Religious pluralism explored
In conjunction with Unity Week, the Office of the University Chaplain sponsored
a Conference on World Religions on Nov. 10. Wesley Ariarajah, deputy executive
council of the World Council of Churches, delivered the keynote address.
Ariarajah's talk, "The Challenge of Living in a Pluralistic Society,"
addressed the issue of living in a society where people come from varied
religious backgrounds and the ways in which the values obtained from each
background intersect in everyday life.
"Pluralism has never been the basis on which religious traditions
are built," Ariarajah said. "Thus, the question of whether pluralism
is a good thing or a bad thing, a blessing or a curse, or if it is something
we should overcome or welcome, is at the heart of what we're dealing with."
Ariarajah said that most religious traditions have the idea of one God
built into their ideals, and many emphasize oneness or harmony in their
traditions. Therefore, in reflecting on the teachings of many religions,
Ariarajah said, people are taught to believe that "there is only one
way" at the core. "Thus, the question comes down to how to deal
with plurality ... it's something that's here, and it is a blessing."
Ariarajah said people use three different models when they deal with plurality:
seeing other religions as mutual rivals or to be exclusive; allowing mutual
tolerance of one another; and declaring coexistence, admitting other groups
into one's perspective and working together with them.
"It is only when we go beyond these models that there can be creative
interaction and people can grow together," Ariarajah said. "Because
something is different doesn't mean that it is wrong. Maybe we can learn
something from them."
Ariarajah stressed dialogue as a way to "build a bridge between the
heart and the mind," using conversation as a springboard for growth
in the understanding of plurality.
Dialogue begins "not within religions, but within people," Ariarajah
said. "People matter, not systems. Dialogue begins when people meet
each other with mutual respect and trust."
The ultimate principle in constructive dialogue, he said, was to "reunderstand
faith in the context of plurality," which is a problem all religious
faiths must cope with. Creative interaction can make people realize that
it is "not only important to know your neighbor, but to know your neighbor
so you can place yourself."
to the November 18, 1996 contents page