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  • Pragmatic Pluralisms and Religious Diversities:Toward Diapractice
  • Ulf Zackariasson (bio)

In recent decades, American pragmatism has become an increasingly important voice in Anglo-American philosophy of religion.1 The purpose of this paper is to contribute to this ongoing development by approaching religious diversities through pragmatism's emphasis on the primacy of practice. I will not put forward a full-blown pragmatic philosophy of religious diversity, but rather offer one essential building block to use in a more comprehensive edifice.2

For pragmatists, pluralism is generally a default stance, and similarities are often just as puzzling and alarming as diversities. William James articulates this stance well in The Varieties of Religious Experience:

Is the existence of so many religious types and sects and creeds regrettable? /…/ I answer "No" emphatically. /…/ No two of us have identical difficulties, nor should we be expected to work out identical solutions. /…/ The divine can mean no single quality, it must mean a group of qualities, by being champions of which in alternation, different men may all find worthy missions. Each attitude being a syllable in human nature's total message, it takes the whole of us to spell the meaning out completely.3

The interesting question is not "Should we, as pragmatists, be pluralists?" but "What should a fruitful pluralism with regard to religious diversity be [End Page 20] like and which virtues should it cultivate?" I will offer some reasons for why pragmatists should be wary of the classical exclusivism-inclusivism-pluralism typology and go on to develop a form of pragmatic pluralism with elements from both William James and John Dewey that, I argue, should cause us to turn attention to diapractice: practical interactions between religious and secular parties aimed to resolve shared, concrete problems.4 Diapractice, I suggest, may not only concretely improve human life; it can also help us train important virtues, open traditions to critique, and reduce tensions by creating overlapping communities among religious and secular people.

I situate this inquiry in the kind of society that Jürgen Habermas calls post-secular. In postsecular societies, religious traditions and secular life orientations are natural parts of society, and both religious and secular citizens engage in mutual discussions about how they can best contribute to a society where people, despite differences, live peacefully together.5

I. A Pragmatic Look at the Exclusivism/Inclusivism/Pluralism Typology

The dominant exclusivism/inclusivism/pluralism typology covers both epistemological (how should people relate to the truth-claims set forth by other traditions than their own?) and soteriological (is salvation/liberation available to others than those of one's own tradition?) concerns. This means that there is room for positions that combine answers to these questions in different ways. For my purposes, however, a brief overview suffices since the pragmatic discontents I will express apply to the fundamental approach rather than to any particular position. Given that the fields I know best are philosophy of religion and to some extent theology, I will structure the discussion along the paths often taken there.

Exclusivists typically claim that people in one tradition should regard truth claims in other traditions as false (to the extent that they are incompatible with those in their own tradition) and judge their proposed path to salvation ineffective—the safest way to salvation goes via conversion.6 Inclusivists [End Page 21] typically hold that people should regard the truth-claims of other traditions as less accurate than those of their own tradition, and salvation as possible thanks to the saving activity of God. What that saving activity is, varies, however. For a Muslim inclusivist, the beliefs and moral norms of many Jews and Christians are, thanks to God's historical engagement with these traditions, sufficiently close to the truth to make salvation available for the people of the Book, but a Christian inclusivist like Karl Rahner sees the possibility of salvation of non-Christians as ultimately dependent on the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.7 A pluralist like John Hick, finally, argues that people should learn to see many traditions as equally valid human responses to a transcendent reality and thus as offering more or less equally effective paths to salvation.8



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