Religious pluralism

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Noahide teachings are not a form of religious pluralism, but rather a form of religious diversity. The following information is included for reference only.

Religious pluralism (rel. comparative religion) is a loosely defined term concerning peaceful relations between different religions, and is also used in a number of related ways:

  • As a synonym for religious relativism; that one's religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and that some level of truth and value exists in at least some other religions.
  • As a synonym for ecumenism. At a minimum, ecumenism is the promotion of unity, co-operation, or improved understanding between different denominations within the same religion, or sometimes between different religions. The latter is sometimes called Macro-ecumenism.
  • As a synonym for religious tolerance, which is a condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations.

Pluralism as the belief that more than one religion can teach truths

In its strongest sense, religious pluralism holds that no single religion can claim absolute authority to teach absolute truth. The word of God is not literal religion. On the contrary, religion attempts to describe God's utterances. Given the finite and fallible nature of human beings, no religious text written by Man can absolutely describe God, God's will, or God's counsel, since it is God apart from Man who reveals the divine thoughts, intentions and volition perfectly.

Religious pluralists point out that nearly all religious texts are a combination of an assortment of human observations documented, for example, as historical narratives, poetry, lections, and morality plays. Accordingly, a distinction exists between what may be claimed as literal in a religious text and what may be metaphorical. The text, therefore, is open to interpretation. In this light, no religion is able to comprehensively capture and communicate all truth. Although all religions attempt to capture reality, their attempts occur within particular cultural and historical contexts that affect the writer's viewpoint.

Believers in religious pluralism, in this sense, hold that their own, self-made syncretistic belief system is "true". In other words, their religion is the most complete and accurate interpretation of the divine, though they also accept that other religions teach many truths about the nature of God and man, and that it is possible to establish a significant amount of common ground across all belief systems.

Many religious pluralists claim that members of other faiths are searching for truth in different ways, and that human fallibility limits all religious knowledge. Despite these limitations, religious pluralism does not preclude individual thought or participation in rituals or spiritual experimentation with any chosen religion or community; rather, such worshippers practice according to personal traditions, preferences, and community norms, while recognizing a host of practices or interpretations by others.

Many Western pluralists hold that it is both permissible and beneficial for people of all beliefs to develop some form of religious pluralism. They believe that it is intellectually legitimate to do so because of a series of critical changes that have taken place since Biblical times. Our perception of Man's place in the natural world has changed as a result of changes in scientific thought. Philosophers challenge humanity to rethink its understanding of truth, and the very way that language is used to convey this understanding. Today advances in travel and communications make isolationism impossible. Advances in weaponry and warfare can enable religious intolerance to become extremely destructive to all societies involved, as this can now lead to mass-murder on scales previously unimaginable.

In the last century, liberal forms of some religions (Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, etc.) have modified some of their religious positions. As opposed to orthodox believers, religious liberals no longer claim that their religion is complete and of absolute accuracy, and in fact view many claims made within their scriptures as questionable or incorrect.

Some religions hold a retrospective form of religious pluralism. A religion can tolerate and sometimes endorse religions that were created before its own beginning, but will not accept any new religion which has arisen later. For example, Christianity accepts some aspects of Judaism, but generally rejects Islam. Islam accepts some aspects of Christianity, but does not tolerate the Bahá'í Faith. Most adherents of Bahá'í Faith accept Christianity, Islam and Judaism, but do not accept theological innovations that have been created in their own community.

Pluralism is not relativism

Main article: Relativism

Adherents of religious pluralism, in the scholarly sense of the term, reject religious relativism. They do not believe that all religions are equally and unequivocally true. The reason is that they recognize that different religions make certain claims that logically contradict each other. For example, most Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate and part of the Trinity, while both Muslims and Jews hold that it is impossible for any human to be God incarnate, and that no Trinity exists. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, while Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified and did not die on the cross. Therefore, claiming that both Christianity and Islam are both simply "true" gives rise to a logical contradiction.

However, the distinctions between the concepts of religious pluralism and religious relativism are much more blurry and ill-defined. In common usage the two terms are often interchangeable.

Pluralism as interfaith dialogue

Template:Main articles Religious pluralism is sometimes used as a synonym for Interfaith|Interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue refers to dialogue between members of different religions for the goal of reducing conflicts between their religions and to achieve agreed upon mutually desirable goals.

Inter-religious dialogue is difficult if the partners adopt a position of particularism, i.e. if they only care about the concerns of their own group, but is favoured by the opposite attitude of universalism, where care is taken for the concerns of others. Interfaith dialogue is easier if a religion's adherents have some form of inclusivism, the belief that people in other religions may also have a way to salvation, even though the fullness of salvation can be achieved only in one’s own religion. Conversely, believers with an exclusivism|exclusivist mindset will rather tend to proselytism|proselytize followers of other religions, rather than seek an open-ended dialogue with them.

Conditions for the existence of religious pluralism

Main article: Religious tolerance

Freedom of religion encompasses all religions acting within the law in a particular region, whether or not an individual religion accepts that other religions are legitimate or that freedom of religious choice and religious plurality in general are good things. Exclusivist religions teach that theirs is the only way to salvation and to religious truth, and some of them would even argue that it is necessary to suppress the falsehoods taught by other religions. The Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, with many other Protestant sects, argue fiercely against Roman Catholicism, and Fundamentalist Christianity|fundamentalist Christians of all kinds teach that religious practices like those of paganism and witchcraft are pernicious. This was a common historical attitude prior to the Age_of_Enlightenment|Enlightenment, and has appeared as governmental policy into the present day under systems like Afghanistan|Afghanistan's Taliban regime, which destroyed the ancient Buddhas_of_Bamiyan|Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Many religious believers believe that religious pluralism should entail not competition but cooperation, and argue that societal and theological change is necessary to overcome religious differences between different religions, and denominational conflicts within the same religion. For most religious traditions, this attitude is essentially based on a non-literal view of one's religious traditions, hence allowing for respect to be engendered between different traditions on fundamental principles rather than more marginal issues. It is perhaps summarized as an attitude which rejects focus on immaterial differences, and instead gives respect to those beliefs held in common.

Giving one religion or denomination special rights that are denied to others can weaken religious pluralism. This situation obtains in certain European countries, where Roman Catholicism or regional forms of Protestantism have special status. For example see the entries on the Lateran Treaty and Church of England

Certain religions such as Bahá'í Faith|Bahá'í, Shinto and Taoism may be considered more characteristically inclusivist than others.

Relativism, the belief that all religions are equal in their value and that none of the religions gives access to absolute truth, is an extreme form of inclusivism. Likewise, syncretism, the attempt to take over creeds of practices from other religions or even to blend practices or creeds from different religions into one new faith is an extreme form of inter-religious dialogue, which just tries to seek common ground between what already exists in the different religions. Syncretism must not be confused with ecumenism, the attempt to bring closer and eventually reunite different denominations of one religion that have a common origin but were separated by a schism.

The existence of religious pluralism depends on the existence of freedom of religion. Freedom of religion exists when different religions of a particular region possess the same rights of worship and public expression. Freedom of religion is restrained in many Islamic countries, such as in Saudi Arabia, where the public practice of religions other than Islam is forbidden, and in the Palestinian Authority, where Arab Christians report they are frequent victims of religious persecution by Muslims.

Religious freedom did not exist at all in some communist countries such as Albania and the Stalinist Soviet Union, where the state prevented the public expression of religious belief and even persecuted some or all religions. This situation persists still today in North Korea.

History of religious pluralism

Some forms of religious pluralism have existed in the Indian Subcontinent since the rise of Buddhism around 500 BC and has widened in the course of several Muslim settlements (Delhi Sultanate 1276-1526 AD and the Mughal Empire 1526-1857 AD). In the 8th century, Zoroastrianism established in India as Zoroastrians fled from Iran|Persia to India in large numbers, where they were given refuge. The colonial phase ushered in by the British lasted until 1947 and furthered conversions to Christianity among low caste Hindus. In 1948 as many as 20,000 Jews Bene Israel|Bene Jews and Cochin Jews lived in India, though most of them have since emigrated to Israel.

Religious pluralism in Europe


The polytheistic Roman empire saw the traditional Roman religion as one fundamentals of the Roman republic. They saw Roman virtues as an important link in their multiethnic empire. Being polytheistic, Romans did not mind if conquered nations went on worshipping their traditional gods, as long as they also presented token offerings to the Roman gods. In many cases this compromise was easily reached by identifying the traditional gods with similar Roman gods. Failure to offer up this token worship was seen as disloyal to Rome, and an act of political rebellion against the Emperor.

There was, though, a problem with people whose religion excluded the veneration of other gods - especially the Jews and the Christians. The Romans tended to view this as rebellion, and so it resulted in many conflicts arising from often unintended offenses, like putting a statue of an emperor in a prominent place in Jerusalem which resulted in a public revolt. Similarly difficult to understand for the Roman mindset was the attitude of Christians who rather chose torture or death instead of offering a little incense to the Roman emperor. From the Roman view, the refusal to venerate the Roman emperor was political treason.

The edict of Milan which decreed tolerance of Christianity was followed by a time of parallel existence of Christianity and paganism which was, though, far from an actual religious pluralism - the religion of the emperor was always at an advantage, and the Arian and pagan emperors in the fourth century saw it as perfectly legitimate to take measures against religious leaders who did not share their belief. By the fifth century, the western Roman Empire had crumbled, but the same patterns of behavior continued in the Gaul, Celtic, and Germanic kingdoms that replaced it.

Medieval times in Europe

After the breakdown of the Roman Empire in the West, in western Europe the population was a huge, diverse mix of latin peoples, Germanic peoples who had been absorbed into the Empire and its Legions over the course of hundreds of years, and newly arriving Germanic tribes that were migrating into western europe. In each of these vaguely defined categories were some Christians, some pagans, and great many who subscribed to some elements of both. In the German tradition, the chief of the tribe was also religious leader, so conversion of the leaders (even if for political reasons) was followed in many cases by Christianization of the tribe - with the chief of the tribe being now the de facto head of the Christian church. There were very frequent instances of parallel pagan and Christian religion, but tolerance of old or new religion was up to the personal preference of the local lord.

The tradition of the head of the tribe as head of the church was continued by the Kings which these chieftans eventually evolved into, with the king and/or emperor holding by virtue of office the right of investiture of bishops and also of deciding in religious matters - Charlemagne, e.g., took the pope to task because the pope did not use the Filioque clause|filioque in the Nicene Creed. The religion of the ruler was the official religion of the people and, again, any tolerance of foreigners or remnants of pagans was up to the present ruler. The unity of religion was generally seen as a prerequisite for any worldly state - a divergent religion was in the consequence not regarded just as a religious problem but also an action against state and ruler punishable by criminal law.

In the high middle ages, the worldly powers clashed with the power of the pope on the matter of deciding about religious questions - while the details varied by country, the overall result was that the Roman Catholic Church was able to, for a short time, exercise control over the religious practices of countries, even against that Ruler's will.

The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation broke the overriding power of the Catholic Church over religious policy and belief in Europe and touched off the 30-years War which involved virtually every nation on the european continent. Much of the fighting occurred between German/Swiss nobility who had sided with Martin Luther and John Calvin's Protestant movement, and French and Spanish forces under the command of the then-french Papacy. When the dust settled after the religious wars, the general rule was "cuius regio, eius religio" - the countries and principalities had to adopt the religion of their respective ruler, while divergent people were left with the choice between submission or emigration.

Restrictions on smaller Protestant sects who disagreed with the national churches in these countries prompted such groups as the Pilgrim Fathers to seek freedom in North America, although many historians have noted that when these groups became the majority they sometimes sought to deny this freedom to Jews and Roman Catholics.


Main article: Age of Enlightenment

In the second half of the seventeenth century, partially out of being tired with the religious wars, partially influenced by early enlightenment, several countries adopted some sort of tolerance for other denominations, e.g. the Peace of Westphalia 1653 or the Edict of Tolerance in England in 1689.

Protestant and freethinking philosophers like John Locke and Thomas Paine, who argued for tolerance and moderation in religion, were strongly influential on the Founding Fathers of the United States|Founding Fathers, and the modern religious freedom and equality underlying religious pluralism in the United States are guaranteed by First Amendment to the United States Constitution|First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states:

"Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

In the United States religious pluralism can be said to be overseen by the secular state, which guarantees equality under law between different religions, whether these religion have a handful of adherents or many millions. The state also guarantees the freedom of those who choose not to belong to any religion.

While the United States had to begin with no dominant religion or denomination, this was very different in European countries who have, without exception, a history with one dominant Christian denomination whose influence on their culture is felt until present times. Enlightenment in Europe did not so much promote the rights of minority religions but the rights of individuals to express beliefs diverging from the mainstream religion of the country, while belonging to that religion or being outside of it. While European countries generally went the way of gradually increasing the rights for minority denominations and religions, until today the stress is more on the freedom of belief of the individual and the rights of religious organizations are often limited by the state to prevent them intruding upon the individual religious freedom.

Classical Greek and Roman pagan religious views

The ancient Greeks were polytheists; pluralism in that historical era meant accepting the existence of and validity of other faiths, and the gods of other faiths. Greeks and Romans easily accomplished this task by subsuming the entire set of gods from other faiths into their own religion; this was done on rare occasion by adding a new god to their own pantheon; on most occasions they identified another religion's gods with their own.

Inter-religious pluralism (between different religions)

Jewish views

There is a separate entry on Jewish views of religious pluralism, which discusses both classical and modern views of Judaism's relationship to other religions, and the permissibility and purpose of inter-faith theological dialogue.

Christian views

Classical Christian views

Christianity teaches that mankind's nature is corrupted and damaged, and that the result of such damage, known as Sin, is Christian eschatology|damnation. To avoid such a fate, Christianity teaches that Jesus was God made flesh in a literal manner, and that he suffered, died, and rose again so that the divine punishment intended for those who did not have a relationship with God would instead fall upon Jesus himself, and that by accepting various beliefs about Jesus and God and repenting, a person could then have a meaningful relationship with God and avoid damnation, and be given gift of eternal life in Heaven, as well as have their spiritual natures repaired and renewed so that they were no longer inherently corrupted by sin.

Christians hold that the consequence of self-separation from the triune God, (caused by Sin), who they view as the ultimate source of all life, is eternal death. Some view Christianity as a form of egalitarianism, because it teaches that all humanity potentially has equal access to salvation: a person simply has to renounce their sins and sincerely believe in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Christians have traditionally argued that religious pluralism is an invalid or self-contradictory concept. Maximal forms of religious pluralism claim that all religions are equally true, or that one religion can be true for some and another for others. This Christians hold to be logically impossible. (Most Jews and Muslims similarly reject this maximal form of pluralism.) Christianity insists it is the fullest and most complete revelation of God to Man. If Christianity is true, then other religions cannot be equally true, although they may contain lesser revelations of God that are true. So the pluralist must either distort Christianity to make it pluralistic, or reject it and acknowledge that one cannot be a complete pluralist.

One image of the Church that was often used by the Church fathers was that of a hospital. In this analogy the doctor does not always care for a patient in the way the patient would like, but in the way best suited to bring about healing to the patient. (Entry into the hospital should of course be voluntary.) Doing what pluralists ask would be somewhat akin to accommodating the false "pillow prophets" of the Old Testament who prophesied to the king what he wanted to hear, predictions of victory, rather than God's words of certain defeat that could only be avoided through thorough repentance. Thus, Christianity must preach salvation through the Church to all outside the Church, in order to help people realize that through conversion to Christianity one will achieve salvation.

To these Christians, it appears to be a contradiction for non-Christians to acknowledge the validity of Christian prayers or sacraments, but continue to deny the beliefs which underlie those prayers and sacraments. The central sacrament, the Eucharist, for example, is believed to be the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ (in some branches of Christianity; this is a belief held by those who subscribe to transubstantiation); belief in its efficacy is based on the belief that it really and truly is. If a person were to deny that the Eucharist is Christ's body and blood, that would amount to denying that it unites us to God, imparts grace, or administers any other benefit, save possibly through a sort of psychological placebo effect.

Calvinist Christian views

Calvinism|Calvinist Christianity, unlike other Christian traditions which generally hold that Religious conversion|conversion is a voluntary act of the will, holds to the doctrine of Total Depravity, according to which no sinner can convert to Christianity of their own initiative. Rather, God must take the first step by sovereignly opening that person's heart and turning their mind toward Himself. They also believe in Irresistible grace, which holds that once this is done the sinner in question cannot help becoming a believer.

Many Calvinists also hold to the Augustine of Hippo|Augustinian idea of "Two cities", of God and of Man; the realms of "special" and "common" Divine grace|grace. The world is lost, but not abandoned by God. Although Calvinists believe God and the truth of God cannot be plural, they also believe the civil ordinances of man, which restrain man from evil and encourage toward good, are ordinances of God (regardless of the religion, or lack of it, of those who wield that power). Christians are obligated to be at peace with all men, as far as it is up to them, and to submit to governments for the Lord's sake, and to pray for enemies.

Calvinism is not pacifistic and Calvinists have been involved in religious wars, notably the French Wars of Religion and the English Civil War. Some of the first parts of modern Europe to practice religious tolerance had Calvinistic populations, notably the Netherlands, although other Calvinists practiced religious persecution as the other factions did.

Modern (post-Enlightenment era) Christian views

In recent years, some Christian groups have become more open to religious pluralism; this has led to many cases of reconciliation between Christians and people of other faiths. The liberalization of the majority of Seminaries and theological institutions, particularly in regards to the rejection of the notion that the Bible is a divinely authored document, has facilitated a much more human-centered and secular movement within mainstream Christian denominations, particularly in the United States. Most mainstream churches no longer hold to exclusivist views on salvation. In some cases, these changes in denominational doctrine are so pronounced that the entire basis for the organization's original founding no longer exists. Many denomination Christian Churches are essentially Unitarian Universalist churches, with a different name.

The most prominent event in the way of dialogue between religions has arguably been the 1986 Peace Prayer in Assisi to which Pope John Paul II, against considerable resistance also from within the Catholic church, invited representatives of all world religions. This initiative was taken up by the Community of Sant'Egidio, who, with the support of John Paul II, organized yearly peace meetings of religious representatives. These meetings, consisting of round tables on different issues and of a common time of prayer has done much to further understanding and friendship between religious leaders and to further concrete peace initiatives. In order to avoid the reproaches of syncretism that were levelled at the 1986 Assisi meeting where the representatives of all religions held one common prayer, the follow-up meetings saw the representatives of the different religions pray in different places according to their respective traditions.

In recent years there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christian groups and the Jewish people. Many modern day Christians, including many Catholics and some liberal Protestants, have developed a view of the New Testament as an extended covenant; They believe that Jews are still in a valid relationship with God, and that Jews can avoid damnation and earn a heavenly reward. For these Christians, the New Testament extended God's original covenant to cover non-Jews. The article Christian-Jewish reconciliation deals with this issue in detail.

Many smaller Christian groups in the US and Canada have come into being over the last 40 years, such as "Christians for Israel". Their website says that they exist in order to "expand Christian-Jewish dialogue in the broadest sense in order to improve the relationship between Christians and Jews, but also between Church and Synagogue, emphasizing Christian repentance, the purging of anti-Jewish attitudes and the false 'Replacement theology' rampant throughout Christian teachings."

A number of large Christian groups, including the Catholic Church and several large Protestant churches, have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews.

Many Christians, including most conservative Protestantism|Protestants, reject the idea of the New Testament as an extended covenant, and retain the classical Christian view as described above.

As a whole though, Christianity still tends to reject the idea of interreligious pluralism, though liberal churches attempt to dialogue with other religions for the sake of peace.

Roman Catholic views regarding Confucianism

The question of whether Confucianism, and Chinese folk religion, consists of worshipping a God or veneration of a saint was important to the Roman Catholic church during the Chinese Rites controversy of the early 18th century. This dispute was between the Dominican Order|Dominicans who argued that Confucianism and Chinese folk religion was worship, and therefore incompatible with Catholicism, and the Society of Jesus|Jesuit who argued the reverse. The pope ultimately ruled in favor of the Dominicans, a decision which greatly reduced the role of Catholic missionaries in China.

Eastern Orthodox views

The Eastern Orthodoxy|Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that it is the only path that one should choose for salvation. On the other hand, the Church also teaches that no human being, by statement nor by omission of a statement, may place a limit upon God's will, who may save whomsoever it pleases Him to save.

Some compare the Church to Noah's Ark. It is not impossible for someone to "survive the flood" of sin by clinging to whatever driftwood is around or by trying to cobble together a raft from bits and pieces of whatever floats, but the Ark is a far safer choice to make. Likewise, the heterodox and even non-Christians might be saved simply through God's own choice, made for His own reasons, but it is far safer for any individual person to turn to the Orthodox Church. Thus, it behooves Orthodox Christians to exhort others to take this safer path. Likewise, the Orthodox remember that Christ mentions one, and only one thing that unfailingly leads to perdition--blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. No other path is explicitly and universally excluded by Christ's words.

Orthodox Christianity has a long history of religious tolerance that has evolved towards some degree of religious pluralism. Advocation of justice and peace towards members of other faiths is seen in a 16th century encyclical written by Ecumenical Patriarch Metrophanes III (1520-1580).

This document was written to the Greek Orthodox in Crete (1568) following reports that Jews were being mistreated. The Patriarch states, "Injustice ... regardless to whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice. The unjust person is never relieved of the responsibility of these acts under the pretext that the injustice is done against a heterodox and not to a believer. As our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels said do not oppress or accuse anyone falsely; do not make any distinction or give room to the believers to injure those of another belief."
Rev. Protopresbyter George C. Papademetriou, An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions writes:

The Fifth Academic Meeting between Judaism And Orthodox Christianity was held in Thessaloniki, Greece, on May 27-29, 2003. In his opening remarks, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew denounced religious fanaticism and rejected attempts by any faith to denigrate others. The following principles were adopted at the meeting:

  • Judaism and Christianity while hearkening to common sources inviolably maintain their internal individuality and particularity.
  • The purpose of our dialogue is to remove prejudice and to promote a spirit of mutual understanding and constructive cooperation in order to confront common problems.
  • Specific proposals will be developed to educate the faithful of both religions to promote healthy relationships based on mutual respect and understanding to confront bigotry and fanaticism.
  • Being conscious of the crises of ethical and spiritual values in the contemporary world, we will endeavor to identify historical models of peaceful coexistence, which can be applied to minority Jewish and Orthodox communities in the Diaspora.
  • We will draw from our spiritual sources to develop programs to promote and enhance our common values such as peace, social justice and human rights, specifically addressing the concerns of religious minorities.

Writing for the Church of Greece|Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America|Archdiocese of America, Rev. Protopresbyter George C. Papademetriou has written a summary of classical Christian and Greek Orthodox Christian views on the subject of the salvation of non-Christians. In his paper An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions writes:

In our times. Professor John N. Karmiris, University of Athens, based on his studies of the Church Fathers, concludes that the salvation of non-Christians, non-Orthodox and heretics depends on the all-good, allwise and all-powerful God, who acts in the Church but also through other "ways." God's saving grace is also channelled outside the Church. It cannot be assumed that salvation is denied non-Christians living in true piety and according to natural law by the God who "is love" (1 John 4:8), In his justice and mercy God will judge them worthy even though they are outside the true Church. This position is shared by many Orthodox who agree that God's salvation extends to all who live according to His "image" and "participate in the Logos." The Holy Spirit acted through the prophets of the Old Testament and in the nations. Salvation is also open outside the Church.

As is common in many other faiths, the question of salvation for those outside of Orthodox Christianity is understandably secondary to what the Church expects of its own adherents. As St. Theophan the Recluse put the matter: "You ask, will the heterodox be saved... Why do you worry about them? They have a Saviour Who desires the salvation of every human being. He will take care of them. You and I should not be burdened with such a concern. Study yourself and your own sins... I will tell you one thing, however: should you, being Orthodox and possessing the Truth in its fullness, betray Orthodoxy, and enter a different faith, you will lose your soul forever."

Muslim views

Islam, like most other monotheistic faiths, views itself as the only true path for following the will of God and going to Paradise (also, Heaven). Nonetheless, Muslims consider the monotheistic faiths that precededed it, Judaism and Christianity, as valid for their followers. (Qur'an, Sura 5, verse 44 and verses 46-7, verse 69) The Qur'an also accepts diversity of religions as created by God:

for every one of you did We appoint a law and a way, and if Allah had pleased He would have made you (all) a single people, but that He might try you in what He gave you, therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; to Allah is your return, of all (of you), so He will let you know that in which you differed. (Sura 5, verse 48 - source: [1])

Nevertheless, Muslims hold that for someone to worship other any other gods or deities (shirk (polytheism))is a sin that will lead to eternal separation from God. This also applies to Christians believing in the Trinity of God (Sura 5, verses 72-74)

This view does not always translate to religious intolerance. Islam in theory has guaranteed freedom of belief and freedom of worship from the time of Muhammad himself, at least for Christians and Jews who accept Muslim rule. Non-Muslim minorities living under Muslim rule were guaranteed certain freedoms and protections, under the dhimmi system. Although that system was initially for people of the book (i.e. Jews and Christians), some Muslims extended to include Mandeans, Zoroasterians, and Hindus. Some Muslims, however, disagree, and hold that adherents of these faiths cannot be dhimmis.

Despite the common allegation that Islam spread by the sword, in reality, forced conversions of adherents of other religions is not sanctioned by Islam, and was not common throughout Islamic history. Muslim rule spread through conquest, however, and this indirectly coerced many to convert to Islam. In other words, war was waged to put lands under Muslim rule, but the subjects were theoreticaly free to continue practice whatever religion they chose. However, they were subject to taxation, economic impediments, and restrictions on political participation and social advancement based on their non-Muslim status. At one time this was not a unique activity of Muslim countries, as similar legal restrictions and penalties were imposed on minority Christian groups within European Christian countries.

Religious persecution is also not sanctioned by Islam, although a few occurrences are known in history, but are mostly due to cruel rulers, or general economic hardships in the societies they are in.

To that effect, most pre-Islamic religious minorities continue to exist in their native countries, a fact which is in glaring contrast to the extinction of Muslim minorities in Europe at the time of the Renaissance.

Over the centuries, several known religious debates, and polemical works did exist in various Muslim countries between various Muslim sects, as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims. Many of these works survive today, and make for some very interesting reading in the apologetics genre. Only when such debates spilled over to the unlearned masses, and thus causing scandals, and civil strife did rulers intervene to restore order and pacify the public outcry on the perceived attack on their beliefs.

As for sects within Islam, history shows a variable pattern. Various sects became intolerant when gaining favour with the rulers, and often work to oppress or eliminate rival sects (e.g. Mu'tazili persecution of Salafis, Safavid imposing Shia on the population of Iran, ...etc.). Sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni inhabitants of Baghdad is well known through history. In contrast, several sects coexist in other parts of the Muslim world with little or no friction.

Bahá'í views

Bahá'u'lláh, founder of Bahá'í Faith, urged the elimination of religious intolerance. He taught that God is one, and has manifested himself to us through several historic Messengers. Bahá'u'lláh taught, therefore, that Bahá'ís must associate with peoples of all religions, showing the love of God in relations with them, whether this is reciprocated or not.

Bahá'í's refer to the concept of Progressive Revelation, which means that God's will is revealed to mankind progressively as mankind matures and is better able to comprehend the purpose of God in creating humanity. In this view, God's word is revealed through a series of messengers: Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Bahá'u'lláh (the founder of the Bahá'í Faith) among them. In the Kitáb-i-Íqán|Book of Certitude, Bahá'u'lláh explains that messengers of God have a two-fold station, one of divinity and one of an individual. According to Bahá'í writings, there will not be another messenger for many hundreds of years.

Hindu views

The Hinduism|Hindu religion is naturally pluralistic. A well-known Rig Veda|Rig Vedic hymn stemming from Hinduism claims that "Truth is One, though the sages know it variously." (Ékam sat vipra bahudā vadanti) As such the Hindu religion has no theological difficulties in accepting degrees of truth in other religions. Just as Hindus worshiping Ganesh is seen as valid those worshiping Vishnu (who accepts all prayers), so someone worshiping Jesus or Allah are accepted. Indeed many foreign deities become assimilated into Hinduism, and some Hindus may sometimes offer prayers to Jesus along with their traditional forms of God. For this reason, Hinduism usually has good relations with other religious groups accepting pluralism. In particular, Hinduism and Buddhism coexist peacefully in many parts of the world.

Jain views

One of the fundamental features of Jainism is Anekantavada, or the doctorine of non-onesidedness. Jain philosophy accepts the relativistic view of looking at things from all points of view. Anekantavada requires that one should not reject a view or a belief simply because it uses a different perspective. One should consider the fact there may be truth in other’s views too, and no one should insist that their philosophy, sect or religion, or their perspective is the only true one.

Buddhist views

The wisdom tradition of Buddhism necessarily entails a plural position, but does not adhere to ideas of religious syncretism. Ethnocentrism of any sort (including the idea of belonging to a 'school of Buddhism' as well as evangelism and religious supremacism) is, for Buddhists, rooted in self-grasping and reified thought - the cause of Samsara itself.

The current Dalai Lama has repeatedly pointed out that any attempt to convert individuals from their beliefs is not only non-Buddhist, but abusive: the identification of evangelism as an expression of compassion is considered to be false, and indeed the idea that Buddhism is the one true path is likewise false for Buddhists. What Buddhists are encouraged to do is to act as sensitively and appropriately to each situation as they can, and in the process not allow any reifying views obscure their capability to do so. Buddhists are supposed to use their understanding of the shortfalls of the world as the basis for compassion, and then focus this compassion on their own development: as enlightened beings, they will be able to deal more adequately with the sufferings of the world.

In brief then, the expression of compassion is done so in the languages and beliefs that Buddhists find around them. For instance, when Buddhists talk with Christians, it is an abuse to deny Christ, God or the immortal soul- what they can hope to do is to help people within their own belief structure to greater insight and greater kindness. Indeed what Buddhists philosophers such as Nagarjuna and Candrakirti demonstrated so well is that Buddhists can use language to defeat language. Buddhists can use the conventions of the world to reveal them for what they are, within the contexts that they find them. If Buddhists wish to help those around them, they are admonished to continually demonstrate examplary behaviour, displaying a way of being that inspires everyone to better themselves, which is contextual, sensitive, and everyone-centred. These positions hold for both inter-religious and intra-religious pluralism.

Intra-religious pluralism (between different denominations within the same religion)

Jewish views

Jewish views on relations between different Judaism|Jewish denominations is covered in the entry on Jewish views of religious pluralism.

Christian views

Classical Christian views

Before the East-West Schism|Great Schism, mainstream Christianity confessed "one holy catholic and apostolic church", in the words of the Nicene Creed. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians and most Protestant Christian denominations still maintain this belief.

Church unity was something very visible and tangible, and schism was just as serious an offense as heresy. Following the Great Schism, Roman Catholicism sees and recognizes the Orthodox baptisms as valid. Eastern Orthodoxy does not have the concept of "validity" when applied to Sacraments, but it considers the form of Roman Catholic baptism to be acceptable, if still devoid of actual spiritual content. Both generally regard each other as "heterodox" and "schismatic", while continuing to recognize each other as Christian. Attitudes of both towards different Protestant groups vary, primarily based upon how strongly Trinitarian the Protestant group in question might be.

Modern (post-Enlightenment era) Christian views

Many Fundamentalist Protestant Christian (FPC) groups hold that only fundamentalist Protestant beliefs provide a pathway to God and salvation. All other Christian groups are held to be heretical, and are sometimes attacked as Satanic hence the Petrine Cross has likewise become promoted by FPC groups as Satanic. Neo-evangelicalism|Neo-evangelical Protestant Christian Churches reject this view outright, and hold that most forms of Christianity are valid pathways to God. They continue to believe in "one" church, but see the Church as being generally invisible and intangible. Many Protestants doubt that either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy are still valid manifestations of the Church.

Modern Christian ideas on intra-religious pluralism (between different denominations of Christianity) are discussed in the article on Ecumenism.

Muslim views

Classical Muslim views

Like Christianity, Islam originally did not have ideas of religious pluralism for different Islamic denominations. Early on, Islam developed into several mututally antagonistic streams, including Shiite Islam, Sunni Islam and Sufism|Sufi Islam. In some periods believers in these two communities went to war with each other over religious differences.

Modern (post-Enlightenment era) Muslim views

Many Muslims brought up in Western nations now accept some modern views of religious pluralism. Some Shiite, Suni and Sufi Islamic leaders are willing to recognize each other's denomination as a valid form of Islam. However, many other Islamic leaders are unwilling to accept this; they view other forms of Islam as outside the Islamic religion. Violence between different forms of Islam continues to the present day.


  • Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, Robert Gordis et al, Jewish Theological Seminary and the Rabbinical Assembly, 1988
  • Ground Rules for a Christian-Jewish Dialogue in The Root and the Branch, Robert Gordis, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962
  • Christians and Heretics in Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity Richard Kalmin, Harvard Theological review, Volume 87(2), p.155-169, 1994
  • Toward a Theological Encounter: Jewish Understandings of Christiantiy Ed. Leon Klenicki, Paulist Press / Stimulus, 1991
  • People of God, Peoples of God Ed. Hans Ucko, WCC Publications, 1996
  • Kenneth Einar Himma, “Finding a High Road: The Moral Case for Salvific Pluralism,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol. 52, no. 1 (August 2002), 1-33