Religious pluralism is an expression concerning acceptance of various religions, and is used in a number of related ways:
As the name of the worldview according to which one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions.
As acceptance of the concept that two or more religions with mutually exclusive truth claims are equally valid. This may be considered a form of either toleration (a concept that arose as a result of the European wars of religion) or moral relativism.
The understanding that the exclusive claims of different religions turn out, upon closer examination, to be variations of universal truths that have been taught since time immemorial. This is called Perennialism (based on the concept of philosophia perrenis) or Traditionalism.
Sometimes as a synonym for ecumenism, i.e., the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion.
As term for the condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations.
As a social norm and not merely a synonym for religious diversity.
Definition and scope
Religious pluralism, to paraphrase the title of a recent academic work, goes beyond mere toleration. Chris Beneke, in Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism, explains the difference between religious tolerance and religious pluralism by pointing to the situation in the late 18th century United States.
By the 1730s, in most colonies religious minorities had obtained what contemporaries called religious toleration: “The policy of toleration relieved religious minorities of some physical punishments and some financial burdens, but it did not make them free from the indignities of prejudice and exclusion. Nor did it make them equal.
Those ‘tolerated’ could still be barred from civil offices, military positions, and university posts.”In short, religious toleration is only the absence of religious persecution, and does not necessarily preclude religious discrimination.
However, in the following decades something extraordinary happened in the Thirteen Colonies, at least if one views the events from “a late eighteenth-century perspective.” Gradually the colonial governments expanded the policy of religious toleration, but then, between the 1760s and the 1780s, they replaced it with “something that is usually called religious liberty.”
Mark Silka, in “Defining Religious Pluralism in America: A Regional Analysis”, states that Religious pluralism “enables a country made up of people of different faiths to exist without sectarian warfare or the persecution of religious minorities. Understood differently in different times and places, it is a cultural construct that embodies some shared conception of how a country’s various religious communities relate to each other and to the larger nation whole.”
Last updated: April 3, 2014 at 11:41 am
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