RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: NEW DEVELOPMENTS



RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: NEW DEVELOPMENTS
Religious pluralism has been accepted as the order of the day.  Kuncheria Pathil states that “religious pluralism has been established today not only as an irreversible historical fact but also as a theological principle.”1  According to Alan Race, “we have reached a point in history when it is no longer permissible to remain comfortable in particularity and to ignore the forces… which call for positive relations between the different world faiths.”2  This section of the work contains an analysis of two of the new developments related to religious pluralism.  The first one is a pluralist view and the next is the resulting dialogue.  This analysis is based upon the thoughts of leading scholars who have contributed to the pluralist view and dialogue.

11.1     Pluralist View
This view holds that the different religions are unique, thereby necessitating mutually critical and enriching dialogue.  A definition of the term ‘pluralism’ as perceived by different scholars can be of great help in understanding the issue.

11.1.1  Definition
Pluralism has been defined in diverse forms.  According to Alan Race, “Pluralism in the Christian theology of religions seeks to draw the faiths of the world’s religious past into a mutual recognition of one another’s truths and values, in order for truth itself to come into proper focus.”3  S.J. Samartha explains it as “pluralism does not relativises truth.  It relativises different responses to truth which are conditioned by history and culture.  It rejects the claims of any particular responses to be absolute.”4  In another place he said, “in theological terms plurality may even be the will of God for all life.”5  In the words of Raimond Panikkar, “pluralism is not synonymous with tolerance toward a multitude of opinions.  Pluralism climaxes in acknowledging the unimaginable, that which is absurd for me and, to a certain degree, unbearable to me.”6  For John Hick, pluralism is the view-which advocate-that the great world faiths embody different perceptions and conceptions of, and correspondingly different responses to, the Real or the Ultimate from within the different cultural ways of being human, and that within each of them the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to reality-centeredness is manifestly taking place.7 
Paul F. Knitter writes about “unitive pluralism”  in which “each religion will retain its own uniqueness, but this uniqueness will develop and take on new depths by relating to other religions in mutual dependence.”8 
K.P. Aleaz has proposed the theory of ‘pluralistic inclusivism’. According to him, “Pluralistic inclusivism is an attempt to make Christian faith pluralistic inclusive i.e., the context of the revelation of God in Jesus is to become truly pluralistic by other faiths contributing to it as per the requirement of different places and times and it is through such pluralistic understanding of the Gospel that its true inclusivism is to shine forth.”9  Further, “according to pluralistic inclusivism richness of religious experience grow by mutual giving and receiving.”10
In the pluralist view equality of religions, in spite of all the tangible differences is accepted.  These differences are attributed to context and time.  It also recognizes the potential contribution every religion could make for a better life.
In general, the pluralists accept that there are many ways of salvation and they call for a mutual enrichment between religions.  Eeuwout Klootwijk writes that, “in a divided world, pluralists call for mutual enrichment; cooperation; and the sharing of religious resources.”11  While recognizing the ‘plural structure of reality,’12  Samartha remarks that, ‘religious plurality is the homage which the finite mind pays to the inexhaustibility of the infinite’.13  As the human response to the divine mystery is always plural, Samartha says “a sense of mystery provides a point of unity to all plurality.”14 
Eeuwout Klootwijk considers religious plurality to be more of an opportunity than a threat.15  It is an opportunity because we have realized that the other faith-traditions can contribute to our own faith-practices.  Another form of fear is highlighted by David Tracy that “to recognize the other as other, the different as different is also to acknowledge that other world of meaning as, in some manner, a possible option for myself.”16
The strongest criticism against pluralism comes form Gavin D’ Costa, who   says that, “the general point I have been trying to make is that pluralism as a category simply does not exist, only another form of exclusivism.”17  A fact to be admitted at this stage is that all the pluralists center their position around Reality/Theos/Mystery etc.  Arvind P. Nirmal writes about the one God and his manifold ways of salvation. 18  Nevertheless, the presence of those religions without the idea of God/Reality is a challenge to the pluralists.

11.1.2    S.J. Samartha
In his book Between two Cultures, Samartha discusses the role of Christian Anubhava (experience) in the evangelical sermons and asks “why then is it necessary to deny the credibility and the genuineness of the religious anubhava of neighbours of other faiths?”19  He argues that “our neighbours too have their answers to the mystery of life and the tragedy of suffering.”20  And “in terms of spiritual depth, intellectual power, cultural richness, and social solidarity they do not regard themselves in any way inferior to christains.”21  Further, “in the last analysis, religions should be recognized as having responded differently to the mystery of the Ultimate.”22
Samartha calls for tolerance and mutual enrichment between various faith-traditions.  In Samartha’s words “Mystery provides the ontological basis for tolerance without which it runs the risk of being uncritical friendliness.”23  He always insisted upon the importance of establishing a community of communities while emphasizing the necessity of the faith on Jesus Christ for Christians.  He writes “for Christians the fight against all that destroys true community, the quest for spiritual resources to under grid all efforts to build community, and the search for the ultimate meaning of truly human existence in community cannot be separated from faith in Jesus Christ.”24 

11.1.3    John Hick
While speaking about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, Hick says “they do however in fact, I suggest, exhibit a common structure, which is soteriological in the broad sense that it offers a transition form a radically unsatisfactory state to a limitlessly better one.”25  For Hick the better quality of existence can come about only in the transition from ‘self-centeredness to reality-centeredness’.  Self-centeredness is evil and narrow and the opposite is reality-centeredness.
His answer to the issue of many religion was that, “we have to realize that the universe of faiths centers upon God, and not upon Christianity or upon any other religions.”26  For him, “there could not be a divine revelation, through any human means, to mankind as a whole, but only separate revelations within the different streams of human history.”27  About the role of Christ he says, “we can revere Christ as the one through whom we have found salvation, without having to deny other points of reported saving context between God and man.”28  In support of this Theocentric position Hick quotes from Bhagavad Gita IV:11, “However man may approach me, even so do I accept them, for, on all side, whatever path they may choose is mine.”29 

11.2        Inter-Religious Dialogue
According to A. Pushparajan “it was Pope Paul VI who in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, employed for the first time the term ‘dialogue’ to designate the “new attitude” which the Second Vatican council had adopted.”30  In India, the initiative for inter-religious dialogue stemmed from P. D. Devanandan.
For Samartha, “dialogue is an attempt to understand and express our particularity not just in terms of our own heritage but also in relation to the spiritual heritage or our neighbours of other faiths.”31  Again he says, “dialogue is a mood, a spirit, an attitude of love and respect towards neighbours of other faiths.”32  This is further clarified as, “the dialogue which is called for is a face to face existence of living together and struggling together as we seek community.”33  Samartha always insisted upon the necessity of building a community of communities.34  He was also keen on dialogue between religions and ideologies.  He says, “it will be unwise to form ‘a religious alliance’ against ideologies in order to save and to perpetuate traditional religious institution.”36
The role of other faith-traditions in inter-religious dialogue is considered positively.  According to John B. Cobb, “we confront with the conviction that others have something to say to us – that we need to listen as well as speak.”37  In other words the expectation of inter-religious dialogue is that all partners are transformed because of enrichment from each other.
Harold G. Coward writes, “it is the way of dialogue, and not theological bulldozing”, that is required of Christian in today’s pluralistic world.”38  Frank Whaling indicates the necessity of Church of the twentieth century being thrown into a dialogue with every fact of life which is out of contact with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.39  Samartha writes, “inter-religious dialogue, carefully prepared and practiced can help people to respond to the dangers of religious fundamentalism not just on the political but on the religious level as well.”40 Raimundo Panikkar goes to the extent of saying that “the way to peace is neither isolation nor competition, but through dialogues.”41 
All pluralists take life situation seriously.  For Panikkar “the context of the Hindu-Christian dialogue, as well as of any inter-religious dialogue, is not the narrowly specific “religious” field but the arena of life, the daily struggle for justice, peace, happiness.”42  J. Rusell Chandran, says that in our dialogue with people of different faiths as well as with different Christian Churches one of the important objectives will be our common quest for a just society free from all forms of oppression and marginalization.43 
All forms of religious fundamentalism are hindrance to the continuation of inter-religious dialogue.44  For the people of other faiths ‘dialogue is simply a new and subtle Christian tool for mission that is being forged in the post-colonial era’.45 
Some Christians fear that “in the case of dialogue with believers in other traditions there is danger that sympathetic appreciation of their concerns may lead to compromise of faith itself.”46  Added to this is the fear that, ‘dialogue with men of other faith is a betrayal of mission and disobedience to the command to proclaim the Gospel’.47 It is also held that ‘dialogue has so far tended to favour the dominant class and not the poor’.48 Of course this cannot be the vision of dialogue.  The main purpose of dialogue is to help all religions work together for a healthy life.
Dialogue should not be confined to only relationship between religions.  It needs to inspire religions to utilize their own resources for the building up of a healthy and peaceful community life.  In short, what is required is a deep spiritual foundation for the meaningful sharing of religious resources for a better life situation. 


1 Kuncheria Pathil, “Christian Approach to other faiths: A Historical Perspective”, NCC
Review, Vol. CX, No. 2 (February 1990), p. 67.
2 Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism: Patterns in the Christian Theology of
Religions (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1983), pp. 147-148.
3 Ibid., p. 148.
4 S.J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 1997), p. 190.
5 S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, op. cit., p. 4.
6 Raimond Panikkar, A Dwelling Place for Wisdom, Trans. By Annemarie S. Kidder (Louisville:
Westminister Press, 1993), p. 85.
7 John Hick, Problem of Religious Pluralism (… : The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1985), p. 91.
8 Paul F. Knitter, No other Name?, Op. cit., p. 9.
9 K.P. Aleaz, Theology of Religions  (Calcutta: Moumita Publishers and Distributors, 1998),
P. 172.
10 Ibid., p. 193.
11 Eeuwout Klootwijk, op. cit., p. 12.
12 Ibid., p. 86.
13 S.J. Samartha, One Christ Many Religions, op. cit., p. 5.
14 Ibid., p. 5.
15 Eeuwout Klootwijk, op. cit., p. 86.
16 David Tracy, Dialogue with the other: The Inter-religious Dialogue (Louvain: Peeters Press,
1990), p. 41.
17 Gavin D’ Costa, “The Impossibility of a Pluralist View of Religions”, Religious Studies, Vol.
32, No. 2 (June 1996), p. 232.
18 Arvind P. Nirmal, Op. cit., p. 59.
19 S.J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures, op. cit., p. 151.
20 S.J. Samartha, The Lordship of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism (Madras: The
Christian Literature Society, 1981), p. 2.
21 Ibid., p. 3.
22 Ibid., p. 23.
23 S.J. Samartha, “Commitment and Tolerance in a Pluralist Society”, NCC Review, Vol. CVI,
No. 2 (February 1986), p. 76.
24 S.J. Samartha, “Dialogue as a Continuing Christian Concern”, Religion and Society, Vol.
XVIII, No.1 (March 1971), p. 22.
25 John Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism, op. cit., p.69.
26 John Hick, “Whatever Path Men Choose is Mind”, Christianity and other Religions, ed., by
John Hick and Brian Hebblethwaite, op. cit., p. 182.
27 Ibid., p. 183.
28 Ibid., p. 186.
29 Ibid., p. 190.
30 A. Pushparajan, From Conversion to Fellowship, op. cit., p. 47.
31 S.J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue, op. cit., p. 99.
32 Ibid., p. 100.
33 S.J. Samartha, “Courage for Dialogue: An Interpretation of the Nairobi Debate”, Religion
and Society Vol. XXIII, No. 3. (September 1976), p. 35.
34 S.J. Samartha, Dialogue as a Continuing Christian Concern, op. cit., p.11.
36 S.J. Samartha, “Dialogue as a Continuing Christian Concern” in Christianity and other
 Religions, op. cit., p.159.
37 John B. Cobb, Jr., “Dialogue”, Death or Dialogue? ed. by Leonard Swidler, John B. Cobb
Jr., et al., (London: SCM Press, 1990), p. 2.
38 Harold G. Coward, Religious Pluralism and the World Religions, op. cit., p. 40.
39 Frank Whaling, An Approach to Dialogue with Hinduism (Lucknow: Lucknow Publishing
House, 1966), p. 1.
40 S.J. Samartha, “The Future of Inter-religious Dialogue: Threats and Promises”, Journal of
Dharma, Vol. XIX, No. 1 (January-March 1997), p. 83.
41 Raimundo Panikkar, “Forward” in Hindu-Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters
(New York: OBRIS Books, 1990), p. 9.
42 Ibid.
43 J. Russel Chandran, “Mission in Today’s Pluralistic Context”, NCC Review, Vol. CXIV, No.
5 (May-June, 1994), p. 360.
44 S.J. Samartha, Between Two Cultures, op. cit., pp. 167-168.
45 S.J. Samartha, “Dialogue as a Continuing Christian Concern,” in Christianity and other
 Religions, op. cit., p. 3.
46 John B. Cobb Jr., “Dialogue”, in Death or Dialogue, Op. cit., p. 3.
47 S.J. Samartha, “Dialogue as a Continuing Christian Concern,” in Christianity and other
  Religions, op. cit., p. 62.
48 Jose Kuttianimattathil, op. cit., p. 118.

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