Interfaith Dialogue: Religious Pluralism & Conflict Resolution

Siavosh Naderi Farsani

Is there any clear and applied theory of pluralism at all?

Studying different perceptions regarding the concept of pluralism in general and religious pluralism in particular reveal the undesirable fact that such theories and views are not applicable enough as far as the co existence of different cultures and religions at a global level are concerned. In other word, pluralism should not imply an inclusive perception excluding other views. In this respect contradiction arises as soon as almost all the views on pluralism including religious one presuppose that all paths of intellect leads to the same truth. Such a perception of pluralism sacrificing truth as the essence of all schools of though prescribes a relative version of truth and is considered as a monopolized school of thought. Consequently, it is inherently the opposite of plural perceptions of truth.

There are some authorities that like all other people act and think not according to their own criteria but according to what those authorities almost always prescribe for them. These authorities may appear either in a Meta-paradigm context such as philosophy, religion, science, or even mysticism or in a micro context such as policy, education, economy, or any other social institution. They usually introduce themselves as the source of prosperity and as the sole reliable path that is able to lead people to ultimate truth. Their final step as a result is homogenizing all cultures and developing a global but favorable culture established of course based on their own criteria. There are other authorities on the other hand that believe in a hetero version of global culture in which all cultures and sub cultures are not to be homogeneous but heterogeneous and pluralistic in nature. Rolf.E Brurer in this respect advocates:

“Communication is precisely what is required. A dialogue between cultures is the only way to avoid a battle of cultures. Such a dialogue can take place only on a foundation of tolerance. There must be a willing on all sides to abide by rules acceptable to all, however different the interests and cultural characteristics of the parties involved .We must be able to endure the inherent tension in these relations in order to ensure that the world can become an open and civil society”.

The adherents of such a perception of pluralism advocate that a global culture is not to put freedom and free will of humans at risk through complicated manipulations of social systems. They emphasize that world should take step in a favorite atmosphere in which a peaceful co-existence is already guaranteed for all cultures all around the world. As a consequence they advocate the dominance of different worldviews as many as the number of existing cultures.

How ever as soon as the advocates of these two different views decide to materialize their dreams, they face the problem of mutual understanding. How is it possible for one culture to homogenize different and even opposite ways of thinking and acting and how is it possible for a specific culture to globalize its so called favorite criteria if neither does it understand other cultures nor other cultures do understand the prescriptions and presuppositions of that culture?

Therefore, as far as the inapplicability of such theories is concerned, co-existence of heterogeneous and pluralistic cultures turns out to be impossible; instead the possibility of conflict, violence and intolerance increases. At this time the third authorities emerge both in theory and in practice. In their view clash of cultures appears to be the inevitable choice in such a false pluralistic world. They believe the geographical borders through modern communication have been removed and all cultures at the present time breathe in the same atmosphere and if they avoid getting homogenized (first view) or if they stop learning to tolerate with each other (the latter view) effectively, conflict, violence, clash and even wars are inevitable.

What is the remedy?

As soon as the discussions of inter-cultural relations or the dialogue of religions and any topic on bilateral understanding commence, tolerance turns out to be the only solution. However in my view real problem starts while people from different cultures and worldviews define their paths toward tolerance. We believe this is the false version of tolerance as we believed already there are some false definitions of pluralism. As the first lesson, tolerance dose not mean inviting others to cease walking in their path, neither does it mean to teach them any thing in contrast with their beliefs.

As F. J. Kinsman puts it: “To tolerate everything is to teach nothing”. To tolerate with beliefs and principles of other people, it is a must to forget all your own principles and beliefs. In this respect Herbert Samuel2 believes:” It is easy to be tolerant of the principles of other people if you have none of your own”. If we examine the educational systems of different cultures, we may arrive at such a disappointing conclusion that “tolerance” has no serious place in designing, implementing, and assessing components of any school curriculum all around the world. Nonetheless, Helen Keller3 says: “The highest result of education is tolerance”. Moreover Carl Gustav Jung believes: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”.

However; if tolerance is the key to mutual understanding as the corner stone of inter cultural co existence and if to be tolerant is to avoid being entrapped into self worldview while approaching other worldviews and cultures, one need to respond four vital and inevitable questions:

1) Are we required to give up our beliefs forever while we start practicing tolerance?

2) What worldview will be dominant over our thought while we try to practice tolerance?

3) What are the presuppositions and prescriptions of that worldview that are not to be in contradiction with any worldview all around the world?

4) How can we produce such a flexible position in our minds?

Responding these four questions, specially the third one, we present our view on pluralism in general and religious pluralism in particular. Before going to these questions, I present the capacity of Islam as revealed in holy book (Quran) and instructive narrations (Hadith) of Islamic pioneers (Imams).

A case study from Islamic culture and worldview

To approve our claims in this paper, we employed also some instances from Islamic culture in where we are living to show its potentiality toward mutual understanding. It is self evident that all cultures in the world may have enough space and potentiality to let them practice mutual understanding and tolerance. Imam Ali Believes: “Give up whatever you are proud of to start dialogue and mutual understanding”. Moreover Holy Quran in surreh49, verse13invites all people all around the world to mutual understanding without expecting them necessarily to practice only one faith or to origin from a specific nation:

“O you men! Surely we have created you of a mail and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful of (his duty); surly Allah is knowing, aware”.

To collect some data as a sign of necessity of mutual understanding in Islam, We also identified more verses in Quran and some Hadith or famous quotations as important building blocks of Islamic epistemology. Quran in section (surreh) 3, verse 64 invites all religions and faiths to understand each other and in fact warns the current mutual understanding of people is wrong and lead different nations to conflict and wars:

“O followers of the book! Why do you dispute about Ibrahim, when the tavrat (Old Testament) and the Injeel (New Testament) were not revealed till after him; do you not then understand”?

1) Pluralism Is a Better Search for Truth

As tolerance never do mean relinquishing your own worldview, pluralism can be considered as a better endeavor in the journey of truth, while the truth itself is not expected to be necessarily acquired in any journey. Though there is obviously a difference between attitude change and mutual understanding, mostly people try to change attitudes or views of one another based on their meta-beliefs of their worldviews, while they are to co exist culturally and religiously. They are in fact involved in activities such as propaganda, thought manipulation, inculcation or any related issue but as far as tolerance is concerned, they have nothing to do with inter faith dialogue or pluralism.

That is to say in such affairs no matter we are right or wrong, we try to convince others to adapt a different way of thinking and acting. At the same time invite them to give up their views, so such a process cannot be assumed as tolerance. Such activities are too poisonous to practice tolerance through which. As soon as we get in a tolerant position, not only do we keep our own views but we are required to identify & respect others views whatever they are as the first step. In this sense if you are a member of society that is in majority you need to practice respecting all other minority groups and at the same time if you are in minority you are required to be courageous enough to keep your own ideas and also respecting others. Ralph W. Stockman advocates this view, he says: “The test of tolerance comes when we are in a majority; the test of courage comes when we are in a minority”. Friedemann Schulz von Thun (2002) believes:

“To understand does not mean to agree. Some people fear that if they try gently and lovingly to understand the other points of view, they create the (false) impression that they are subscribing to the equation “to understand=to have sympathy for=to approve of.” It is important to know that values and virtues can affect human co-existence constructively only if they are counterbalanced by opposite but related qualities. For example: tolerance without courageous confrontation degenerates into timid leniency; conversely, confrontation without tolerance grows into aggressive contempt”.

The second and the most important step in this stage include the certainty that knowledge acquisition of truth is a difficult job but an obligation. Such a belief motivates us to search for truth permanently. In the holy Quran Believers are required to acquire knowledge in china metaphorically as a distant place. This idea though helps us to search for truth continuously and although believers are thought to respect all other religions, it prescribes that truth is absolute and finally people are expected to surrender to it through God s will. Such a definition of pluralism never do sacrifices truth and never decline its essence as a relative entity, but require people to change their paths consciously while they experience the journey of truth so that to believe in the divine revelation as the only truth.

2) Temporary but arbitrary worldview not imposed and relative truth

To co exist peacefully; temporary worldview must be dominant to guarantee the real required tolerance. However; the erroneous definitions of pluralism prescribe one relative version of truth excluding all other versions under the pretext of respecting opponent ideas. One may ask how it is possible to establish a system of meaning construction without relying on specific meta-beliefs crystallized in our worldview.

If we believe our thoughts and behaviors are based on our worldview, and if we are to put aside temporarily our own worldview while trying tolerance, then we not only may experience a gap but we may be too uncertain to even utter a word let alone understanding others. How ever, we should know this temporary uncertainty is the next vital necessary step to start understanding others. We cannot achieve such a position unless we build a worldview void of any bios presuppositions for a few seconds. It is at this stage that we both recognize the importance of education and what is needed to be included in the schools curriculum. Its worth repeating Helen Keller quotation, she says: “The highest result of education is “tolerance”.

At the third stage we need to decode the worldview dominated over the culture and its member(s) to whom we are considered as the audience. At this stage we are not hearing some sounds while others are talking but we listen to what they say. By listening we mean the ability to identify worldview components of others and its related building blocks. To progress our understanding of others through this temporary worldview, we respond to universal questions of our worldview transitionally based on the building blocks and meta- beliefs of the sources to which we are audience. This is the time we get out from our one-way street and start communicating and traveling to a new universe of different ideas.

3) Capacity to understand any epistemology without a specific epistemology

Though temporary worldview is void of any permanent prescriptions and presuppositions, it helps us try different and even opponent epistemologies. To answer the third question, we believe a temporary worldview is potentially the transitional parking place of all presuppositions running all around the world and is void of any permanent belief of that kind. However the very principle indicating the fact that every culture and worldview in general and every individual in particular may enjoy some permanent beliefs that must be respected and identified is the sole permanent presupposition of such a worldview. This is the only worldview in the world that is void of any ideology, and any self oriented evaluation system. John Locke believes:

“Till a man can judge whether they be truths or not, his UNDERSTANDING is but little improved, and thus men of much reading, though greatly learned, but may be little knowing”.

Therefore, it is also the only worldview in where all the cultures and all the worldviews, including their permanent beliefs, prescriptions, and presuppositions can co-exist. In short it is the only position in which one finds enough potentiality, reliability, and possibility for mutual understanding and true dialogue of cultures and religions. However; as it is said earlier, it neither does mean giving up our fundamental principals nor is it considered surrendering to the perception of relative truth. It is just a safe journey respecting other beliefs and experiencing real tolerance and pluralism while searching absolute truth.

4) Education through principals of Guardianship (Vellayat)

We need a temporary & universal worldview oriented education to bring about such an applied version of pluralism. As far as my ten years study on the subject is concerned, the only concept that can guarantee a wide range of possibilities for acquiring knowledge and truth is the concept of guardianship or Vellayat. Vellayat never does include a relative version of truth, yet it is a divine concept that includes all methods of knowledge acquisition in all schools of thought.

There is a poem in Persian saying: What ever goodness is there for the good, you have all within you. That is to say Vellayat includes not only revelation, but experience, reason, mystic experiences and any other possible methodology for intellect, ultimate reality and absolute truth. More over; it offers an extra ordinary capacity to employ a transitional worldview trying all schools of thought though leading the believers to an absolute perception of truth consciously and willingly.

To answer the fourth question and to produce such a flexible position in our minds, however, we must experience a revolutionary reform in the current school curriculum. Through a global and systematic education we let all people in general and school students in particular learn a few vital lessons:

1) What are the shared questions of all worldviews all around the world?

2) How people find local answers to their universal questions?

3) What are building Blocks of live worldviews and cultures?

These three questions turn out to be suitable topics to help people decode other worldviews and also learn their own worldview through education. How ever, they are pre requisite section that prepares people with enough land in their worldview from which they are to take off. Another education is needed to helps people how to get out from their own worldview and how to stand in a temporary position that makes them able to feel other worldviews. That is to say they need a lesson to be courageous enough to leave their lovely home for a short while.


In summary, I believe mostly perceptions on religious pluralism are erroneous as far as they victimize the essence of truth. Though we believe in religious pluralism as an intellectual endeavor approaching the process of conflict resolution, I maintain an epistemological focus that is ignored in almost all the theories probing the concept of pluralism in general and the idea of religious pluralism in particular. The possibility of mutual understanding as a result is advocated through resorting to a secure and safe perception of truth. We tried to offer an applied perception of pluralism in general and religious pluralism in particular. More over; we posed 4 questions to organize our thought for introducing concepts such as transitional worldview, tolerance, truth, mutual understanding, and other operational definitions for the related key words’. The whole paper focused on introducing a new style in the process of conflict resolution though the key word is rarely used. Finally a key concept such as guardianship (Vellayat) has been introduced as the intellectual endeavor to bring about tolerance and pluralism as far as inter faith dialogue and inter cultural relations is concerned.

End notes

[1] Associate professor and the member of scientific board at institute for Islamic thought and culture

2 British Liberal Statesman, Philosophical Writer, (1870-1963)

3 1880-1968, American Blind/Deaf Author, Lecturer, Amorist



1- Naderi, Culture Recognition, Arsh Pajouh, Tehran, 2004, ch, 3 p

2- Abolghasemi & Naderi, Is Hope Culture Bound, Interdisciplinary net, Oxford Shire, ?2007

3- Fridemann Schulz Von Thun, Lets Talk, Ways towards Mutual Understanding, Alfred Herrhausen Society, 2002, p84.

4- Wolfgang Schauble, An order which binds us, Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Talk,2002,p166

5- Rolf-E.Breuer, Freedom s Twin, Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Talk,2002,p11

6- Mahmud Zakzouk, Islam: source of Tolerance, Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Talk,2002, p233

7- Muhammad Ali, A message of Peace, Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Talk,2002, p273

8- Bassam Tibi, A Plea For A Reform Islam, A Euro- Islamic Vision, Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Talk,2002, p238

9- Holy Quran of Muslims, M.H. Shakhir Translation, Hujurat(The chambers) , verse 13

10- Holy Quran of Muslims, M.H. Shakhir Translation, Alay Imran (The Family of Imran), Verse 64

11- James W. Sire, Discipleship of the Mind, (IVP, 1990)

12- Aerts, D., Apostel L., De Moor B., Hellemans S., Maex E., Van Belle H., Van Der Veken J., Worldviews: From Fragmentation to Integration, VUB Press, Brussels, 1994.

13- Funk Ken, What Is Worldview, Oregon State University, 2001.

14- Imam Ali, Nahjolbalagheh,