publisher colophon

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

One shortcoming of this typology—one that we can remedy relatively easily—is its religion-centeredness and neglect of secular life orientations: the focus is on "religious others."9 To avoid this problem, I will henceforth use the slightly clumsy phrases "religious and secular others" and "religious traditions and secular life orientations."10

A bigger problem, however, is that from a pragmatic point of view, the classical typology retains a focus on doctrinal disagreement between ideal-type adherents of homogeneously conceived religious traditions and secular life orientations—what Janet Jakobsen calls a separate-units approach. Such approaches contrast ideal-type adherents, taken to assent to more-or-less all the central doctrines of one religious tradition or secular life orientation, with ideal-type adherents of other, equally homogeneously construed religious traditions or secular life orientations.11 This outlook, she cautions, privileges orthodoxy at [End Page 22] the expense of women, marginalized groups, and various dissenters. It also neglects significant overlaps between traditions and the immense intratradition differences that exist regarding burning issues such as gender equality, marginalization and exclusion of nonheterosexuals, the implementation of human rights, how to respond to poverty, and much else.12 Of course, separate-units approaches must not overlook overlaps and intratradition differences; but the focus lies elsewhere—and this is particularly worrisome if, like pragmatists, we emphasize practice. In this paper, I use "religious diversities" to cover diversities both within and between religious traditions and secular life orientations.

Last, the dominant typology's focus on propositions and truth-claims adopts without question a spectator view of religious and secular commitments, where attention is focused on assent to and clashes between doctrines, while practical challenges and opportunities remain secondary. Paul Knitter has recently suggested that much of the most fruitful interactions between religious groups actually take place in various forms of social action, not in traditional dialogues, and the examples I supply latter in this paper supports his case.13 I see, however, no reason to limit attention to religious groups, so I will include examples involving secular parties as well.

Of course, these rather programmatic critiques will not convince anyone to abandon the dominant typology. I am content to note that there are good pragmatic reasons for thinking that a turn to practice can yield significant insights for agents concerned about their prospects for leading flourishing lives together with various religious and secular others. Further, I believe a pragmatic version of pluralism that urges us to cultivate virtues such as sensitivity and responsibility can both enrich and be enriched by a study of diapractice. I will concentrate on such problem-oriented cooperation across divides between religious traditions and secular outlooks and use examples from the research literature to develop my case.14 In the light of such studies, we may then revisit, [End Page 23] challenge, and enrich more mainstream forms of pluralism in the current debates (though that project falls beyond the scope of this paper).15

II. Toward a Melioristic Pragmatic Pluralism

Transaction and habit are central concepts in pragmatic philosophy. Transaction is, here, a technical term denoting the countless, primarily habit-based, ways in which organisms interact with their surroundings, including other living beings; and habit refers to the repertoire of responses we draw on in transactions. When habits of action, thought, and judgment fail to accomplish important goals, we are thrown into a problematic situation where we need to reconstruct habits in a systematic fashion to restore a state of equilibrium with the environment. Terminologically, I will understand pluralism as a family of habits that together make up a strategy for responding to and handling situations that include diversities.

In my view, a common descriptive denominator for pragmatic pluralisms—regardless of what we are pluralists about—is a view of the universe as populated by a multitude of agents (such as human beings) capable of influencing current and future states of affairs. A corresponding normative common denominator, I would add, is that our responses to diversities should allow human beings the freedom to exercise such agency.16

The kind of pluralism we need, here, should be such that it helps safeguard the valuable elements of a state of diversities. But what are those valuable elements, exactly, and how should they be balanced? I will look at three versions of pragmatic pluralism concerning democratic, public life that set different priorities: one version that concentrates on epistemological value, represented by Nicholas Rescher; one version that concentrates on existential value, represented by Richard Rorty; and, finally, one melioristic version represented by Steven Bush's analysis of the political dimensions of individuality in James's philosophy of religion. I want to emphasize, here, that what sets these versions apart are not views about which values pluralism should safeguard, but the degree of emphasis we should put on each of them. With regard to each version, I ask: (1) What is particularly valuable [End Page 24] about diversities? and (2) What kind of pluralism helps us best preserve that particular value(s)?

Rescher stresses the Peircean point that we must start from where we stand, and this goes for interactions in democratic, public life as well.17 If we understand situations as what Dewey called "contextual wholes" that include the inquiring subjects,18 it is only natural, Rescher suggests, that people with different backgrounds and outlooks should "proceed differently in cognitive, evaluative and practical matters" and thus adopt different standpoints.19 Rescher's focus is thus on the epistemic value of diversity: a plurality of points of view offers optimal conditions for inquiry. Through discussion and debate, we may slowly and painstakingly begin to converge on truth—though we will rarely, if ever, reach consensus.20 Pluralism safeguards this epistemic value best by encouraging participation from and critical engagement with as many perspectives as possible; and Rescher contrasts his pluralism with what he sees as more restrictive positions endorsed by Habermas and Rorty that circumscribe the number of perspectives that should have a say in democratic, public life.21

Rorty claims that citizens of liberal democracies need to distinguish between projects aimed at shared problems that require cooperation, and projects aimed at individual fulfillment. Science and the formation of liberal democratic states are paradigmatic examples of the former kind, and religious faith is, Rorty holds, a paradigmatic example of the latter.22

In projects aimed at individual fulfillment, even a well-meaning desire to find the truth, Rorty claims, can become cruel if it leads us to question and criticize others' right to live as they wish, even when that life has virtually no repercussions for anyone else.23 Diversities here, we can say, are primarily existentially valuable, and an overeager concern about truth jeopardizes that value. In collective projects, on the other hand, Rorty believes there should be no room for the plurality that we find in society, and particularly not for religious [End Page 25] standpoints. When introduced into democratic, public life, such standpoints can justify cruelty such as, Rorty says, when Christians oppose equal legal rights for homosexuals and heterosexuals.24 He suggests instead a compromise where religious traditions and secular life orientations become exempt from critical examination if they are prepared to retreat to the private sphere.25 Thus Rorty's pluralism defends existential value at the expense of epistemological value: certain inquiries should not be undertaken—except, perhaps, in solitude for one's private satisfaction.

Rescher and Rorty thus prioritize epistemic and existential values differently. I believe a pragmatic pluralism, as sketched by Bush in his study of James, offers a promising compromise between these approaches.

Bush takes James to emphasize that religious and secular citizens ought to exercise responsibility, show sensitivity to strangers, and commit to meliorism.26 Responsibility, according to Bush, is primarily "a particular attitude one has to oneself" that includes a readiness to consider oneself an agent who is accountable for the actions one performs and for the beliefs and values one embraces.27 Sensitivity to strangers means that we need to seek imaginatively to see things from their perspective, because the lack of such imagination produces a dangerous blindness toward others.28

While sensitivity to strangers acknowledges Rorty's concern with existential value, meliorism acknowledges Rescher's emphasis on inquiry and epistemological values, because meliorism "expresses the commitment of James and other pragmatists to work actively for the betterment of society."29 Both James and Dewey understood meliorism as a view of the universe as open and partially under our influence—a view that could avoid the potentially passivizing effects of cosmic forms of optimism and pessimism.30 If we take meliorism seriously, we are obliged to seek the best possible solutions to problems for as broad a [End Page 26] range of people as possible; and that limits the degree to which sensitivity to strangers can function as a kind of veto against inquiring and taking action to solve concrete problems.

Let me take stock. Diversities arise naturally but are nonetheless fragile, and to preserve them we need to develop habits of action, thought, and judgment that effectively balance sensitivity and meliorism in ways that that give each its due. Thus Bush: "Change comes from experimental attempts to adjudicate among the claims while preserving as many diverse and competing values as possible."31 Responsibility and sensitivity are important virtues we must develop within our melioristic strivings, not, as Rorty indicates, external constraints on them. As with other virtues, there are vices here, too. You can go too far in the direction of sensitivity (if, out of regard for others, we omit to take action to remedy even very severe problems) and in the direction of meliorism (if we paternalistically decide what is good for others and foist it upon them, even in relatively unimportant cases). Hence the need for balance.

I think we can learn more about this balance, how to train the virtues required by pragmatic pluralism, and the good pragmatic effects they can bring by looking more closely at cases of diapractice that, arguably, have been successful in these respects. It is time to turn to these examples.

III. Diapractice and Pragmatic Pluralism

According to Lissi Rasmussen, who as far as I know coined the term, diapractice paradigmatically occurs when people at the grassroots from different religious traditions share experiences and activities together, particularly with the aim to solve a concrete shared problem. In such processes, the grassroots have influence over every step of the process: they articulate a need/problem, reason together about how to come to terms with it, and finally, they evaluate the outcome. The participants treat each other as agents with a stake in the outcome, and effective action is only possible if you find enough common ground with religious and secular others to take action.

Rasmussen's examples concern, for instance, cooperation between Christian and Muslim farmers in Tanzania on various projects aimed at agricultural improvement, where religious commitments only figured in the background. In Nigeria, in contrast, she found that Christian-Muslim interactions mainly occurred in dialogue meetings between religious authorities that gave religious commitments center stage; and she contrasts the naturalness with which farmers in Tanzania made progress in joint work with the relatively fruitless dialogues [End Page 27] in Nigeria, where discussions of doctrine dominated the interaction. Her conclusion was that dialogues that lack concrete goals and fail to involve the grassroots can actually do more harm than good for interreligious relations: they focus on dividing elements, and all parties have a stake in upholding the divisions. Diapractice between people at the grassroots, on the other hand, avoids, according to Rasmussen, many of these problems.32

Imron Sohsan has studied the state-supported Lanboon Lanpanya forum in North-East Thailand, created with the explicit purpose of improving Muslim-Buddhist relations.33 Before meeting in the forum, Buddhist- and Muslim-dominated villages identify concrete problems in separate meetings. In the forum itself, representatives of different villages then come together to discuss which problems both groups share and what to do about them; and one rule for these discussions is that one should avoid referring to one's own and others' religious convictions—here, then, the goal is to explicitly avoid getting involved in questions about the religious reasons or justifications for various stances. Finally, the parties cooperate in concrete measures aimed at coming to terms with the problems and, according to Sohsan, such projects seem to have significantly reduced the degree of mutual suspicion between Buddhists and Muslims, because it is possible for all parties to see the opportunities for cooperation and the beneficial results.34

In both of the above examples, work with practical problems get people to concentrate on concrete commonalities rather than on doctrinal differences, and the practical focus also helps them achieve concrete results that all parties benefit from. This is, arguably, a way both to take responsibility for your own views and to show sensitivity to strangers; and it ought then to be harder to see the persons you successfully cooperate with in diapractice as merely religious and secular others. Note, however, that even Sohsan's example allows significant roles for religious habits of action, thought, and judgment in these processes, such as when you identify something as a problem and decide what to consider a better state of affairs than the current. If not, there would hardly be any need for separate meetings for Muslims and Buddhists. Nevertheless [End Page 28] critical discussion is limited to the question about what joint actions villagers can take to handle the concrete problem.

Melanie Prideaux's study of the Muslim-Christian-secular organization Faith Together in a part of Leeds, Great Britain, shows that it is often quite possible to include a multitude of both secular and religious outlooks in diapractice. She criticizes traditional interreligious dialogues on the grounds that "the needs and experiences of people living in religiously diverse communities are not met through the formal model of dialogue meetings."35 She points out, instead, that among lay people of various outlooks, "it is the informal, practical reality of sharing space and activities which both influences and is influenced by personal understandings of God and truth" that better capture people's experience of interreligious engagements.36 In Faith Together, people with different religious and secular life orientations typically met regularly to eat, discuss issues in their neighborhood, and do various activities together; and these shared activities, she writes, were, according to the informants, "not theologically informed, but /…/ religiously charged and significant."37 This religiously charged interaction, she found, typically occurs "where [people's] religious identity is one among many different identities, such as pupil, employee, or resident."38 Unlike in the Lanboon Lanpanya forum, religious perspectives are welcome in these interactions; however, since people do not meet in an artificial environment where they are only present as representatives of a religious tradition, these perspectives naturally mingle with other perspectives and identities—so a Christian pupil has, on certain matters, more in common with her fellow Muslim and secular pupils than with Christian teachers, to take just one example.39 Prideaux also stresses, more than the previous researchers, that interaction has theological consequences, consequences for how to understand both one's own and others' religious commitments.

One recurring trait in the examples I have described so far is that although religious and secular life orientations are very important elements in the participants' lives, the most fruitful interactions occur when your adherence to some religious tradition or secular counterpart is acknowledged as a significant but not the only, and perhaps not even the primary, identity. [End Page 29]

Prideaux's example also shows that there are no principled reasons to think that diapractice can only occur between two parties—or, for that matter, only between religious parties. Meliorism suggests that we can best handle a problem when all the parties affected by it participate in a joint inquiry; so it is normally good to widen the sphere of "fellow inquirers."40 Here too, though, there are limits: as Rorty reminds us, this ambition must not jeopardize central existential values that pragmatic pluralism should also safeguard. There may be voices and views that are so insensitive to religious and secular others that we should not listen to them.

So far, my examples primarily illustrate how diapractice helps to build sensitivity to strangers. I now want to turn to a couple of examples that more explicitly suggest that diapractice also can lead subjects to take responsibility for their views in ways that cause them to critically rethink their own religious and/or secular habits of action, thought, and judgment.

The Christian theologian Melissa Snarr has studied the Living Wage Movement in North America, a coalition of labor organizations, religious congregations, "poverty or low-income community-organizing groups," and feminist organizations.41 The movement seeks to improve living conditions for the many people who are unable to support themselves and their families on just one full-time job. Snarr draws particular attention to how feminist participation in the movement has improved its way of working and has created a new critical consciousness among its members.

Concretely, feminists helped people raise awareness about problems that certain theological conceptions of voluntary work and sacrifice have created in the movement by putting very great burdens, particularly, on the pious young Christian female members. Instead of receiving help, these women were expected to take on huge loads of voluntary work that eventually caused many of them to drop out.42 Feminist analyses helped Snarr and others to comprehend the degree to which this problem is not just limited to the Living Wage Movement but to voluntary work in general, and to gender-blind Christian conceptions of sacrifice in particular. The interesting point for present purposes is that the insight about the problematic character of these conceptions arose through frustration over how difficult it was to accomplish the shared goals of the organization, not via arguments or dialogues. These insights, emerging out of practical work, caused the movement to radically change its way of [End Page 30] organizing itself; and, even more importantly, Snarr and others began work to articulate a more practice-informed and gender-conscious theological conception of sacrifice.43 In other words, diapractice triggered critical reflection that grew out of shared, concrete problems.

In Keun-Joo Christine Pae's study, Christian, Buddhist, and secular grass-roots people—primarily women—formed a resistance movement against plans to build a naval base on Jeju Island in South Korea.44 This resistance movement, she shows, became a place for religious women to play more active and leading roles than they could in their relatively conservative religious communities. According to Keun-Joo, both discussions and practical resistance against the pervasive militarism in South Korea caused many religious members of the movement to look more critically at their own traditions.

The first step of this was the empowerment that women experienced as they came to take leading roles in the resistance movement. The experience that women were more prone to take action led to the gradual acknowledgement of an intimate relation between militarism and patriarchy that made it difficult for the more patriarchal elements of the religious traditions to articulate, critique, and take action. The second, more painful, step was then for participants to acknowledge that their own heavily patriarchal traditions actually helped to uphold some of the structures essential for militarism.45 The engaged women came, then, to increasingly see patriarchy as a kind of enemy within that hampers religious traditions' ability to effectively work for peace, and hence in serious tension with the religious imperative to work for peace. Since the "ordinary" authorities are implicated by their patriarchal character, this further encouraged women to take (and retain) the lead in this work. Here, too, diapractice and concrete work led people to recognize how features in their own traditions are obstacles for practical success; and these insights intensified the work to criticize and reconstruct current habits of action, thought, and judgment.

Snarr's and Keun-Joo's studies show how diapractice can both empower subjects and force them to take responsibility for their commitments, even when doing so is uncomfortable, and obliges them critically to examine habits of action, thought, and judgment. The realization that one's own religious tradition is helping to cause some of the problems we work to solve creates opportunities for what Jeffrey Stout calls immanent critique—that is, critique [End Page 31] of traditions from their own vantage points, aiming to draw out unexpected implications in unfamiliar and sometimes challenging directions.46 In other words, critique can arise and traditions can change due to insights generated in diapractice.

Even if diapractice is thus a potentially important route to the critique and reform of religious traditions and secular life orientations, by both empowering certain groups and generating insights that clash with established habits of action, thought, and judgment, I want to underline that the kind of mutual trust required by diapractice hinges on participants' ability to stay focused on the shared problem. Diapractice initiated with the purpose of undermining a religious tradition or secular life orientation that one dislikes will most likely not work very well. In Snarr's and Keun-Joo's examples, participants could engage in immanent critique of their own traditions because they were confident that the other participants had no hidden agendas and were genuinely concerned about the shared concrete problem.

To summarize, then, I think we can say that diapractice typically invites people to develop just the kind of virtues pragmatic pluralism emphasizes as necessary for a stable commitment to pluralism. First, they learn to take responsibility for their own views, even when this may lead to the critique and reconstruction of established habits of action, thought, and judgment. Second, cooperation with religious and secular others encourages subjects to listen to one another and, arguably, shows how much they have in common despite remaining differences. Third and most importantly, meliorism functions as the motor behind the development of these virtues. It is because participants want to improve states of affairs that engaging in forms of diapractice comes naturally; and the urgency of the problem at hand lends weight to criticism and reconstruction. In different cases, contextual factors will determine exactly how to strike the balance between responsibility, sensitivity, and meliorism.

At this point, a turn to Dewey's political philosophy can help us conceptualize the potentially positive effects of diapractice. In The Public and Its Problems, Dewey distinguishes between publics and communities. A public is a group that shares a practical need to regulate certain consequences of human interactions in societies.47 So, people do not choose to form a public: that simply happens. The quality of interaction and degree of success decides, however, whether the public also becomes a community: [End Page 32]

Wherever there is conjoint activity whose consequences are appreciated as good by all singular people who partake in it, and the realization of the good is such as to effect an energetic desire and effort to sustain it in being just because it is a good shared by all, there is in so far a community.48

Diapractice cannot get off the ground unless there is something like a public—that is, a group that acknowledges a shared interest to respond to certain shared problems. A community emerges when the public successfully addresses these problems, and part of this is that participants take responsibility and show sensitivity to each other.

This parallel works best for present purposes if we adopt Prideaux's point about overlapping identities and take the core point, as Eric MacGilvray suggests, to be that when people successfully engage in joint action to handle a shared problem, a sense of community across dividing lines arises between those parties.49 A pragmatic pluralism should thus encourage a bundle of instances of diapractice that together create not one community, but a cluster of coexisting overlapping communities that run across already established community patterns based on adherences to religious traditions, ethnicities, and so on.

IV. Can We Manage the Risks of Diapractice?

So far, I have focused entirely on what most people would consider unequivocally positive outcomes of diapractice. Diapractice is, however, not good per se. Religious and/or secular groups may join forces to promote an anti-Semitic or Islamophobic agenda, circumscribe the rights of women and sexual minorities, and so on. Of course, we should remember that these kinds of destructive diapractice will not cease to exist just because more open-minded people stop engaging in constructive diapractice, such as the protest movement described by Keun-Joo above; and also that there is hardly anything one can say that will convince, for instance, anti-Semites or homophobes that they are mistaken. Arguably, people need to resist such destructive diapractice by other means than arguments. We can still ask, though, whether pragmatic reflection on practice can offer insights back to practice about how to minimize the risk that some form of diapractice will do more harm than good.

Here, I would stress diapractice's focus on concrete shared problems rather than on the realization of some pure and utopian future, and that these problems must concretely affect and engage the grassroots. It is not diapractice [End Page 33] to engage in conspiracy theories about an alleged Jewish world dominance. The demand that a large number of participants on each side should share the problem and be willing to work practically together to solve it can at least reduce (though not eliminate) the risk for extremism.

The pragmatic emphasis on inquiry should also caution us against tendencies to reduce the number of fellow inquirers through exclusion and/or stereotyping. Pragmatists would not, for instance, be so enthusiastic about Rasmussen's claim that Christians and Muslims should build alliances against the Western "materialist" lifestyle (unless this is just a first step toward a more inclusive movement).50 A closed theistic front will alienate, for instance, environmentally engaged secular citizens who oppose the neoliberal economic world order. One of the strengths of diapractice, after all, is that it is possible, even in the absence of shared doctrines. Furthermore, the fact that many Muslims and Christians can be said to be fully immersed in a materialist lifestyle suggests that the relevant dividing lines in this conflict run through, not between, religious traditions and secular outlooks. Any critique of this lifestyle, then, will in part have to be immanent, directed at theologies that embrace material wealth as a sign of God's approval, and so on.

In the end, though, the most important pragmatic point concerns the necessity of sensitivity, which James illustrates with a story of how his negative perception of poor settlers' coves in North Carolina changed when he listened to a settler explaining how happy they were when they got a new cove under cultivation.51 There are many ways to train such sensitivity; one is, arguably, to engage with new partners in diapractice. In societies where we see increasing diversities, both in the number of religious traditions and secular life orientations that coexist, and in the diversity we find within religious traditions and secular life orientations, it is particularly important to avoid "separate units" approaches and a view of religious others as ideal type representatives of their respective tradition or life orientation. Such shortcuts are not good substitutes for diapractice.

Finally, I believe that diapractice requires the cultivation of a further type of practical wisdom, phronesis. Dewey points out that moral judgments, conceived as plans of action, should have an all things considered character.52 A decision to engage in diapractice with others to solve a concrete problem must be made with a view to the likely wider effects of such engagement, including effects on [End Page 34] the prospects of future diapractice. If people concerned about gender equality encounter a patriarchal tradition, it may seem like a good idea only to cooperate with the rather radical opponents of patriarchy within that tradition. However, if this remains an isolated activity, and the only way this tradition is engaged in diapractice, there is a risk that this will lead to a patriarchal backlash and increased suspicion toward religious and secular others. A commitment to meliorism implies that the solution here cannot be just to back away and accept the patriarchal status quo. Practical wisdom suggests, however, that it may be wise to engage with this tradition in many kinds of diapractice, including some that are decidedly less controversial. As Dewey reminds us, in real life we can rarely aim directly for the ideal state of affairs: we need realistic "ends in view" that we can actually work to realize within as broad a number of coalitions as possible.53 Diapractice will thus often favor gradual and moderate progress over spectacular and radical opposition; but that is different from saying that anything goes.

V. Conclusion

Diversities are, for a pragmatist, no more surprising or alarming than similarities—or at least, this is how we should react. They call, though, for strategies that help people cultivate virtues that enable them to fully appreciate and handle diversities in an intelligent fashion. For pragmatists, a pragmatic pluralism that balances epistemic and existential values is an attractive candidate, and its melioristic commitment leads rather naturally, in my view, to diapractice as a highly significant kind of interaction with religious and secular others. Diapractice helps people to chart both similarities and differences, opens traditions to immanent critique, trains important pluralistic virtues, and allows them, at the same time, to work concretely to improve states of affairs.

Of course, more work is needed before we have a comprehensive pragmatic philosophy of religious diversities; but that work, too, should continue to stress the primacy of practice. A philosophy of religious diversities should be measured by what it enables us, as agents, to do to improve conditions for ourselves and others; and that goes for its more "theoretical" dimensions as well. Stressing the primacy of practice also allows pragmatists to side with other practice-oriented approaches to religious diversity, such as Knitter's, that offer much-needed critical contributions to the ongoing discussions about religious diversity in many areas, and not least philosophy of religion, where doctrinal differences still tend to be given pride of place. [End Page 35]

Ulf Zackariasson
Uppsala University, Sweden
Ulf Zackariasson

Mikael Leidenhag is a Research Fellow in Theology and Science at the University of Edinburgh. He obtained his PhD at the University of Uppsala. His current research area is on the relationship between natural teleology and Christian eschatology. Some of his more recent publications are "From Emergence Theory to Panpsychism: A Philosophical Evaluation of Nancey Murphy's Non-Reductive Physicalism" (Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions [2016], "The Mysterianism of Owen Flanagan's Normative Mind Science" (Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science [2018]), "Religious Naturalism: The Current Debate" (Philosophy Compass [2018]), and Naturalizing God? A Critical Evaluation of Religious Naturalism (forthcoming with State University of New York Press).


1. For example, Michael R. Slater, Pragmatism and the Philosophy of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Stephen S. Bush, "Religion against Domination: The Politics of William James's Individualism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 83, no. 3 (2015): 750–79; Sami Pihlström, Pragmatic Pluralism and the Problem of God (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013); Martin Halliwell and Joel D. S. Rasmussen, eds., William James and the Transatlantic Conversation: Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

2. Of course, there is more pragmatic work to draw on here—although perhaps not as much as one might expect, particularly not with a focus on the primacy of practice. One work that explicitly addresses religious pluralism is Jerome Paul Soneson, Pragmatism and Pluralism: John Dewey's Significance for Theology, Harvard Dissertations in Religion 30 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993). In process thought, there are also interesting contributions, such as "deep religious pluralism." See David Ray Griffin, ed., Deep Religious Pluralism (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005).

3. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Penguin Classics, 1982): 486f.

4. There are more fine-grained distinctions in the literature, such as between "dialogue of life" and "dialogue of action," but for present purposes, the relatively general "diapractice" will suffice. See, e,g, Gerard Mannion, "Pathways for Dialogue in the 21st Century," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 48, no. 3 (2013): 391–409.

5. Jürgen Habermas, "Notes on Post-Secular Society," New Perspectives Quarterly 25 (2008): 17–29.

6. Though many exclusivists in philosophy of religion, such as Alvin Plantinga, concentrate almost entirely on epistemological questions and have little to say about soteriology. See, e.g., Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 456–57.

7. Karl Rahner, "Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions," in Christianity and Other Religions, ed. John Hick and Brian Hebbletwhaite, 2nd ed. (London: Oneworld, 2014).

8. For an overview, see, e.g., Michael L Peterson et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), chap. 12.

9. Alan Race, Christians and Religious Pluralism: Patterns in the Christian Theology of Religions, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 1993).

10. I prefer the concept of "life orientation" to other candidates such as "worldview," "ideology," and "view of life" for two reasons. First, talk of an "orientation" reminds us, more clearly than the alternatives, that we are participants, not spectators, in life. Second, compared with a concept like "ideology," it also allows a greater degree of vagueness: life orientations need not be very clearly theoretically articulated to perform their function. I develop the concept in more detail in "Justification and Critique: The Will to Believe and the Public Dimension of Religious Belief," William James Studies 12, no. 2 (Fall 2016): 24–45.

11. Janet R. Jakobsen, "Ethics after Pluralism," in After Plualism: Reimagining Religious Engagement, ed. Courtney Bender and Pamela E. Klassen (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 32.

12. Ibid., 41ff.

13. Paul F. Knitter, "Inter-Religious Dialogue and Social Action," in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Inter-Religious Dialogue, ed. Catherine Cornille (Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons, 2013), 133–48.

14. Jeannine Hill Fletcher, Monopoly on Salvation (London: Continuum, 2005); Lissi Rasmussen, Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa: The Cases of Northern Nigeria and Tanzania Compared (London: British Academic Press in association with the Danish Research Council for the Humanities, 1993); Melanie Prideaux, "Muslim-Christian Dialogue: The Gap Between Theologians and Communities," International Journal of Public Theology 3 (2009): 460–79. Note also that many interreligious dialogues may actually qualify as a kind of diapractice—for instance, if they concern topics like how to respond to a shared problem such as racism or discrimination against religious believers in workplaces. See Oddbjørn Leirvik, Interreligious Studies: A Relational Approach to Religious Activism and the Study of Religion (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014); Paul Hedges, Controversies in Interreligious Dialogue and the Theology of Religions (London: SCM Press, 2010).

15. Such as Kenneth Rose, Pluralism: The Future of Religion (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).

16. Jeremy Carrette, William James's Hidden Religious Imagination: A Universe of Relations (New York: Routledge, 2013); William James, A Pluralistic Universe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996).

17. Nicholas Rescher, Pluralism: Against the Demand for Consensus, Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

18. John Dewey, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, in The Later Works, 1925–1953, vol. 12, 1938 ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986), 71.

19. Rescher, Pluralism, 3, 65ff.

20. Ibid., chaps. 6 and 9.

21. Ibid., 25.

22. Richard Rorty, "Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibility, and Romance," in The Cambridge Companion to William James, ed. Ruth Anna Putnam (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 87–89.

23. Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

24. Richard Rorty, "Religion in the Public Square: A Reconsideration," Journal of Religious Ethics 31, no. 1 (March 2003): 141–49; Rorty, "Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibility, and Romance," 87.

25. Rorty, "Religion in the Public Square."

26. Bush, "Religion against Domination," 754.

27. Ibid., 755.

28. Ibid., 757; William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals, ed. Frederick Burkhardt (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983).

29. Bush, "Religion against Domination," 757.

30. Colin Koopman, Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, The Works of William James (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), chap. 7.

31. Bush, "Religion against Domination," 758.

32. Lissi Rasmussen, Diapraksis og dialog mellem kristne og muslimer:—i lyset af den afrikanske erfaring (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 1997); Rasmussen, Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa, chaps. 2–3.

33. Imron Sohsan, "The Role of Islamic Faith-Based Organization in Building Solidarity and Resilience among People of Different Faiths in Northeast Thailand: A Case Study of Foundation for Education and Development of Muslims in Northeast Thailand," Jurnal Studi Pemerintahan: Journal of Government and Politics 5 (2014): 62–79.

34. Ibid., 75.

35. Prideaux, "Muslim-Christian Dialogue," 461.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid., 466.

39. Ibid., 476.

40. Pihlström, Pragmatic Pluralism, chap. 5.

41. Melissa Snarr, "Women's Working Poverty: Feminist and Religious Alliances in the Living Wage Movemement," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 27 (2011): 75–93.

42. Ibid., 84ff.

43. Ibid., 89ff

44. Christine Pae Keun-Joo, "Feminist Activism as Interfaith Dialogue: A Lesson from Gangjeong Village of Jeju Island, Korea," Journal of Korean Religions 5 (2014): 55–69.

45. Ibid., 64ff.

46. Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition, New Forum Books (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 69–73.

47. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (New York: Henry Holt, 1927).

48. Ibid., 149.

49. Eric A. MacGilvray, Reconstructing Public Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

50. Rasmussen, Diapraksis og dialog, 35.

51. James, Talks to Teachers, 134.

52. John Dewey, Theory of Valuation, in The Later Works, 1925–1953, vol. 13, 1938–1939, ed. Jo Ann Boydston and Barbara Levine (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988).

53. Ibid., 238.

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.