Pluralism is a social philosophy that seeks to allow many different viewpoints to coexist within a larger structure. A pluralist society, system of government or organization contains many groups that keep their identities while also participating in the larger group.
Pluralism states that having multiple viewpoints and groups strengthens the overall system, enriching its culture with a wider spectrum of ideas and building a deeper and more principled consensus in the political system. Pluralism is a fundamental principle of democracy, in which members of different groups with different viewpoints can voice their opinions and ideas.
Political pluralism is a complex idea. Virtually every country has to grapple with a history of inequality based on race, religion, gender, sexuality or cultural differences. Political pluralism is meant, not only to establish a system in which every person is valued equally, but to address lingering effects of an unequal past.
- Many postcolonial countries, such as the United States, Canada, India and Brazil, developed pluralist policies after achieving independence. Such countries often establish constitutions that make all citizens, colonizer and colonized alike, equal before the law.
- Many cities in the United States and Canada have areas referred to as Little Italy or Chinatown, where people from those countries keep their cultural traditions. Many such communities formed as a result of anti-pluralist oppression, but they have endured and prospered while oppression has decreased.
- When environmental groups decide that there is a need for a new law regulating some form of pollution, they seek compromises from chemical companies. People from the public voice their opinions, as does the Environmental Protection Agency and members of Congress. Any law that follows is a result of various groups speaking up and is an exercise in pluralism.
- Because it is so close to the Mexican border, the city of Tucson, Arizona exhibits many influences of Mexican culture even though it is not in Mexico. Other border towns exhibit a similar phenomenon, like San Diego, California.
- Road signs and other forms of official communication often show the pluralism of a given country. In Canada, many official documents are legally required to be available in both English and French. In much of the Southern United States, governments and businesses issue official communications in both English and Spanish.
Each of these are different types of pluralism that exist, allowing multiple entities to share their beliefs and power.
Religion at its best is a force for human improvement; at its worst, a source of violent division. Religious pluralism pursues the former and avoids the latter by acknowledging the value of multiple traditions and faiths.
- In the United States, many religions (and denominations within religions) are practiced side by side. According to the law, all religions benefit from the same legal protections and are free to express their views.
- Couples of differing religious faiths often decide to celebrate the traditions of both religions with their families.
- Many Christian holidays have pagan equivalents, such as Yule for Christmas and Samhain for Halloween. While the Christian equivalents typically evolved with the intent of converting the pagans, today the holidays are celebrated in a pluralistic fashion with both Christian and pagan elements.
- Many nonprofit organizations take a pluralist approach to their work, with representatives of multiple faiths coming together to pursue their shared values of charity and kindness to others. Examples include the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (better known in America as the Red Cross) and Maher Ashram.
- India's constitution makes it a secular state and guarantees the same rights to all religions. The majority religion in India is Hinduism, but hundreds of millions of people of other faiths also live there. Several Indian states, such as Jammu and Kashmir and Lakshadweep, are majority Muslim; states like Mizoram and Nagaland are majority Christian; and Punjab is majority Sikh.
Virtually every society is pluralist to one degree or another. Differences in age and gender are unavoidable and differences of worldview, faith and political affiliation abound. Examples of social pluralism are examples of situations in which those differences are celebrated rather than oppressed.
- Amish people live alongside those who are not Amish, but travel by horse and buggy, do not have electricity, and have established stores, schools, and other organizations that are used by members of the Amish community.
- Labor unions, agencies for government oversight, and employers all participate in the process of meeting the needs of workers in a mutually beneficial way.
- Many classic "national foods" are pluralist by nature. The American hamburger gets its name and some of its nature from the German Hamburg steak; traditional Irish stew is made with potatoes, a New World crop; and Italian red sauces are based on tomatoes, which are originally from Central America.
- Music is often powerfully pluralist. American rock 'n' roll comes in equal parts from blues and country; Brazilian samba is built on the rhythms of West African music; and K-pop borrows from both American and Japanese pop.
- While most national holidays in America are either secular or Christian in origin, many American employers will allow time off work for employees of different faiths to celebrate their own religious holidays.
The Power of Plural
As the world grows more interconnected and new ideas and movements arise, the concept of pluralism takes on new significance. The willingness to allow for multiple value systems and the ability to acknowledge the successes and flaws of each are both key skills for living in a global society.
For more philosophies of the 21st century, take a look at our article on globalization. Happy reading!