years to the day before the terrorists’ attacks in 2001.

Swami Vivekananda’s talk “argued for an end of fanaticism and a respectful recognition of all traditions of belief through universal tolerance.” Due to popular acclaim, the Art Institute kept the installation on display for more than a year.

Hindus from around the world still visit the Art Institute as a place of pilgrimage associated with the Swami. A street outside the Institute has an honorary street sign for him.

You can read Swami Vivekananda’s talk at http://tinyurl.com/6mpemv6.

In 1912 Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali, (1861-1941) toured the United States and the U.K. In 2012 the Art Institute of Chicago honored him with an exhibit called “The Last Harvest: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore.” The Institute’s Web page describes Tagore as “a renowned novelist, poet, musician, and philosopher–the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913–Tagore is responsible for shaping the modern Indian identity.”

When Tagore was asked, he stated that he met ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Chicago, although there is no Baha’i record of this meeting.

You can read about the exhibit at http://tinyurl.com/c37yjh3.

Tagged with: ,