“Emergent Religious Pluralism(s)” – The Woolf Institute in Cambridge

 In Call for Papers, Uncategorized

*Call for Papers*

‘Emergent Religious Pluralism(s)’
April 16th & 17th 2018, The Woolf Institute in Cambridge

We invite 250-word abstracts for an interdisciplinary conference on the theme of ‘Emergent Religious Pluralism(s)’. The event will be held at the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, in April 2018 and will include a keynote talk from Professor Nasar Meer (University of Edinburgh). Please submit your abstracts to John Fahy (jef96@georgetown.edu) by August 15th 2017.


The concept of religious pluralism has been at the centre of major political developments and discourse in recent years. The rise of the Hindu right in India has contributed to an increasing sense of marginalisation amongst non-Hindu minorities, and Muslims in particular. Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and persistent attempts to impose a Muslim travel ban have similarly left Muslim minorities in the U.S. feeling targeted. In war torn countries throughout the Middle East, the place of the dwindling Christian communities looks ever more precarious, and the rich tradition of pluralism seems to be disappearing. Across Europe controversial attempts, both legal and political, to manage the challenge of religious diversity have led to heated debates on how to deal with difference. At the heart of these developments, the very ideal of religious pluralism itself is being contested. But how have changing realities on the ground informed the ideal of religious pluralism itself in different parts of the world?

Religious pluralism has often been defined in relation to, but as distinct from, religious diversity. David Machacek defines pluralism as “meaningful diversity” (2003) while in Diana Eck’s (2006) words “pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity”. It is not just tolerance, Eck writes, but “the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference”. The ideal of religious pluralism in the American context, at least, connotes integration, and not segregation. More than the merely descriptive diversity, it implies both evaluation and engagement. It is, in other words, a moral response to the existential fact of diversity.

That such definitions of religious pluralism can encompass the broad range of ways in which the challenge of religious diversity can (or should) be managed has been problematised. Taking account of the myriad social, political and historical factors that shape the kinds of religious pluralism that have emerged throughout the world, and throughout history, some now prefer to speak of ‘pluralisms’ (Marty 2007) or ‘modes of religious pluralism’ (Riis 1999). Such modes of religious pluralism are not simply alternative approaches to a common ideal, but constitute complex political responses to particular socio-historical challenges.

But what kinds of challenges elicit what kinds of responses? How is the ideal of religious pluralism conceived, constructed and contested in different parts of the world? Are there identifiable approaches to religious pluralism within or between different religious traditions? How might we describe the various ways in which the challenge of religious diversity is being responded to today, and who is responding? What is the relationship between everyday experiences of diversity, on the one hand, and ideals of religious pluralism, tolerance and coexistence, on the other?

This conference looks to explore the emergent conceptions of, and commitments to, the ideal of religious pluralism in different parts of the world. We invite submissions that engage with one or more of the following questions:

· How are the ideals of religious pluralism changing in light of recent social and political developments? Are there identifiable ‘modes’ of religious pluralism emerging in different parts of the world? Do we find broader trends that transcend particularities of national (and nationalistic) political discourses?
· In what ways can the history of religious pluralisms throughout the world, and across religious traditions, inform our understanding of recent developments? Is there anything new about how religious difference itself is being constructed and contested?
· What is the relationship between religious pluralism and broader strategies for managing difference, such as multiculturalism? To what extent do ideals of religious pluralism reflect those of other pluralisms, for example, cultural, ethnic or national?
· What kinds of responses are being offered to the challenge of religious diversity by both state and non-state institutions and actors? How is the challenge itself being articulated, and by who? How do the ideals of religious pluralism, tolerance and coexistence relate to the everyday experience of diversity?
· What role do religious actors play? How are theological resources being mobilised to address the challenge of religious diversity, for example, through interfaith dialogue?

Dr. John Fahy
Research Fellow
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Qatar
& The Woolf Institute, Cambridge

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