Religious Pluralism: Can we be Tolerant and Faithful?

Peter L. Berger, arguably the world’sParis, France, Muslim Women Demonstrating Against Islamophobie, Holding French Sign in Hijab most famous living sociologist of religion, has brought culture back to the center of discussions of everything from economic prosperity to family life.  In his latest book, The Many Altars of Modernity: Toward a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age, Berger makes a new argument in favor of religious pluralism.  We can be sincere religious believers and be tolerant of other faiths, Berger argues.  Tolerance of other faiths need not undermine our own commitment to our own beliefs.

“But how tolerant can we be?” the French might ask, as they worry about women’s rights and terror recruitment in the suburbs of Paris.  “How tolerant have you been?” Muslims offended by the strictures of laicite might ask in return.

Tolerance of religions is one of the hottest topics in a globalizing world.  Berger will speak at Brandeis:

Thursday, March 10
2 pm
Pearlman Lounge

If you are able to attend the Berger talk — or are a member of the broader IGS community and want to weigh in — I hope you’ll post a comment using the link above.

12 Replies to “Religious Pluralism: Can we be Tolerant and Faithful?”

  1. Peter Berger is an interesting man to listen to, accent and all. What I found important from his talk was his insight on religious pluralism. Berger explained how “there are too many Gods” and there is not just one single religion that people follow. Pluralism is when different religions, ethnicities or cultures exist in the same society. Berger categorized religious pluralism into the individual, institutions and political entities. With regards to the individual, we take for granted the religion we grew up in. He made an interesting point that there is no certainty of religion because people make personal choices about what they believe in. This doubt is managed by a pluralistic society. The pluralistic dynamic is kept alive because people want to keep an attachment to their faith. According to Berger, “Religion has percolated upward in consciousness.” People nowadays are being exposed to different religions surrounding them which brings upon the doubt of religious certainty.
    I believe that what Berger was explaining on religious pluralism is essential when discussing about the acceptance of other religions in a community. It leads to a more important discussion of a liberal democracy in society. Do we resist pluralism? Or do we engage in it? If we want to achieve a peaceful and coercive society, I think it is imperative to engage in a pluralistic atmosphere. People have the right to choose what religion they want to be affiliated with, if they want to be a part of a certain faith. They should not be condemned for practicing this religion instead of that religion. Berger brought up an important and interesting discussion that most countries should be having with its citizens.

  2. It was an amazing opportunity to listen to Mr Berger for the first time and I would like to congratulate and appreciate department of IGS for organizing the event after an incredible number of people showed up at the talk.
    Mr Berger started off with give examples of Ancient Greece and Roman empire describing the religious beliefs and gods acting as zip codes for their followers and showed how important religious beliefs have been. Considering the importance of religion in the history of humanity we have to admit that it has same important as of today. Although modern society demands its governments to go for secularist approach when it comes to legislation and politics, i believe religion should be a part of that legislation as majority of the humans follow religions. If we thoroughly study all the prominent religions of the world they all require their followers to be tolerant about other religions.This paves a way for peace in society as a whole. And i believe protection of all religions is the responsibility of the government, which some have failed to do so and are trying to put religion aside in order to hide their own failures.

  3. Having the opportunity to listen to Professor Berger helped me gain a better understanding of his personal opinion on religious pluralism. Professor Berger began his explanation on religious pluralism by saying that the real problem nowadays is that there are too many Gods and that people tend to follow different religions. The basic definitions of pluralism is that there are more than one religion, ethnicity, or culture living together in the same society. Professor Berger also made clear that he focuses on the different religions and that is why he mentioned that due to the different religions present in the world there is no actual certainty of religion since people have different beliefs and make their own personal decision due to that. I strongly agree with all of the statements made by Professor Berger in regards to pluralism, but the sentence that struck me the most was when he said that “pluralism in religions becomes a choice not a faith”. Going back to what I stated before, this is due to the fact that there are too many religions in the world and people tend to believe in different aspects on religion and also decide to pick which one they believe on. This also causes more diversity amongst the same communities.

  4. Peter Berger’s talk was very enlightening and coherent. I find Berger’s comment that “modernity” and “religion” have wrongly been labelled as opposites quite refreshing. He proves that these terms do not directly oppose each other based on his belief in an individual’s pluralistic nature and the plurality of political institutions. Berger argues that for a world to be modern, there must be “secular spaces” in society that coexist with religious institutions. Assuming that these structures reflect the nature of the individual, then the individual consciously or unconsciously thinks religiously or secularly based on the context. I agree with his example that a surgeon thinks on a secular level while operating, but can also think religiously when at church. I think that Berger’s distinction between modernity and religion dispel Western ethnocentric assumptions that the “modern” world must be completely secular.

  5. I thought it was fascinating and an appropriate preface that Berger opened with a critique of the famous Nietzche idea that “God is dead”, conversely introducing the idea that there are “too many gods”. Berger emphasized his belief that there are too many religions now coexisting, resulting in an affect on individuals, institutions, and political order. I found his breakdown to be very succinct and effective at highlighting the main points of his argument. He outlines the idea that it has become more and more difficult to take for granted the religion into which we were born, and that we have reached a point where we are now able to make a decision about religion–we have options, and (as he said, in a very American way) we have religious preference. Berger went on to say that on an institutional level, sects and the addition of religious denomination is ultimately the acceptance by the church of the right of other institutions to exist, a decidedly modern approach to the religious institution. He also emphasized the fact that with pluralism comes the need for it to be politically managed, and the most effective formula for peace has been the separation of church and state in some form, with the state as a secular space that does not enforce religion. Berger wrapped up by essentially condemning the secularization theory, calling it untenable and ultimately exaggerated in terms of importance. He called upon the need for institution in some sense, yet the pluralist paradigm ends up replacing the secular one. I found his lecture extremely valuable in helping me understand the concept of pluralism on a broader spectrum, and he has introduced to me the idea that most of the world lives secular AND religious lives, operating within a secular space for at least some aspect of their lives while simultaneously honoring religion.

  6. There were two elements of Peter Berger’s talk that particularly interested me.
    First was the notion that in areas where there is pluralism, religion is not “taken for granted.” What he meant by this is that in small villages, an assigned religion is a given and unquestioned. However, in a metropolitan city, where someone is exposed to a multitude of religions and customs, one needs to actively chose to participate in the religion. I found this particularly interesting because this is the first time we see an era in which people have the ability to almost ‘custom make’ their religion. Additionally, people are almost forced to examine their religion to a degree where they regions in which religion is taken for granted does not have to be, because there is no alternate perspective to be examined.
    The second part I found interesting is the role of religion in secular spaces. For example, when a devout person walks into his office job, his religion is irrelevant when he is, for example, writing code. However, someone asked the question about how this works when a religious Christian doctor refuses to perform abortions. Berger answered this by saying that there is a dynamic here in which it depends about who is facing more harm. When there is only one doctor who can perform abortions in a large region, then civilians are being harmed. But, if there is an amplitude of doctors, forcing the one Christian doctor to perform abortions would be causing him harm. I find this intricate relationship between religious harm in secular spaces very interesting and I which he had had more time to expand on this.

  7. Peter Berger segmented pluralism into three levels: institutional, political, and individual. He mentioned that the combination of pluralism and religious freedom is explosive for the disparity in beliefs may cause issues. Out of the three levels, we can all think of ways in which the explosiveness holds true. What struck me the most was Peter’s example of secularism at the institutional level in the case of the Orthodox Jewish doctor. Peter talked about moments in which the job description is entirely secular for both the doctor and the patients. This is example demonstrates the possibility of separating religion from practice and coexisting with others peacefully on a daily basis. It makes me both hopeful and curious that the same concept can hold true for other institutions and levels of pluralism as time goes on and technology advances.

  8. I found some of the topics Peter Berger discussed to be interesting reflections upon societies at the time. When he discussed how the Roman empire dealt with people who did not pay their dues at the shrine, it did not shock me as to how much religion played into government and society, but it did surprise me as to how much government utilized religion as a financial means. If Roman citizens did not pay their dues, they were punished. But that was not the aspect that had bothered me. Peter Berger had then gone on to mention how even though religion had tied in so much with how the government operated and functioned, the officials “…at least publicly didn’t care what people believed in.”

    I know it the idea of government controlling human behavior using religion should not shock me since it has and still has happened for so long, but I had always believed that there was a true genuine appreciation for the religion more so than just for materialistic means. I never really thought about the financial benefits that religion had for governments because it always seemed to be more of a social, human characteristic side of society.

    Therefore, I believe pluralism is a wonderful concept that has allowed for people to become more passionate about a religion they themselves have chosen rather than thrusted upon by government, but there has always been a doubt to me as to whether or not this function can work in our society. Since some religions still place such a huge importance on converting others and being the “one true religion to save all,” pluralism becomes a huge obstacle.

  9. Peter Berger’s discussion on pluralism was one of interest to me. Going into the discussion I thought secular views would influence religious structure within a nation-state; however, it seems like Berger thinks otherwise. One of Berger’s big points was that we don’t live in a secular age, but rather in a pluralist age. This would imply that pluralism is embedded in these religious structures and after attending this event, I agree.

    Even in places considered to be secular there are religious views that influence how a society functions. Pluralism is what has allowed this to occur as more and more religions are faced with coexisting with each other in “secular” spaces. To be secular is to not have a religious basis but all around the world we are seeing with more frequency that religion does influence the decisions the government makes, whether it be directly or indirectly. France is an example of a secular society that directly limits certain practices of religion in public areas; however, it allows for interactions between those religions to exist without a preference, which relates to pluralism. That is the point that Berger was trying to make. In a pluralist world we are free to choose our religion, as it is not taken for granted, and once we do, there is no avoiding other religious views. Berger said “today the conflict is not that there is no God, but that there are too many Gods” and I think exposure to these pluralist societies will not dismiss the conflict Berger addresses.

  10. Having the opportunity to listen to Peter Berger last Thursday was great. This opportunity encouraged me to look at religious pluralism from a new perspective. Peter Berger described the basic effect of pluralism between religious and secular as having too many gods makes being a part of the religion you were born with more difficult. Although this effect was not a part of my life, I see the validity of his point. We hear a lot more people nowadays who convert from the religion they were born with to another than ever before. He also mentioned that religion has gone upward in the individual consciousness level. Therefore, people have started questioning the religion they were born into a lot more than ever before. They have this limitless curiosity about their religion and what it means to them and whether they can identify themselves with that certain religion or not. I think this connects to our class in the way that we have been looking at Islam and Christianity. We have been reading essays on our Lechner and Boli book and I have found the Peter Berger talk very relevant to our class. I believe the talk has added to my current thinking of the religions we have looked at in class.

  11. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to listen to Peter Berger talk about pluralism. I was extremely fascinated at his ability to give an hour long speech without any notes to look at. Anyways, I found it really interesting to get an insight into what pluralism is to him. I also found myself agreeing to the various points he was making. It is true we don’t live in a secular age anymore. Even though many people do not like this style and would rather enforce policies that would force a division between the government and religion however it is not 100% efficient. We live in a time where various religions coexist and where nations cannot take this for granted. We have to realize that religion plays an essential part of a human being whether they decide to follow a certain religion or not. Tolerance needs to be an important theme in the decisions certain leaders make and in the way nations are run. It plays a leading role in the actions of its citizens whether it be the way they dress or their performance at work. As Peter Berger stated certain rules need to be obeyed and rights need to be respected especially during a time where globalization is allowing the diffusion of various ways of thinking to spread easily and at a quick pace.

  12. I think the idea that stuck with me the most from hearing Peter Berger speak, was this idea about the fact that it is “not that here is no God [but that] there are too many Gods”. Berger suggested that this idea has major implications for pluralism because many view pluralism incorrectly in that the world is becoming more secular, but Berger argues that it is not that the world is becoming more secular it is just the fact that there are so many religions that we hear less specifics about them than we used to. Because with a large group there becomes more anonymity with the smaller subsets as opposed to back in the day when we only heard about a few dominant religions, now there are many popular religions and we can’t possibly hear about all of them all the time. This idea that there are many Gods also applies to plurality in that nowadays people have much more choice in their religion than they used to have, and usually with choice comes increased religiosity as opposed to diminished which also supports Berger’s point that the world is not becoming more secular. Although with these increased choices and plurality of religions it also means that the political sphere has to be able to adapt and work with all of these different religions, which Berger suggests means that they have to be secular so that the political sphere can work with all the groups without offending them. Secularity allows the playing field to be level for all the religions.
    Listening to Peter Berger speak was extremely interesting, while I was not entirely sure who he was prior to the talk, I am very glad that I went because it was evident that this man was very knowledgable and had really considered every nuance of his field. I especially appreciate the fact that he was able to change his mind and tweak his theories over the years, because I know many people get stuck in one mindset and refuse to change. It was nice to see someone who had learned so much that he was willing to alter his thoughts with the presentation of new information. He was also a wonderful and engaging speaker, and I imagine would have been an excellent professor to have.

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