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Religious Tolerance logo


Five books dealing with religious diversity:
The variety of religious beliefs worldwide, and
how people and religious groups handle it.

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Recomended books, representing both positive and negative beliefs about religious diversity and pluralism:

  • book cover image David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001). The cost of this book is enormously variable. We suggest that you do a search for "World Christian Encyclopedia" on the web site.

Amazon's review:

    "At its founding, the United States was one of the most religiously diverse places in the world. Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Lutherans, Huguenots, Dunkers, Jews, Moravians, and Mennonites populated the nations towns and villages. Dozens of new denominations would emerge over the succeeding years. What allowed people of so many different faiths to forge a nation together?

    In this richly told story of ideas, Chris Beneke demonstrates how the United States managed to overcome the religious violence and bigotry that characterized much of early modern Europe and America. The key, Beneke argues, did not lie solely in the protection of religious freedom. Instead, he reveals how American culture was transformed to accommodate the religious differences within it. The expansion of individual rights, the mixing of believers and churches in the same institutions, and the introduction of more civility into public life all played an instrumental role in creating the religious pluralism for which the United States has become renowned. These changes also established important precedents for future civil rights movements in which dignity, as much as equality, would be at stake.

    Beyond Toleration is the first book to offer a systematic explanation of how early Americans learned to live with differences in matters of the highest importance to them --and how they found a way to articulate these differences civilly. Today when religious conflicts once again pose a grave danger to democratic experiments across the globe, Beneke's book serves as a timely reminder of how one country moved past toleration and towards religious pluralism."

  • book cover image Charles L. Cohen, Ed, et al.", "Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States," Oxford University Press, (2013), Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store Available in harcover and paperback formats. No Amazon customer reviews.

    Amazon's review:

      "Religious pluralism has characterized America almost from its seventeenth-century inception, but the past half century or so has witnessed wholesale changes in the religious landscape, including a proliferation of new spiritualities, the emergence of widespread adherence to ''Asian'' traditions, and an evangelical Christian resurgence. These recent phenomena--important in themselves as indices of cultural change--are also both causes and contributions to one of the most remarked-upon and seemingly anomalous characteristics of the modern United States: its widespread religiosity. Compared to its role in the world's other leading powers, religion in the United States is deeply woven into the fabric of civil and cultural life. At the same time, religion has, from the 1600s on, never meant a single denominational or confessional tradition, and the variety of American religious experience has only become more diverse over the past fifty years. Gods in America brings together leading scholars from a variety of disciplines to explain the historical roots of these phenomena and assess their impact on modern American society."

  • book cover image David Ray Griffin, "Deep Religious Pluralism," Westminster John Knox Press, (2005) Read reviews or order this book Available in paperback format. Amazon customer's rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Amazon's review:

    A groundbreaking scholarly work, Deep Religious Pluralism is based on the conviction that the philosophy articulated by Alfred North Whitehead encourages not only religious diversity but deep religious pluralism. Arising from a 2003 Center for Process Studies conference at Claremont Graduate University, this book offers an alternative to the version of religious pluralism that has dominated the recent discussion, especially among Christian thinkers in the West, which has evoked a growing call to reject pluralism as such.

    Renowned contributors of a diversity of faiths include: Steve Odin, John Shunji Yakota, Sandra B. Lubarsky, Jeffery D. Long, Mustafa Ruzgar, Christopher Ives, Michael Lodahl, Chung-ying Cheng, Wang Shik Jang, and John B. Cobb Jr.

  • book cover image S. Mark Heim, "Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion (Faith Meets Faith Series)," Orbis Books, (1995). Read reviews or order this book. Available in paperback format. Amazon customer's rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Review by an Amazon customer:

    "In the bumptious world of scholarly debates on religious pluralism, Mark Heim has been one of John Hick's ("An Interpretation of Religion," "A Christian Theology of Religions," etc.) most outspoken critics, and his "Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion" devotes a chapter to a rather brutal deconstruction of Hick.
    Heim also tackles Wilfred Cantwell Smith and Paul Knitter, thinkers who, like Hick, see certain unitive elements in religion.

    Heim's basic intention is to appear more pluralistic than Hick and Company; his own proposal is founded on an adaptation of Nicholas Rescher's "orientational pluralism," in which "one and only one position is rationally appropriate from a given perspective." Heim argues not for a Hickian salvation-liberation or a common-essence notion like Hick's neo-Kantian "Real," but for the possibility of "salvations."

    Heim does this because he feels the usual "convergent" approach of common-essence pluralism squelches the richness and particularity of religions. Heim's "more plural" pluralism also leaves open the question of whether another religious perspective may in fact be wrong.

    The analogy Heim uses to illustrate his view is the travel analogy. Going from DC to New York, for example, is very different from going to Honolulu from the same starting point. The MEANS to get to these places will have to vary (Greyhound bus to Honolulu from DC?), too. While various itineraries may share the very abstract notion of "travel" in common, the details of such travel are by no means "mere" details-- on the contrary, they become very significant and speak directly to the nature of the journey.

    While I appreciate Heim's very significant contribution to the overall discussion of pluralism and his very clear (if overly punishing) critiques of Hick, I finished the book with a sense that Heim, an evangelical Protestant, arrived at his pluralistic proposal merely as a way to protect his evangelicalism, to which he still stubbornly cleaves (Heim's successive books seem to bear this out).

    This childish attachment to old belief is precisely what Hick has been fighting against. Hick's proposal-- indeed, ALL pluralistic proposals-- demand something of their listeners: that they CHANGE. Hick demands that we work at our spirituality; Heim is proposing a "live and let live" paradigm, which sounds nice at first blush, but once you realize he's using it to justify his own evangelicalism (which isn't a "live and let live" form of Christianity-- it's an aggressively missionizing form!), you may see Heim as more than a little duplicitous.

    Hick's model does have problems; various critics have beaten his "pluralistic hypothesis" to death, and Heim's 1995 "Salvations" arrived on the scene in time to provide a nice wrap-up and coup de grace. Heim's book is valuable on this score; his "orientational pluralistic" proposal is also worth study, but I recommend reading Heim on several levels.

    A couple concluding remarks: First, philosophical models of religious pluralism all inevitably fail because they contain some sort of unitive element that makes them unacceptable. Heim's model also falls prey to this: in the travel analogy, all travel occurs on the surface of a single earth. Heim's model therefore allows for multiple salvations but still posits a numerically singular reality-- which is something he accuses Hick of when dealing with Hick's "Real." Hick, however, has been at pains to explain that his notion of the Real is NOT necessarily numerically singular (cf. Hick 1995)-- a crucial nondualistic point often missed in the ongoing debates over Hick.
    Second: Hick, Heim, Stephen Kaplan, and others with philosophical models of pluralism all assume that religion has a soteriological dimension. I don't agree with this assumption: philosophical Taoism has no soteriology (swim with or against the Tao; it's all Tao), and so-called "primitive" religions were more about world-maintenance than personal or corporate salvation.

    Anyway, I ended up writing tons of notes in the margins of Heim's book. Whether you agree or disagree with Heim, you'll find him thought-provoking and stimulating."

  • book cover image  Harold Netland, "Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith & Mission." IVP Academic, (2001). Read reviews or order this book. Available in paperback and hardcover format. Amazon customer's rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Amazon's review:

    "A 2002 Christianity Today Book of the Year! The world is filled with religions. That is not a new observation. But the way we think about religious diversity, argues Harold Netland, is new. In this book Harold Netland traces the emergence of the pluralistic ethos that now challenges traditional Christian faith and mission. Identifying theologian and philosopher John Hick as the most influential apologist for religious pluralism, Netland interacts extensively with his thought. His incisive analysis leads to a sustained response to the philosophical questions raised about the nature of religious truth, the criteria for adjudicating rival truth claims and the implications for doing Christian apologetics. In his conclusion, Netland provides us with a framework for developing a comprehensive evangelical theology of religions. This book is essential reading for students, teachers and scholars wanting a thorough analysis of our contemporary religious context and guidance for responding to it faithfully for the sake of Christian truth and mission."

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Copyright 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2014-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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