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Religious Pluralism and the Transcendent Unity of Religions

Mar 27, 2009, 6:07 AM | Article By: Alhaji Ousman M. Jah


Contrasting the modern notions of "Religions pluralism" with the principle of transcendent unity of religions aims at learning to understand religions both in their diversity as well as their inner unity. The following discussion first depicts the possible meanings of religious pluralism, and then goes on to explain the teaching of the transcendent unity of religion. It concludes with the implications of this confrontation.

Religious Pluralism

Religious pluralism, as an existing phenomenon, has been interpreted in different ways. The position of modern sociology, which has developed this concept, is to comprehend religious pluralism as a characteristic of modernity. In this context modernity is understood as outcome secularization. Sociology, especially that of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luck Mann, generally defines pluralism as a situation  in which there is competition in the institutional ordering of comprehensive meanings for everyday life. Historically, such competition generally succeeds a situation in which it was more or less absent. That is, pluralism in the consequence of a historical process of de-monopolization. The global historical force producing pluralism is secularization, by which we mean the progressive autonomization of social sectors from the domination of religious meanings and institution.

In analyzing the social-structural dimension of pluralism it is possible to distinguish between the latter's effect on the relationship between institutional religion and other social institutions, and the effect on institutional religion itself. The social structure has its correlates in subjective consciousness. Religion pluralism, to wit, entails religious subjectivization.This means that the old religious contents lose their status of objective fact city in individual consciousness. This change is already given in the reflective attitude that the consumer comes to take as he is presented with a multiplicity of products. He must choose between them and is thereby forced to hesitate, to compare, and to deliberately evaluate. In this process the traditional religious affirmations about the nature of reality lose their taken for- granted quality. They cease to be objective truth and become matters of subjective choice, belief, and preference. Other meaning-systems come to take the place of the objective facticity that was previously occupied by religious tradition.

This purely sociological portrayal of religious pluralism is not aware of religion's truth. Ultimately, it only expresses the existing crises-of -meaning imbued in modernity itself. Hence, without doubt, religion can best and most adequately be understood from the point of view of religion itself. Accordingly, this is also true for the plurality and diversity of religions. Concerning the idea of religions pluralism, as seen by the various religions, their exist great differences.Judisim, as the first of the monotheistic religions, dose not acknowledge any other religion as a matter of principle, whether that religion had been existing before it or emerged afterwards. Christianity as the second monotheistic religion sees Judaism to a certain degree as a prefiguration of Christian revelation.  But it dose not acknowledge Islam that arose later. Eventually, Islam acknowledged both Judaism and Christianity as true revelations, though they only reached completion in and through the religion of Islam. In praxis this resulted the Christianity holding a monopoly in Christian Countries for centuries. In most Islamic countries the religion of Islam was and is-a part from some small minorities-the sole religion. This meant that Christianity lost its monopoly.

"With the collapse 0f the Europe-centerd view of the world and the rapid development of the international interaction in various fields of human life, have Christians come again to experience intensely the reality of religious pluralism. In this connection they have come to recognize the existence of non-Christian religions and the integrity of non-Christian systems of belief and values, not only in foreign lands, but in Europe and America as well. Hence, religious pluralism now appears to many Christians to be a serious challenge to the monotheistic character of Christianity. On the other hand, Buddhism, throughout its long history, has existed and spread throughout Asia within a religiously pluralistic situation: in India, it coexisted with Brahmanism, Jainism and many divers' forms of Hinduism; in China with the Confucianism and Taoism; and in Japan with Shinto and Confucianism. Thus to most Buddhists the experience of "religious pluralism" has not been the serious shock it has been to most Christians.

And certainly not the shock it would be for the representatives of both other monotheistic religions. The Christian shock was peculiar and corresponds not so much to the two other monotheistic religions as it dose to the non-monotheistic religions. Meanwhile Christian theologians tried to deal with this shock by way of a theology of religious pluralism. The central question asked by such a theology was whether religious pluralism should be accepted as a reality, de facto, in our present world or if it should, on the contrary, be viewed theologically as existing de jure.

In the first case, the plurality of religions..is seen as a factor to be reckoned with, rather than welcomed.In other case, the same plurality is welcomed as a positive factor which witnesses at ones to the superabundant generosity with which God has manifested Himself to humankind in manifold ways and to the pluriform response which human beings of diverse cultures have given to the Divine self-disclosure. Seen from God's side, the question is whether religious pluralism is only permitted by God or, on the contrary, positively willed by Him. Or rather -if one prefers to avoid both these terms - the question is whether theology is able to assign to the plurality of religious traditions a positive meaning in God's overall design for human kind or not.

To be continued

For more information you can read:

a-         "Secularization and Pluralism" v.2, 1966, pp.37-81. By Peter L.Berger and Thomas Luck Mann.

b-         "A Dynamic Unity in Religions Pluralism"1995, pp. 17-18. By Masao Abe.

c-         "Towards a Christian theology of Religious Pluralism" 1997, p.386.By Jacques Dupuis, S.J.

Al-TAQRIB- a journal on Islamic Unity& Proximity. V.2.N 3 2008 pp.21.By Dr. Roland Pietsch.