pluralism & inclusivism
The diversity of meanings of
the term "religious pluralism"
Quotes showing different meanings of "religious pluralism"
|It means religious inclusivism: "... 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."
|It means religious tolerance: "... the condition of harmonious
co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious
|It means religious ecumenism."... the promotion of some level of
unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or
denominations within a single religion.
|It means religious diversity: "... the fact that in a
given society there exist a multiplicity of religions together."
Is it any surprise that sincere folks from
different religions -- or from different denominations within a single religion
-- have communication difficulties when attempting dialogue.
Single words with multiple definitions are found throughout the
English language. This problem may be found most frequently in the
field of religion. Such terms as Witch,
Paganism and cult
have up to 17 meanings that we have been able to identify. Some are related; others very different.
result can be chaotic. A person reading an essay or a listening to a speech
often must struggle to understand which of many definitions an author or
speaker is using. Often the speaker does not pre-define the terms, leaving the
listeners having to guess the meaning from the context of her or his speech. Sadly, too many readers and listeners will use their own
preferred definition a word or phrase, which differs from that of the
writer or speaker.
A description of some of the meanings of "religious
Meaning 1: Religious pluralism equals religious diversity:
Some consider religious pluralism and
religious diversity to be synonyms; That is, pluralism is a simple
recognition of the fact
that there are many different faith groups active in the country. Using this
definition, religious pluralism
statistical fact according to data collected by census offices and public opinion
Examples using religious pluralism as a synonym for religious diversity are:
|"The Pluralism Project was developed by Diana L. Eck at
Harvard University to study and document the growing religious
diversity of the United States..." From the mission of the
Pluralism Project. 18|
| "I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I
want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good...Our goal is a
Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country.
We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism." Randall
|"...the new religious pluralism [in Brazil was] created mainly by the
rapid growth of Protestant Pentecostalism." 3
Kenneth P. Serbin, discussing the loss of dominance by the Roman
Catholic Church in Brazil.|
| "Definition [of pluralism]: A condition of society in which
numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups coexist within
one nation." 4 A definition from a US Navy lecture.|
|"Religious pluralism: Effectively, the same as religious diversity."
5 A definition from CSA Illumina's "Religious discovery guides," at:
Meaning 2: Religious pluralism involves inter-religious dialogue:
Another definition relates to the most basic form of ecumenism, where individuals of different religions
dialogue and learn from each other without attempting to convince each
other of the correctness of their individual set of beliefs. For example:
|"...pluralism is not the sheer fact of this plurality
alone, but is active engagement with plurality. Pluralism and plurality
are sometimes used as if they were synonymous. But plurality is just
diversity, plain and simple -- splendid, colorful, maybe even
threatening. Such diversity does not, however, have to affect me. I can
observe diversity. I can even celebrate diversity, as the clich?goes.
But I have to participate in pluralism....Pluralism requires the
cultivation of public space where we all encounter one another."
1 Diana Eck |
|"Pluralism...holds to one's own faith, and at the same time,
engages other faiths in learning about their path and how they want to
be understood.... Pluralism and dialogue are the means for building
bridges and relationships that create harmony and peace on our planet
home." 6 M. Basye Holland-Shuey|
|"Fundamental to the philosophical acceptance of
pluralism is the conviction that we have no self-evident, incorrigible
means of establishing the truth of our assertions. This is not to say
that we have no means available; however, the means at our disposal will
not necessarily convince those with whom we disagree. Consequently, we
must hold open the possibility that those who disagree with us do so
rationally. This position implies neither relativism nor indifferentism
to truth. It simply suggests that we cannot coerce others into believing
as we do. We can offer our reasons for so believing, but these reasons,
even if sufficient to support our claims, will not compel others to
accept our beliefs." 7 Ronald Thiemann|
Meaning 3: Religious pluralism means accepting other religions' validity:
Another definition of religious pluralism involves accepting the
beliefs taught by religions other that your own as valid, but not necessarily
true. Some citations with slightly
different meanings are listed below:
|Religions are all legitimate and valid:
|"The belief that multiple religions or secular world views are
legitimate and valid. Each is true when viewed from within its own culture." Glossary of
religious terms in this web site.|
|"...through a cynical intellectual sleight of hand, some
critics have linked pluralism with a valueless relativism -- an
undiscriminating twilight in which 'all cats are gray,' all
perspectives equally viable, and as a result, equally uncompelling." Diana Eck
|Religions teach multiple truths -- all valid:
|"The theory that there are more than one...[kind]...of
ultimate reality and/or truth - and that therefore more than one
religion can be said to have the truth (way to God, salvation,
etcetera)." Anton Hein, Webmaster of Apologetics Index,
a counter-cult web site. 8|
|Religions are equally valid:
|"Pluralism is an affirmation of the validity of every
religion, and the refusal to choose between them, and the rejection
of world evangelism...."
John Stott, Anglican theologian. 9|
|"I think that the current notion of religious pluralism is
stupid....The stupid concept is the idea that all religions are
basically equally true. That is just flat out stupid." Gregory
|"Many people today confuse traditional Western religious tolerance with religious
latter assumes all religions are equally valid, resulting in moral
relativism and ethical chaos..." Robert E. Regier & Timothy J.
|Religions converge on a single truth:
|"...all spiritual paths are finally leading to the
same sacred ground." Susan Laemmle, Rabbi and Dean of Religious
Live at USC. 12|
|"By definition, religious pluralism is the notion that all
religions constitute varying conceptions of the Ultimate Reality."
|"Religious Pluralism is the view that all religions are equally
valid as ways to God. Pluralists often refer to the fact that, just as
there are many paths up Mt. Fuji, so there are many paths to God.
Differences among the religions are superficial; they all lead to the
same goal. This is the epitome of tolerance and relativism."
|Religious truths are relative:
|"Pluralism holds that
distinct cultural beliefs are true for that culture--but not for
cultures that operate out of a different 'paradigm.' Pluralists say
that [religious] truth is a 'social construction.' It is created through social
consensus and tradition, not discovered in reality that exists
independently of our beliefs." Jim Leffel,
Xenos Fellowship, a Fundamentalist Christian group. 15|
|Religious truths are different responses to the divine:
|"...religious pluralism is the theory that the great
world religions constitute varying conceptions of, and responses to,
the one ultimate, mysterious divine reality." Seena Fazel, member of
the Baha'i Faith. 16|
|"There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the
world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one
heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God."
Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith
|Religious diversity is to be valued:
|"...affirmation of a set of values beyond [one's]
Rhys H. Williams 10|
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Diana L. Eck., "The challenge of pluralism," The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, at:
- Randall Terry, Founder of Operation Rescue. Reported by the News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, IN, 1993-AUG-16:
- Kenneth Serbin, "The Catholic Church, religious pluralism, and democracy in Brazil," The Helen Kellogg Institute
for International Studies," at: http://www.nd.edu/~kellogg/WPS/263.pdf
- "Religious Pluralism in the US Navy," at:
file requires MicroSoft PowerPoint software to read.
- "Religious discovery guides," CSA Illumina, at:
- M. Basye Holland-Shuey, "Religious Pluralism and Interfaith Dialogue," a speech given to the Unitarian
Universalist Church of Florence, AL, 2002-JAN-13.
- Quoted in: Michael Ing, "Toward a Confucian Pluralism: Globalization in Dialogue," Confucian Studies, at:
- The Apologetics Index discusses religious pluralism at:
- "Interview with Dr. John Stott," Orange County Register, 1998-OCT-3. Online at:
- Gregory Koukl, "Religious Pluralism," Stand to Reason radio program, at:
- "Religious 'Pluralism' or Tolerance?", Q&A section, Culture Facts, Family Research Council
website. It was accessible to subscribers at http://www.frc.org/,
but has since been deleted from the FRC web site. More details.
- Diana Eck, "Education as transformation: From religious diversity to religious pluralism," at:
- Sukidi, "Islamic foundations amid pluralism," at:
- Rick Rood, "Is Jesus the only Savior?," Mind Games, at:
- Jim Lefell, "Christian witness in a pluralistic age," Xenos Fellowship, at:
- Seena Fazel, "Religious Pluralism," at:
- Baha'u'llah, "Gleanings," Page 217.
- "Religious Pluralism," Wikipedia, at:
- "Religious pluralism and its definition," ArbitraryMarks.com, 2006-JUL-18,
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Copyright © 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-JAN-22
Latest update: 2009-JUL-10
Author: B.A. Robinson