Tarka #007

On Pluralism


On Pluralism

In the global scope of religious diversity tolerance is a profound achievement. Yet, tolerance is a tenuous foundation for interreligious peace.  Pluralism, as a prescriptive term, is a practice and goal for positive interreligious encounters. Eboo Patel and Cassie Meyer describe this as follows, “A community marked by pluralism is characterized by respect for different and even conflicting religious and secular identities, forming relationships across lines of difference, and working together for the common good.”(1)

In addition, we might add that pluralism holds the possibility for deeply learning across religious boundaries.  This kind of learning is not done in spite of religious difference.  On the contrary, difference between traditions, doctrine, and practice can provide opportunities for learning.  Yet, how do we move beyond tolerance, towards genuine interreligious partnerships, and the possibility of learning from and with the other?

Catherine Cornille, author of The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue, explains that humility and curiosity are necessary for interreligious learning.  She adds, “While tolerance often includes an attitude of indifference or even disregard for the distinctive beliefs and practices of the other (one need not understand, let alone respect, what one is willing to tolerate), genuine humility is accompanied by an attitude of interest in the other and by a self-critical awareness of the possibility of the distortions in one’s own understanding of the other.”(2)

Facing religious diversity requires some self-reckoning.  This month’s TARKA features several accomplished authors and different approaches to living with and engaging religious diversity.  In the first article, Jeffery Long discusses the various ways that people commonly respond to religious diversity. “There are,” Long states, “at least as many worldviews as there are individual people.” Long’s article, “Celebrating the Diversity of Perspectives: An Overview of Pluralism,” introduces some of the scholarly terms that are used in the study of religious pluralism and argues for the value of engaging religious diversity.

Next, Kenneth Rose’s “Religious Pluralism and the Upaniṣads,” responds to the impasse in theology of religions between universalist approaches to religious pluralism (i.e. all religions ultimately say the same thing) and those that aver that different religions are ultimately irreconcilable.  Rose suggests that a close study of the Upaniṣads reveals a “non-exclusive apophatic pluralism,” that is, an understanding of religious diversity that is at once open to religious diversity and that also provides a common ground for understanding.

The next two articles focus more directly on examples of integrating religious life into American, pluralistic culture.  Miles Neale’s “McMindfulness and Frozen Yoga: Rediscovering the Essential Teachings of Ethics and Wisdom,” considers the commodification of contemplative traditions and urges readers to rethink the practices of Yoga and meditation in light of their historical and contextual traditions.

In the following article, “Making It Up As I Go Along,” Mary Lahaj describes her experience training for hospital chaplaincy as a second-generation American (Lebanese), Muslim.  Lahaj reflects on her own complex identity as a Muslim in America post 9-11 and in the multi-faith context of hospital chaplaincy work. Though it is not referenced in her narrative, Lahaj aptly demonstrates the kind of interfaith leadership and formation that Eboo Patel suggests is the cornerstone for pluralism.

The next three articles specifically compare two religious traditions to gain insight and fresh understanding of their own spiritual, religious practice.  First, writing from a Buddhist perspective, John Makransky examines Christian liberation theology and engaged Buddhism. In “A Buddhist Critique of, and Learning from, Christian Liberation Theology,” Makransky argues that this comparison highlights problems in each approach and that insights from one tradition can strengthen the other.

Paul Knitter’s “A Buddhist-Christian Liberative Praxis,” similarly looks at Christianity and Buddhism and the “shared commitment to seek liberation from the unnecessary sufferings that afflict humanity and all sentient beings.” After considering some basic similarities, Knitter focuses on key differences between the two traditions and how attention to these differences can inform and strengthen the other.  

In the next piece, Buddhist journalist and photographer, Peter Aronson reconsiders his Jewish heritage in light of Buddhist practices.  “Reflections of a Jewish Buddhist,” is an honest essay of self-reckoning in light of interfaith identity.

Last, but not least, returning author Isa Gucciardi offers an excerpt from her book on conflict resolution, Coming to Peace.  Gucciardi considers the interconnectedness of all beings that is taught in several of the world’s oldest indigenous traditions from Africa to North America and suggests that these traditions still offer important insights for peacemaking in the world today.

This issue of TARKA is offered alongside a four-week course on Pluralism taught by Jeffrey Long, available in our course catalog at embodiedphilosophy.com/learn.  Religious and spiritual pluralism is a part of our social landscape. Yet, learning how to effectively engage and respectfully learn from the religious other has the potential to transform the challenge of diversity into an unlimited opportunity for personal growth and connection.

~ Stephanie Corigliano, TARKA Managing Editor

Eboo Patel and Cassie Meyer, “Teaching Interfaith Leadership,” in Teaching Interreligious Encounters, Marc A. Pugliese and Alexander Y. Hwang, eds. New York: Oxford University Press (2017: 301).

Catherine Cornille, The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company (2008: 25).