By Pamela Klassen and Courtney Bender
Throughout the world, “Parliaments of Religion” are no longer experiments held at a World’s Fair but instead are everyday assemblies occurring in schools, hospitals, and city streets throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. At the same time, combatants in new “wars of religion” base their legitimacy on claims to defend religious traditions or worldviews, in such diverse places as Pakistan, Nigeria, and (in a less overtly militarized zone) Washington, D.C. Religion is proliferating; academics, journalists, and policymakers increasingly take religion as a subject of inquiry, and laypeople of all sorts consider it a rubric by which to understand shifting social forces in local neighborhoods and around the globe. Part of this proliferation has come in the guise of religious pluralism, in which a multiplicity of individuals and communities recognize each other as parallel forms of the phenomenon called religion. Whether considering the ways religion secures the diversity of identities in liberal democracies or the ways religion fosters antagonisms in war zones, thinking about how people construct and live with religious difference has clearly become a necessary task for states, scholars, and neighbors.
Pluralism, variously specified as cultural, political, legal, or religious, has come to represent a powerful ideal meant to resolve the question of how to get along in a conflict-ridden world. The authors in After Pluralism consider various definitions and discourses of pluralism, but put most simply, in this book we focus on pluralism defined as a commitment to recognize and understand others across perceived or claimed lines of religious difference.1 For example, civic and academic organizations have lately adopted pluralism as an ideal model or doctrine for bringing about tangible social engagement across religious differences. From Harvard University’s “Pluralism Project,” through the proposed cooperation between the Aga Khan Foundation and the Canadian government in the Global Centre for Pluralism, to the European Union’s quest for “A Soul for Europe,” politicians, religious leaders, and academics in North American and Europe have converged on pluralism as the best path for proceeding into an admittedly uncertain future.
We start with the understanding that modern practices of religion take place in the wake of this doctrine of pluralism, that is, after pluralism has become a widely recognized social ideal embedded in a range of political, civic, and cultural institutions. Our goal is to examine the grounds on which religious difference is itself constructed as a problem that has pluralism as its solution. Working comparatively across both national and disciplinary borders, the essays in this volume invite readers into a conversation about the conditions that have made pluralism a dominant frame in which diversity and heterogeneity can be recognized and engaged.
As our title suggests, After Pluralism takes this convergence on the doctrine of pluralism as its beginning but not its end. We thus consider what comes after pluralism in both temporal and theoretical terms. The episodic and genealogical analyses in After Pluralism explore the ways pluralism works as a “term of art,” in Anver Emon’s words, casting prescriptive norms of identity and engagement, creating new possibilities and curtailing others. We inquire into what comes after the recognition that current forms of religious pluralism are not naturally occurring ones and what comes after we begin taking account of the historical emergence and institutional production of certain practices and peoples as plural forms of religion. By querying the genealogy and effects of the concept of pluralism within a range of national and transnational contexts, this book generates new sets of questions for engaging and imagining the collective worlds and multiple registers in which religion matters.
Explaining After Pluralism
Several scholars of religion have shown how contemporary articulations of religious pluralism have reproduced older distinctions between “world religions” that in their very origins exercised or abetted various forms of colonial and imperial control over foreign ideological, cultural, and legal systems (Asad 2003; Dirks 2001; Masuzawa 2005; Mitchell 2000; Said 1978). They rightly caution that the revivification of religious difference within frames of pluralism carries with it the violence of these earlier encounters. Political theorists have similarly questioned the ways in which the concept of political pluralism has been used to celebrate American exceptionalism and, more recently, have asked about the unexamined ontological grounding of the concept as it has served dual purposes as both a political ideal and an analytical tool (Campbell and Schoolman 2008).
Our own interests in this multidisciplinary volume are not to reproduce arguments that have taken shape within political theory or to rehash the well documented story of the construction of pluralism. Rather, the authors in this volume take these positions as the obvious ground on which to pose our questions about what happens after pluralism. With an awareness of the construction of the category of religion at the fore, we ask the following: What does pluralism look like in practice, as a set of tools, projects, and political claims? We consider how the frame of pluralism recognizes some kinds of religious interactions and encounters and some kinds of religions (but not others) as normal and natural. We thus proceed by asking how pluralism is at work in the world, considering how pluralist aspirations and pluralist logics shape modes of public engagement and the various religious and nonreligious subjects that can take part within them. The specific sites in which our collective inquiry proceeds are themselves heterogeneous and include legal systems, theaters, prisons, interfaith coalitions, dream interpretation, and public memorials. Considering these realms as sites of the performance and policing of religious difference, we have compared conclusions about projects of pluralism in Canada, the United States, Egypt, Poland, and Germany.