Religious Pluralism

  Dr Abdolkarim Soroush stood for religious pluralism in a paper called Straight Paths (Serathayeh mostaqim), Kian Monthly (banned in 2000). Under the unhealthy climate in which politics is developing, critiques on this paper in the official Iranian press diverted from the focal point. Sallam Daily (banned in 1999) took the initiative for holding a technical debate between Soroush and Kadivar in September 1997. The script of the debate was then submitted to the two sides for editing and the edited version appeared in five parts in Sallam Daily in February 1998. Later on, Sallam Publications published the book in the early days of Kadivar’s imprisonment with neither of the two sides’ supervision.

According to Soroush, the outset of religious pluralism is through adopting the indispensable compatibility and plurality of religions and promotes the natural event and multilateral structure of reality meeting the demand of humankind perception. The diversity of religions and also truths has not come about as a product of the misunderstanding and antagonism of a group of religions. It is through the active plurality existing within the domain of religions that two readings may be given: the causative reading and the rational reading. The causative reading leaves nothing behind stating that everyone adopts religion blinded by emotions and biases while their interests dictate their rationality. Through bringing reasons, however, one ends up with the reasons’ having the same momentum and the realm of religion is the realm of abundance of reasons. The forerunners of religion have presented their reasoning based on their own claims. In the meantime, they have also listened to each other’s argumentation but have not reached agreement. The secret behind this issue is the indispensable plurality of truth. The realm of religion is one in which meaning is sought and the quest for meaning is the realm of plurality, an inevitable plurality of appreciating religious experience and understanding religion. In this sense, truth may be considered as a hermeneutic truth and the diversity and variety of truth should be taken as an unavoidable phenomenon.

Kadivar believes that truth is unified which can be readily conceived by humankind. Any religion and ideology is correct to the extent that it enjoys truth. A religion may be hypothesized that has achieved this truth more than other religions and incorporates the positive points of other religions. Hence, religious pluralism is not necessarily confronted by religious exclusivism but also religious inclusivism. The real diversity of religions has both reasons and causes. The difference of capacity among humans and the labyrinth-like structure of truth are some of the reasons for the variety of religions and also temptations and worldly desires are among the causes of plurality of religions. It would be wrong to put aside such causes in all religions and generalizing such causes in adopting all religions would be a baseless claim. Announcing the realm of religion within the domain of the abundance of reasons requires certain epistemological principles and specific theological instruments. Epistemologically, nevertheless, the theory of religious pluralism would be a step beyond the context of the positions of critical realism towards absolute relativism. It is not just the plurality of religious interpretations here that count but the plurality of truths, the diversity of indispensable compatibilities, straight paths, and the abundance of causes; in other words, diversity of interpretation has led to diversity of truth. Furthermore, first-grade monotheistic theological conclusions may not be derived from second-grade epistemological and extra-religious interpretations of religions. In addition, the reasons’ enjoying the same momentum are not unlimited, hence, the domain of humanities and, even further up, the domain of sciences in its absolute form is the one of the abundance of causes.

With respect to theology, however, accepting religious pluralism and the indispensable diversity of truths and the abundance of causes within the sphere of religions is in violation of the righteousness of a specific religion and its supremacy over other religions. That extra-religious judgment cannot tolerate this intra-religious judgment. Accordingly, religious righteousness and faith would be causeless, invalid, and rejected. Faith would only be the case when there exists a supreme, unique, and one-of-a-kind truth. The impossibility to discern between true and void is the rational necessity of religious pluralism. Accepting the abundance of causes would not allow any opportunity for the righteousness of religion, no beliefs, no morals, and no other domains. Religiosity, altogether, is incompatible with religious pluralism since the latter would mean that anyone who has adopted any religion for any one cause or another has accepted truth because the truth itself is diverse. Plural truth itself is coherent with absolute cognitive relativism. Furthermore, resorting to seeking the truth in the domain of religion would not resolve the question of righteousness of a specific religion and the indispensable and compatible diversity of truths is incongruous with adopting the righteousness of a specific religion. Adopting the indispensable diversity of meaning and the intrinsic ambiguity of the text is another window towards the absolute relativism perspective.


A Debate between Soroush and Kadivar

(Monazereyeh Soroush va Kadivar darbareyeh pluralismeh deenee)

Tehran: Salaam Publications, 1999, 5th publication 2000

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