In the global village, people are encountering more and more diversity in their daily lives. I am confident that slowly and gradually, people are replacing fear and ignorance with curiosity and understanding, with regards to different cultures and religions. We see evidence of this happening at a shallow level in the growing importance of political correctness and in the ‘tolerance’ battle cry. (See my articles “Political Correctness: More Than Just A Filter” and “Beyond Tolerance” for more.) These tactics work to create a society that deals effectively with diversity. But if we want a society that thrives off of diversity, pluralism must be employed.

A true pluralistic perspective, as advocated in the interfaith movement, means recognizing the possibility and perhaps the actuality of many valid religions as well as dismissing any notions of superiority of one tradition over another (Knitter, 54). We cannot just live in separation and annoyance of the Other, we must acknowledge true equality and legitimacy of other traditions. Shallow ‘tolerance’ does not achieve this. Instead, “… pluralism is a deep understanding of the unique values of different communities, and trying to communicate with different communities about these values…” (Kyung, 102). This communication has endless real-world applications in diplomacy and problem solving, not to mention opportunities for new types of spiritual experience. Given the state of our problem-ridden world, more people need to carry a genuine, pluralist world view.

Those from Eastern traditions may have an easier time adopting and maintaining a pluralist world view as opposed to their Western counterparts. Eastern traditions are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly acceptable and common for one to follow Buddhism, Confucianism and the Tao fully and simultaneously. The East has had plenty of practice recognizing the equality and legitimacy of different traditions. Traditions common in the Western world however are often mutually exclusive, each claiming possession of ultimate truth.

Giving up this claim of superiority and acknowledging the truth in other traditions may seem rather New Age to devout believers of ‘one true’ religion. However, it is a long way from pluralism to syncretism. (I hope to explore the relationship between pluralism and syncretism at a later time.) But none the less, pluralism is sometimes seen as a threat in those traditions where superiority is part of their belief system. Regardless, the pluralist effort needs to be universal. ‘Tolerance’ simply won’t deliver what this global village desperately needs: understanding, or at least a genuine effort to understand one another. Given the qualities of the Eastern traditions, it may very well be the East that leads the world in this effort. Given the qualities of Western traditions, our effort to break structures of thought to make room for a more dynamic way of life must be fervent and constant.

Knitter, Paul. Cincinnati Interview 2006 in, The Quiet Revolution: The emergence of interfaith consciousness, by P. Kirkwood, 2007. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books.

Kyung, Chung Hyun. New York Interview 2006 in, The Quiet Revolution: The emergence of interfaith consciousness, by P. Kirkwood, 2007. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books.



  1. The least pluralistic and the most resistant religions too pluralism are the ones who claim they are the only way. Both Christianity and Islam claim to be the only way.
    These claims are rooted in doctrine. Before you change those beliefs you must change the scriptures upon which the doctrines are based. That simply will not work. But embracing Christianity will work if Islam is rejected.


  2. Yes it will be most difficult for traditions (such as Christianity and Islam) that promote mutual exclusivity to take on a pluralistic perspective. Their claims of superiority are rooted in scripture that cannot simply be altered or abandoned to suite pluralism. Pluralism offers the opportunity to step outside traditional boundaries in order to experience and understand different religions to create a more peaceful world and strengthen one’s own respective faith. Pluralism does not require giving up one’s own faith.

    While mutual exclusivity is part both Islam and Christianity, there is also plenty of scripture that accommodates diversity. Jesus associated with both Jews and Gentiles all the while living a godly life and strengthening his and his followers spiritual lives. According to Genesis diversity is God’s will, ” ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the earth, and they left off building the city” (Genesis, 11:6-8). Islam too accepts diversity and promotes fellowship across divides. In the Ayat al-Hyujurat, “O mankind! We created you from and a male and a female and We made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another…” (49:13). Scripture is often contradictory. Some verses are welcoming of diversity while others are damning. Neither the Bible nor the Quran is written in black and white, but in shades of gray. There are few absolutes.

    My understanding of Islam does not include ‘forced submission’. It takes a willingness to believe, practice and learn in order to grow spiritually in any faith including Islam. Without genuine and willing belief a religious tradition cannot be sustained let alone thrive.


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