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."
--Danielle Service

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