religion and the public sphere


“We develop in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. To say this is to state the obvious. There is no religiously homogeneous society.” Akeel Bilgrami has invited commentary on his recent working paper about the nature and relevance of secularism in which he advances a central thesis that begins with the conditional phrase, “Should we be living in a religiously plural society.” In this post, I offer a response to his thesis convinced, like Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, author of the quotation with which I began, that there is no such thing as a modern religious monoculture. As president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the apparatus of the Catholic Church established after Vatican II to serve as the site of engagement with the followers of other religious traditions, Jean-Louis Tauran has something of a professional commitment to pluralism as an ontological category. Tauran gave his 2008 speech on the necessity of cultivating channels of interreligious dialogue at a time when the stock of interreligious dialogue was clearly on the rise. Controversies like those sparked by the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of 2005 and Pope Benedict XVI’s September 2006 lecture on faith and reason, which offended many Muslims by seeming to endorse misleading criticism of Islam, led to a surge in post-9/11 interfaith initiatives. In response to the misunderstandings that informed the Pope’s lecture, 138 global Muslim leaders published “A Common Word Between Us and You” in October 2007, an open letter calling for a common ground of understanding and peace between Muslims and Christians, a period that also saw the launch of Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation and Cardinal Tauran’s initiatives to train clergy for interreligious dialogue in a pluralist world, both in 2008. Global modernity, it is clear, neither presages the necessary rise of a homogeneous consumer culture nor an inevitable decline in the vitality and variety of religious engagement.

more from Justin Neuman at The Immanent Frame here.