Shuck and Jive

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Pluralism Project

Many churches, including ours will be celebrating Pluralism Sunday on May 27th. A good resource is the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Diana Eck gives a helpful definition of pluralism. Here it is in full:

The plurality of religious traditions and cultures has come to characterize every part of the world today. But what is pluralism? Here are four points to begin our thinking:

  • First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
  • Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly.
  • Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
  • Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table -- with one’s commitments.
I quoted Diana Eck in a newspaper article I wrote several years ago, Respond with Hospitality to Growing Diversity. That is the best one-word definition of pluralism I can offer--hospitality. This is most certainly a "Jesus value."


  1. The "exchange of commitments" remark reminds me of what Marcus Borg wrote in "The Heart of Christianity":

    When a Christian seeker asked the Dalai Lama whether she should become a Buddhist, his response, which I paraphrase, was: "No, become more deeply Christian; live more deeply into your own tradition."

  2. Thanks Seeker,

    I really like the way Borg deals with that!

  3. Thich Nhat Hanh, in Living Buddha Living Christ, says basically the same thing, as well as in other books.

    I think its great that you did this. My internship congregation isn't ready for a pluralism Sunday - not by a long shot. Over half of them are first-generation Chinese converts, and they see pluralism as a threat to their (relatively - most are older than me) newfound faith. They're very tolerant, but the idea of including Buddhist elements in a recent wedding at the church, for example, really upset them.

    So I'll have to enjoy this vicariously for a while.

  4. Thanks Doug! All the best to you with your church and thanks for the the reminder about Thich Nhat Hann.