Call for Papers – ‘Emergent Religious Pluralism(s)’

*April 16th & 17th 2018, The Woolf Institute in Cambridge*

We invite 250-word abstracts for an interdisciplinary conference on the
theme of ‘Emergent Religious Pluralism(s)’. The event will be held at the
Woolf Institute in Cambridge, in April 2018 and will include a keynote talk
from Professor Nasar Meer (University of Edinburgh). Please submit your
abstracts to John Fahy ( by August 15th 2017.


The concept of religious pluralism has been at the centre of major
political developments and discourse in recent years. The rise of the Hindu
right in India has contributed to an increasing sense of marginalisation
amongst non-Hindu minorities, and Muslims in particular. Donald Trump’s
divisive rhetoric and persistent attempts to impose a Muslim travel ban
have similarly left Muslim minorities in the U.S. feeling targeted. In war
torn countries throughout the Middle East, the place of the dwindling
Christian communities looks ever more precarious, and the rich tradition of
pluralism seems to be disappearing. Across Europe controversial attempts,
both legal and political, to manage the challenge of religious diversity
have led to heated debates on how to deal with difference. At the heart of
these developments, the very ideal of religious pluralism itself is being
contested. But how have changing realities on the ground informed the ideal
of religious pluralism itself in different parts of the world?

Religious pluralism has often been defined in relation to, but as
distinct from, religious diversity. David Machacek defines pluralism as
“meaningful diversity” (2003) while in Diana Eck’s (2006) words “pluralism
is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity”. It is
not just tolerance, Eck writes, but “the active seeking of understanding
across lines of difference”. The ideal of religious pluralism in the
American context, at least, connotes integration, and not segregation. More
than the merely descriptive diversity, it implies both evaluation and
engagement. It is, in other words, a moral response to the existential fact
of diversity.

That such definitions of religious pluralism can encompass the broad
range of ways in which the challenge of religious diversity can (or should)
be managed has been problematised. Taking account of the myriad social,
political and historical factors that shape the kinds of religious
pluralism that have emerged throughout the world, and throughout history,
some now prefer to speak of ‘pluralisms’ (Marty 2007) or ‘modes of
religious pluralism’ (Riis 1999). Such modes of religious pluralism are not
simply alternative approaches to a common ideal, but constitute complex
political responses to particular socio-historical challenges.

But what kinds of challenges elicit what kinds of responses? How is the
ideal of religious pluralism conceived, constructed and contested in
different parts of the world? Are there identifiable approaches to
religious pluralism within or between different religious traditions? How
might we describe the various ways in which the challenge of religious
diversity is being responded to today, and who is responding? What is the
relationship between everyday experiences of diversity, on the one hand,
and ideals of religious pluralism, tolerance and coexistence, on the other?

This conference looks to explore the emergent conceptions of, and
commitments to, the ideal of religious pluralism in different parts of the
world. We invite submissions that engage with one or more of the following

– How are the ideals of religious pluralism changing in light of recent
social and political developments? Are there identifiable ‘modes’ of
religious pluralism emerging in different parts of the world? Do we find
broader trends that transcend particularities of national (and
nationalistic) political discourses?
– In what ways can the history of religious pluralisms throughout the
world, and across religious traditions, inform our understanding of recent
developments? Is there anything new about how religious difference itself
is being constructed and contested?
– What is the relationship between religious pluralism and broader
strategies for managing difference, such as multiculturalism? To what
extent do ideals of religious pluralism reflect those of other pluralisms,
for example, cultural, ethnic or national?
– What kinds of responses are being offered to the challenge of
religious diversity by both state and non-state institutions and actors?
How is the challenge itself being articulated, and by who? How do the
ideals of religious pluralism, tolerance and coexistence relate to the
everyday experience of diversity?
– What role do religious actors play? How are theological resources
being mobilised to address the challenge of religious diversity, for
example, through interfaith dialogue?

Dr. John Fahy
Research Fellow
Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Qatar
& The Woolf Institute, Cambridge

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