From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Getting beyond diversity

Date 11 Jun 2002 09:32:45 -0400

Note #7202 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Getting beyond diversity

Getting beyond diversity

Harvard professor says no one religion has a monopoly on truth

by Raymond F. Kersting

SANTA FE, NM - About 100 people from a variety of faith traditions gathered recently in a city known for religious diversity to talk about getting beyond diversity - to pluralism.

"Diversity is just diversity," said Dr. Diane Eck, a professor of comparative religion at Harvard University. "What we do with it is what matters."

Eck was the featured speaker at the May 24-26 event, "Facing the Future in a New Religious America: Beyond Diversity to Religious Pluralism."
Pluralism, as she defines it, comes about when people of different faith traditions respect each other and work together for common purposes.

Eck is the founder and director of the Pluralism Project, in which graduate students research and document the changing face of religion in the United States, which leads the world in religious diversity.

The Spanish Conquistadors of the 16th century, the first Europeans to settle the region around Santa Fe ("Holy Faith"), would never have imagined that their Roman Catholicism would one day be one of 43 different religions in the community.

Santa Fe still has Catholic churches, but it also has congregations of several Protestant denominations, as well as a Buddhist temple, Jewish synagogues, a Sikh community and large Muslim mosque - nearly 150 faith communities in all.

Virtually every community in the nation is experiencing a similar proliferation of communities of belief - which comes as a shock to people accustomed to thinking of the United States as a Christian nation.

According to Eck, there now are more Muslims in the country than Episcopalians or Presbyterians. And Hindi and Buddhists communities are growing in every region - alongside Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.

Since the terror attacks of last Sept. 11, she said, surprise about growing religious diversity has turned into fear of people who belong to different religions, as well as a new curiosity, as Americans begin to realize that they don't know much about the religions of their neighbors.

The big question now - and the topic of Eck's book, A New Religious America - is how the nation will deal with its new religious diversity.

The Pluralism Project has identified three main responses:

* Exclusivism: The belief that one's own religion and faith tradition is the only truth and the only way to the divine.

A recent poll commissioned by U.S. News and World Report magazine found that 77 percent of Christians believe theirs is the only true religion, as do 86 percent of non-Christians. Many exclusivists presume that others will ultimately "be just like us" as they are assimilated into the great American melting pot.

It was exclusivists in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church who objected when Lutheran bishops joined representatives of other religious traditions in memorial services after 9/11.

* Inclusivism: The belief that, while one's own religion is true, the tent is large enough to accommodate people of many faiths.

* Pluralism: The belief that one's own religious tradition is the context for his or her own soul's journey, but that God is greater than any one view of God.

According to Eck, the pluralist has "epistemological humility," recognizing that he doesn't know all of Truth. To a pluralist, she says, the community of belief is not a melting pot, but an orchestra - it takes a combination of diverse elements to make something beautiful.

Eck challenged those who participated in the Santa Fe event to embrace pluralism - active and energetic engagement with others. She compared it to building bridges: lifelines not intended to make two sides into one, but to enable traffic between sides. She called on people to become bridges to people of other religions and backgrounds.

She said bridge building is needed not only between faiths, but within them, describing the process as a search for common ground. She noted, for instance, that there is common ground between Muslims and Catholics over birth control.

The event was organized by the Adult Education Committee of First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe and co-sponsored by 28 religious communities, both Christian and non-Christian.

	Raymond F. Kersting is stated clerk and newsletter editor of the Presbytery of Santa Fe.
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