Individuals who apparently have access to the same information and are equally interested in the truth affirm incompatible perspectives on, for instance, significant social, political, and economic issues. Such diversity of opinion, though, is nowhere more evident than in the area of religious thought. On almost every religious issue, honest, knowledgeable people hold significantly diverse, often incompatible beliefs. Religious diversity of this sort can fruitfully be explored in many ways—for instance, from psychological, anthropological, or historical perspectives.
The current discussion, however, will concern itself primarily with those key issues surrounding religious diversity with which philosophers, especially analytic philosophers of religion, are most concerned at present. Specifically, our discussion will focus primarily on the following questions: How pervasive is religious diversity?
Does the reality of this diversity require a response? Can a person who acknowledges religious diversity remain justified in claiming just one perspective to be correct? If so, is it morally justifiable to attempt to convert others to a different perspective? Can it justifiably be claimed that only one religion offers a path into the eternal presence of God?
How should religious diversity be approached in public education? The answers to such questions are not simply academic. They increasingly have great impact on how we treat others, both personally and corporately. Religious diversity exists in a striking way between religions that are theistic and those that are not. For instance, the monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam agree that there is a sole God.
Hinduism, by contrast, typically recognizes many gods and goddesses, although some varieties of Hinduism, which count these many deities as aspects of a single God, may be monotheistic. Other strands of Hinduism are henotheistic, worshiping one deity but recognizing many others. Another striking difference between religions has to do with views of the human person. However, significant, widespread diversity also exists within basic theistic systems. For example, within Christianity, believers differ significantly on the nature of God.
Some see God as all-controlling, others as self-limiting, and still others as incapable in principle of unilaterally controlling any aspect of reality. Some believe God to have infallible knowledge only of all that has occurred or is occurring, others claim God also has knowledge of all that will actually occur, while those who believe God possesses middle knowledge add that God knows all that would actually occur in any possible context. Muslims also differ significantly among themselves on these same divine attributes Aijaz And we find equally pervasive, significant intra-system diversity in Hinduism Sharma , Buddhism Burton , Judaism Shatz , and Chinese Religions Cheng And there is increasing awareness that the practical import of intra-theistic diversity is just as significant as is that of inter-theistic diversity.
In fact, as Dennis Potter points out, whether there are actually differing inter-theistic perspectives on a given issues often depends on which intra-theistic perspectives we are considering Potter One obvious response to religious diversity is to maintain that since there exists no divine reality—since the referent in all religious truth claims related to the divine is nonexistent—all such claims are false.
Another possible response, put forth by religious relativists, is that there is no one truth when considering mutually incompatible religious claims about reality; more than one of the conflicting sets of specific truth-claims can be correct Runzo , — However, most current discussions of religious diversity presuppose a realist theory of truth—that there is a truth to the matter. When the topic is approached in this way, philosophers normally center discussions of religious truth claims on three basic categories: religious exclusivism, religious non-exclusivism, and religious pluralism.
For the purpose of our discussion, someone is a religious exclusivist with respect to a given issue when she believes the religious perspective of only one basic theistic system for instance, only one of the major world religions or only one of the variants within a basic theistic system for instance, within Islam to be the truth or at least closer to the truth than any other religious perspective on this issue.
Finally, someone is a religious pluralist with respect to a given issue when she claims not only as a non-exclusivist that no specific religious perspective is superior but also makes a positive claim about the truth of the matter. The nature of this claim depends on the type of issue in question. If the issue is one on which there can be only one actual truth to the matter, but we have no objective means of determining exactly what that truth is—for example, the actual nature of God—to be a pluralist is to claim that the perspectives of more than one basic theistic system or variant thereof can justifiably be considered to reflect some aspect of this truth Byrne , No philosopher denies that the awareness of realization of seeming religious diversity sometimes does in fact have an impact on an exclusivist—from causing minor uneasiness to significantly reducing her level of confidence in the truth of certain beliefs to precipitating belief abandonment.
This is simply an empirical claim about psychological states and behaviors Alston , —; Plantinga , How should, though, an exclusivist coming to an awareness of religious diversity—the awareness that seemingly sincere, knowledgeable individuals differ with her on an issue of religious significance—respond to the reality of such diversity? How should, for instance, the devout Buddhist or Hindu or Christian who comes to realize that others who seem as knowledgeable and devout hold incompatible religious perspectives respond?
Can an exclusivist justifiably disregard such diversity? If not, is the exclusivist under some obligation to attempt to resolve such epistemic conflicts—engage in belief assessment or reassessment with openness to possible revision? Or would it at least be a good idea for her to do so? There are, of course, religious individuals and groups who believe it is inappropriate to subject religious beliefs to assessment of any sort. But few philosophers currently hold this position.
Most maintain that the exclusivist has at least the right to assess her beliefs in the face of religious diversity.
There continues, however, to be significant debate on whether an exclusivist is under an obligation to engage in such belief assessment. And an individual, in this case a religious exclusivist, can only attempt to maximize truth or avoid error in the face of diverse claims, it is argued, if she attempts to resolve the conflict. The contention here, it must be emphasized, is not that such resolution is always possible or that an exclusivist must necessarily give up her belief if no resolution is forthcoming. Discussion concerning those issues is yet to come.
Others philosophers disagree. For example, Alvin Plantinga acknowledges that if a proponent of a specific religious perspective has no reason to doubt that those with whom he disagrees really are on equal epistemic footing, then he is under a prima facie obligation to attempt to resolve the conflict. However, Plantinga denies that the Christian exclusivist need ever acknowledge that he is facing true epistemic parity—need ever admit that he actually is differing with true epistemic peers. Therefore, since it cannot be demonstrated that Christian belief of this sort is very likely false, the Christian remains justified in maintaining that the proponents of other religious perspectives are not actually on equal epistemic footing.
And the same, Plantinga acknowledges, might well be true for exclusivists in other religious belief systems Plantinga , The strength of this line of reasoning depends in part on the debatable issue of who shoulders the burden of proof on the question of equal epistemic footing. Those siding with Plantinga argue in essence that unless an exclusivist must acknowledge on epistemic grounds that are or should be accepted by all rational people that those holding incompatible beliefs are actually on equal footing, the exclusivist can justifiably deny that this is so and thus need not engage in belief assessment Kim Those supporting obligatory belief assessment argue that it is the exclusivist who shoulders the burden of proof.
Unless it can be demonstrated on epistemic grounds that are or should be accepted by all rational people that proponents of the competing perspectives are not actually on equal epistemic footing, the exclusivist must consider his challenger on equal epistemic footing and is thus obligated to engage in belief assessment Basinger , 26— Most philosophers of religion side with the critics and thus assume that actual peer conflict cannot be denied Byrne , Another influential type of challenge to obligatory belief assessment in the face of religious diversity has been raised by Jerome Gellman.
The focus of his challenge centers on what he identifies as rock bottom beliefs. Such beliefs, as Gellman defines them, are the epistemic givens in a religious belief system—the assumed, foundational truths upon which all else is built. Gellman grants that if a religious belief affirmed by an exclusivist is not rock bottom is not a foundational assumption , then it may well be subject to obligatory belief assessment in the face of religious diversity.
Moore switch, justifiably maintain that because her rock bottom belief is true, the competing belief can justifiably be rejected Gellman , —; Gellman , — Furthermore, Gellman has added more recently, even if we grant that rock bottom beliefs are at times open to belief assessment, the exclusivist need not engage in such assessment in the face of religious diversity unless she finds that the awareness of such diversity is causing her to lose significant confidence in her own perspective.
Many religious beliefs held by exclusivists have practical consequences. However, it seems safe to assume that most exclusivists, including Gellman, believe that some of these actions are morally wrong and ought to be stopped to the extent possible.
And in such cases, it is difficult to imagine many exclusivists maintaining that those who hold the beliefs on which these acts are based have no need to reassess these beliefs unless they personally feel a need to do so. But what if we assume that while the consideration of criteria such as self-consistency and comprehensiveness can rule out certain options, there exists no set of criteria that will allow us to resolve most religious epistemic disputes either between or within religious perspectives in a neutral, nonquestion-begging fashion Peterson et al. In what epistemic position does this then place the exclusivist?
The answer, as some see it, is that the exclusivist can no longer justifiably maintain that her exclusivistic beliefs are true. Schellenberg, for example, argues that because no more than one among a set of incompatible truth claims can be true, a disputant in a debate over such claims is justified in continuing to maintain that her claim is true only if she possesses nonquestion-begging justification for believing the incompatible claim of any competitor to be false.
Or stated another way yet, what the exclusivist must do, given the lack of sufficient evidence for her perspective, is to suspend judgment, that is, abandon her exclusivistic position and give equal weight to all the self-consistent, comprehensive perspectives in play Christiansen, ; Feldman, Others have not gone this far, arguing rather that while the exclusivist need not abandon religious belief in the face of unresolved conflict, she must or at least be willing to hold her exclusive religious beliefs more tentatively with less confidence.
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Philip Quinn argues, for instance, that acknowledged epistemic parity necessarily has a negative epistemically humbling impact on the level of justification for any religious belief system. Such parity does not necessarily reduce justification below a level sufficient for rational acceptability. The tentativeness this reduction in confidence produces, McKim tell us, does not entail never-ending inquiry.
Joseph Runzo and Gary Gutting agree. Moreover, argues McKim, such tentativeness in the face of diversity has an important payoff. William Alston represents an even more charitable response to exclusivism. However, as Alston sees it, there exists no such common ground for settling basic epitemic disputes over religious truth claims, and this, he contends, alters the situation drastically. It still remains true, he grants, that the reality of religious diversity diminishes justification.
Or, stated differently yet, Alston grants that objective evidence is necessary for justified belief when the debated issue is one for which such evidence is available. But when objective evidence is not available—as is the case for most important religious contentions—it cannot be required for justified belief. In fact, at one point he goes even further. Because there exists at present no neutral ground for adjudicating religious epistemic conflicts, it is not only the case, Alston argues, that an exclusivist is justified rational in continuing to consider her own perspective superior.
Philip Quinn represents yet another, increasingly popular approach. The basis for this position is his distinction between a pre-Kantian and a Kantian understanding of religious belief. To have a pre-Kantian understanding of religious belief is to assume that we have or at least can have access to the truth as it really is. It is to believe, for instance, that we do or at least can in principle know what God is really like.
It is to believe, for instance, that although there is a divine reality about which we can make truth claims, our understanding of and thus our truth claims about this divine reality will necessarily to some extent be conditioned by the ways in which our environment our culture in the broadest sense has shaped our categories of thought Quinn , — Alston, Quinn contends, is essentially working off of a pre-Kantian model of religious belief when he encourages religious exclusivists to sit tight in the face of peer conflict since, in the absence of any objective basis for determining which perspective is right, the exclusivist has no sufficient reason not to do so.
However, Quinn holds that, once we realize it is perfectly reasonable for a person to assume that the proponent of no religious perspective has or even could have an accurate understanding of divine reality as it really is, another rational alternative appears. We then see that it is also perfectly rational for a person to begin to revise her own phenomenological perspective on the truth in a way that will allow for greater overlap with the phenomenological perspectives of others.
The approach to conflicting religious perspectives Quinn outlines has in fact become increasingly popular in exclusivistic circles. Consider, for example, the ongoing debate among Christians over how God brought the rest of reality into existence. Based on their assumption that we may well not have access, even through Scripture, to exactly how God was involved in the creative process, they have modified what is to be considered essential to Christianity on this issue. Rather than affirming any of the specific explanations of how God created all else, they affirm a more general contention compatible with each of these specific explanations: that God is in some manner directly responsible for the existence of all else.
Everyone realizes, though, that moving toward a thinner theology can resolve the epistemic tension produced by religious diversity only to a certain extent. Accordingly, while thinning her theology may be a rational choice that can minimize conflict for the exclusivist, no one is arguing that a certain amount of epistemic conflict will not remain. Finally, we find at the far end of the spectrum those who deny that acknowledged peer conflict does in fact require the exclusivist to abandon her exclusivism or even reduce confidence in her exclusivistic perspectives.
The key to this position is a distinction between personal private evidence and public evidence evidence available to all persons involved in the dispute. It is granted that an individual will often find herself in epistemic disputes with persons who are epistemic peers in the sense that they are 1 equally intelligent, thoughtful, and free from obvious bias and 2 equally familiar with all the relevant public evidence. But the final judgments made by each participant in such disputes are not made solely on this public evidence, it is held.
Such judgments are based also on personal beliefs to which only each participant has access. Jennifer Lackey notes, for instance, that each person in an epistemic dispute has greater access to the reliability of her own belief-forming faculties than do her epistemic competitors Lackey, Ernest Sosa talks of a gulf between the private and public domain Sosa And the weight of this private evidence, it is argued, can make it reasonable for an individual to retain her beliefs including exclusivistic religious beliefs with the same level of confidence, even in the face of acknowledged peer disagreement in the public sense.
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Some critics, of course, will maintain that this is primarily a verbal victory. The question, remember, is whether an exclusivist who acknowledges that epistemic peers hold incompatible perspectives can continue to justifiably maintain with full confidence that her perspective is superior. And it will seem to some that to claim that participants in epistemic disputes have access to relevant personal evidence not available to their epistemic competitors is in fact simply to acknowledge that the dispute is really not among true epistemic peers in the sense originally intended—that is, in the sense that all parties are assessing the same body of evidence.
Let us assume that an exclusivist is justified in retaining her exclusivistic belief in the face of religious diversity. Ought she stop there or can she justifiably go further? Can she justifiably try to convince others that she is right—can she justifiably try to convert others to her perspective? And if so, is she in any sense obligated to do so? Most who believe that such proselytization is not justified challenge the moral character of an exclusivist who attempts to convince those with whom she differs to accept her perspective as the sole truth.
Not surprisingly, most exclusivists deny that it is insensitive or arrogant or presumptive for an exclusivist to attempt to convince others that her perspective is the correct one—to tell others that she is right and they are wrong. Since we are justified in believing our position to be superior to others—closer to the truth—it is difficult to see, exclusivists argue, how our attempts to convince others that they should agree can be considered arrogant or presumptive or insensitive, especially if we believe that it is important for the welfare of those we are attempting to convert that they do so.
Moreover, exclusivists continue, while it is surely true that some conversion is attempted for what we would all agree are morally inappropriate reasons—for instance, for financial gain or to gain power over others—there is little empirical evidence that exclusivists in general have these motives.
It is probably true, rather, that many, if not most, exclusivists who proselytize do so primarily because they believe they have what others need and are willing sometimes at great personal cost to share it with them. Are, though, exclusivists required to proselytize? With very few exceptions, though, philosophers deny that exclusivists are under any general obligation to proselytize, regardless of whether the exclusivistic system in question demands or encourages such proselytization.
Religious intolerance, defined as the practice of keeping others from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs, is not new. However, there is concern world-wide over the increasing amount, and increasingly violent nature, of such behavior. Accordingly, there is understandably a renewed interest in fostering religiously tolerant environments in which individuals with differing religious perspectives can practice their faiths unencumbered. A number of philosophers have recently turned their attention to the relationship between religious diversity and religious tolerance, with the main focus on whether acknowledgement of, and subsequent reflection on, religious diversity might lead to greater religious tolerance.
The main argument supporting the claim that acknowledged diversity can foster tolerance was proposed by the late Philip Quinn Quinn, , 57—80; , —; a, — As noted earlier in our discussion of religious diversity and epistemic obligation section 3 , some philosophers agree with Alvin Plantinga that the proponent of a given religious perspective need not grant that his competitors are actually on equal epistemic footing and is thus justified in continuing to maintain that his perspective is superior without further reflection Plantinga , Other philosophers do not deny that proponents of differing religious perspectives are on equal epistemic footing or that reflection on these diversity perspectives might in some cases actually cause an individual to become less certain that her perspective is superior.
But they deny that there is any necessary epistemic connection between acknowledged diversity and a weakening of justified personal commitment. That is, they argue that a proponent of a given religious perspective can acknowledge both that those holding perspectives differ from hers are epistemic peers and that she is not in a position to demonstrate objectively that her position is superior and yet justifiably continue to maintain that her perspective is in fact superior Hasker, But might not just the opposite occur?
The discussion of religious diversity thus far has been framed in terms of truth claims in terms of justified belief because it is increasingly recognized by philosophers as the best way to access the most important questions that the reality of such diversity forces upon us. Or, to be more specific, as salvific exclusivists see it, the criteria for salvation specified by the one correct religious perspective are both epistemologically necessary in the sense that those seeking salvation must be aware of these conditions for salvation and ontologically necessary in the sense that these conditions must really be met Peterson et al.
It is important to note, though, that not only Christians are salvific exclusivists. Also important to note is that differing, sometimes even conflicting, exclusivistic claims can exist within the same world religion. For instance, significant intra-Christian debate has centered historically on the eternal fate of young children who die.
For some, the answer was and still is that all children who die are separated from God eternally. Is it not clearly unjust for exclusivists to claim that they cannot spend eternity with God because they have not met the criteria for salvation stipulated by this religion? For salvific inclusivists, the answer is yes. Put in philosophical language, as inclusivists see it, particular salvific events may be ontologically necessary for salvation in the sense that salvation cannot occur without them but not epistemically necessary in the sense that one need not know about them to be saved or liberated Moser ;Peterson et al.
Probably the best known Christian proponent of this inclusivist perspective is Karl Rahner. Christianity, he argues, cannot recognize any other religion as providing the way to salvation. Murtadha Mutahhari is a respected proponent of Muslim inclusivism. And those who fully understand this law Islam but choose not to accept the truth will be damned. However, in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence, God will be merciful to those who seek the truth but from whom, through no fault of their own, the reality of Islam remains hidden.
And these individuals will receive the divine grace necessary to achieve salvation from Hell Mutahhari, ; Legenhausen, Others go so far as to question whether Muslims can justifiably be exclusivists Aijaz, Salvific pluralists, however, find such reasoning no more convincing than that offered by exclusivists. Inclusivists are right, pluralists grant, to say that individuals need not necessarily know of or fulfill certain requirements normally specified in a given religion to attain salvation. But inclusivists, like exclusivists, are wrong to argue that this salvation is, itself, possible only because of certain conditions or events described in the one true religion.
There is no one true religion and, therefore, no one, and only one, path to eternal existence with God. Why, though, ought we consider this pluralistic salvific hypothesis more plausible than that offered by the exclusivist or inclusivist?
According to Hick, the most influential proponent of pluralism, three factors make a pluralistic perspective the only plausible option. First, and foremost, he argues, is the reality of transformation parity. That is, an efficacious salvific process changes lives in the sense that it begins to turn people from thinking about, and acting only to enhance, their own personal well-being to viewing themselves as responsible participants in a much greater, more expansive reality.
In short, an efficacious salvific process makes its participants better people. And all the evidence we have, Hick maintains, shows that many religions are equally transformational, given any general standard for positive transformation we might want to consider Hick , chapter 3. There continues to be debate, however, over whether the same basic personal transformation actually does occur within various religions—over whether there is real transformational parity. Few claim that there is a strong experiential basis for denying such transformational parity or that it can be demonstrated on other objective, nonquestion-begging grounds that such parity does not exist.
However, proponents of many basic theistic systems claim that while transformational parity may appear to be the case, this is actually not so—that is, claim that the transformation within their systems actually is qualitatively different than that produced by allegiance to other systems. It is sometimes argued, for instance, that the transformation within other systems will not last, or at least that this transformation, while possibly real and even lasting for a given individual, is not what it could have been for that individual within the one true theistic system.
And some exclusivists have argued that unless it can be demonstrated in an objective, nonquestion-begging sense that they are not justified in affirming a religious perspective that makes such claims which even Hick does not attempt to demonstrate , they are justified in denying that such parity actually exists Clark , — Edited by James more tolerant, for it provides precisely the truth self or himself a bit lost.
Consequently, the text K. Smith and Henry Isaac Venema. Grand commitments, enabling true tolerance that sec- is best suited for someone already conversant Rapids: Brazos Press, Christianity is also up-front with with traditional ontotheology and who desires ISBN Even for a popular the philosophers. The essays are both a theolog- book, Stetson and Conti sometimes paint in B. Keith Putt ical and philosophical focus on hermeneutics overly broad strokes, such as setting up too Samford University and love.
Caputo offers a critical for how conservative Christians have been David Burrell. They also provide an Middleton writes on mindedness.
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In short, one cannot read this book gians, and an expert on Islamic intellectual tra- theological discourse in 1 Sam In section 2, without being forced to think more carefully ditions. Boundas writes on dom. Edited by and Kierkegaard on love; Venema compares essentially argue that the Creator is distinct Erik C. Owens, John D. Carlson, and Eric P. Olthius and Derrida; and Smith compares from but not entirely separate from Creation, Elshtain.
Foreword by Jean Bethke Elshtain. The third section includes a letter called libertarian theories. Rather, creaturely and philosophers contribute to make this a from H. The book is not useful for undergradu- dialectical relation to its creator—God, the free penalty debates in the United States. From Stas- ates, would not work as a cohesive textbook, source and ground of all being and freedom. McVeigh trial, these nineteen varied essays ticular essays because of its author or the par- with a wide diversity of alternative traditions reveal emotional, cultural, biblical, theological, ticular topic.
It is a work of love for Olthius. Related Papers. CV, with a list of published reviews of my work. By Amos Yong.
American Muslims and Religious Freedom FAQ
Hill and Frank A. James III. By Hans Boersma.