Around the world today we are facing mounting problems of partisan polarization, violent extremism, populist authoritarianism, religious nationalism, and more. Many commentators are understandably calling for individuals and societies to rally to “pluralism.” But a pluralism of what kind? With what key components and ground rules? With which normative assumptions? Unfortunately, in too many cases the rhetoric of “pluralism” is used in vague and platitudinous ways—as bumper sticker clichés that paper over some of the real challenges posed by the reality of deep disagreement between different religions, worldviews, and values.
The philosophy of covenantal pluralism attempts to articulate a more precise and practical framework for living peacefully and constructively with deep difference. In contrast to the well-meaning but sometimes thin lingo of pluralism, the concept of covenantal pluralism acknowledges the complex challenges presented by diversity, and calls for structures and norms that are conducive to fairness and flourishing for all—even amidst stark differences in theologies, cosmologies, values, and/or lifestyles.
While the word "pluralism" is used in varied ways in contemporary parlance, including ways indicative of fluidity, syncretism, relativism, and hybridity, the concept of covenantal pluralism is different. Covenantal pluralism is concerned with the systemic conditions, engagement practices, and everyday virtues necessary for people of any faith/religiosity (or lack thereof) to live together in the same society, even without necessarily regarding all other beliefs and behaviors as having equal validity or merit.
Covenantal pluralism aims for a holistic and mutually reinforcing combination of positive “top-down” and “bottom-up” conditions in a society. That is, it envisions both (1) a legal framework that protects the free exercise and equal treatment of religions (the top-down) and (2) a supportive cultural context of respectful engagement, relationship, and reciprocity (the bottom-up).
Supported in part by a generous grant to IGE from the Templeton Religion Trust’s Covenantal Pluralism Initiative (CPI), IGE’s blog Portico has launched a new Covenantal Pluralism Series. The series is dedicated to examining the contemporary status of, resource for, and barriers to covenantal pluralism around the world. Two regions in particular—Southern Africa and Eastern Europe—will be priorities for the series over the next two years, as these are regions where IGE is pioneering significant new programs on religious freedom, cross-cultural religious literacy, and leadership development.
Some essays in the series may involve cross-national comparisons or regional assessments, while others may analyze an individual country or offer a case study of a particular incident that illustrates the presence (or absence) of covenantal pluralism. Essays in the series may address a wide range of topics relevant to the theme of covenantal pluralism and its key enabling conditions. Examples include (but are not limited to):
- multi-faith practical collaboration to address shared problems;
- the nature and consequences of integration (as opposed to assimilation) of religious minorities;
- strategy and pedagogy for improving cross-cultural religious literacy;
- international human rights perspectives on religious freedom;
- patterns and trends of violent religious extremism and responses to it;
- comparative constitutional, statutory, and regulatory perspectives on religion-state relationships;
- relationships between religion, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding;
- religion and economic development, corruption, and integration;
- relationships between religious pluralization and economic globalization;
- religion, social services, and education;
- empirical analysis of the social and economic effects of religious repression and conflict;
- and more.
All contributors will be encouraged to offer not merely a catalogue of the obstacles to covenantal pluralism (which are obviously great in many contexts), but to also offer suggestions of pathways for progress toward the covenantal pluralism ideal.
We hope you find the series engaging and useful. You can explore all essays in the series by selecting “Covenantal Pluralism” from the Topic menu above.
About the Author
Dennis R. Hoover (D.Phil. Politics, University of Oxford) is Editor of The Review of Faith and International Affairs, Research Advisor to the Templeton Religion Trust’s Covenantal Pluralism Initiative, and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement. He is co-editor with Chris Seiple of The Routledge Handbook of Religious Literacy, Pluralism, and Global Engagement (Routledge 2023).