Session 1 The Various Meanings of Pluralism
Session 2 A Brief History of Religious Pluralism
Session 3 The Influence of the Modern Era on Religious Pluralism
Session 4 The Influence of Postmodernity on Religious Pluralism
Session 5 Responses to Religious Pluralism Among Christians
Excerpt from an Essay on Modernity
The Enlightenment” is a periodization term that applies to the mainstream of thought of 18th century Europe. The scientific and intellectual developments of the 17th century fostered the belief in natural laws and universal order and the confidence in reason which spread to influence 18th century society in Europe. These development were typified by the discoveries of Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the rationalism of Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Pierre Bayle (1647-1700), the pantheism of Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) that equates god with the forces and natural laws of the universe and the empiricism of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and John Locke (1632-1704). A rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political and economic issues promoted a secular view of the world and a general sense of progress and perfectibility.
The proponents of the Enlightenment were of one mind on certain basic attitudes, and sought to discover and act on universally valid principles governing humanity, nature and society. They attacked spiritual and scientific authority, dogmatism, intolerance, censorship and economic and social constraints. They considered the state the proper and rational instrument of progress. In England, Lockean theories of learning by sense perception were carried forward by David Hume (1711-16). The philosophical view of rational man in harmony with the universe set the climate for the “laissez-faire” economics of Adam Smith (1723-90) and for the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) of the greatest good for the greatest number. Historical writing gained secular detachment in the work of Edward Gibbon (1737-94). In Germany, the universities became centers of the Enlightenment (Aufklarung). Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86) set forth a doctrine of rational process; Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729- 81), whom Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) credited as having placed the young poet in the true path, advanced a natural religion of morality; J G Herder (1744-1803) developed a philosophy of cultural nationalism. The supreme importance of the individual formed the basis of the ethics of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). The movement received strong support of the rising bourgeoisie and vigorous opposition from the high clergy and the nobility.
The strongest claim by the West on modernity is derived from ideas and concepts generally grouped under the category of the Enlightenment. These are ideas that were developed during the half a century preceding the French Revolution, between 1740 and 1789, known in history as the Age of Enlightenment. It was at the time that the idea of progress gained popular acceptance in the West. It was a time when Europeans emerged from a long twilight, from which the past was considered barbaric and dark. This was the age of enlightened thinkers, known as philosophes, and
The idea of the Enlightenment was drawn from earlier sources, carried over from the old philosophy of natural law, which held that right depends on a universal reason, not on local conditions or on the will or perspective of any person or group. It carried over, from the intellectual revolution of the previous century, the ideas of Bacon and Locke, Descartes and Newton, Bayle and Spinoza. It was antagonistic and skeptical toward tradition, confident in the powers of science and places faith firmly in the regularity of nature. It most serious shortcoming was the assumption that European
values derived from European experience were universal truth and that such truth gave license to world dominance: the rest of the world, to escape domination and exploitation, must adopt Western ways of militarism and exploitation. The modernization of Japan was a perfect example of this trend.
The philosophes of the Enlightenment were mostly popularizers, in an age when the great books were not read by the public. They reworded the ideas of past civilizations in ways that held the interest of the growing reading public. These philosophes were primarily men of letters, exemplified by Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694- 1778), who made fortunes and gained fame with his writings. They differed from intellectuals of the past who were mostly proteges of aristocratic or royal patrons or clerics in the Church.
The emergence of a literate middle class made such freelancers possible. Naturally, as most writers who enjoy popularity write what their audiences like to hear, what economist John Galbraith calls “conventional wisdom”, the Enlightenment authors mostly wrote to enhance the political and economic interests of the bourgeoisie. Most of the works produced during this period focused on the catalogue and organization of information made entertaining with wit and lightness. This was the age of the salon literati, of clever one-upmanship and satire, full of innuendos and sly digs, particularly insider jokes understood only by the enlightened few. Voltaire attacked European society by making fun not of the French, but by stereotyping the Persians, the Iroquois and the Chinese.
Frederick the Great of Prussia was regarded as an eminent philosophe through his friendship with Voltaire, whose style he emulated, as was Catherine the Great of Russia (1762-96). While Maria Teresa of Austria (1740-80) was not a philosophe on account of her piety, her son Joseph, brother of the ill-fated Marie-Antoinette of France (1755-93), worked hard to become one, as a patron of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In England, Bishop Warburton (1698-1779) tried to become one by claiming that the Church of England as a social institution was exactly what pure reason would
have invented. Edward Gibbon (1737-94), whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire summarized the millennium following the birth of Christ as “the triumph of barbarism and religion”, much as the centuries after the Renaissance are summarized today as the triumph of capitalistic democracy over socialist revolutions as a religious truth. Gibbon was counted as a philosophe for his secular outlook.
Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) was not considered a philosophe. He was fascinated by the supernatural, adhered to the established church, deflated pretentious authors, even declared Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) “bad men” who should be sent to the plantations in America.
The Enlightenment was in essence French, a product of sophisticated Parisian salons run by the likes of Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, lubricated by the liberal flow of French champagne. Denis Diderot (1713-84) was not only a card carrying philosophe, his Encyclopedia was described as a “reasoned dictionary” written by a distinguished list of other philosophes who went on to enjoy the awesome rank of Encyclopedists. Another group of philosophes was the Physiocrats, whom critics derisively called “economists” who concerned themselves with fiscal and monetary reform, with measures to increase the national wealth of France. Among the Physiocrats were Francois Quesnay (1694-1774), physician to Louis XV (1715-74), and Dupont de Nemour (1739-1817), whose descendants became the US industrial/chemical Dupont family.
The three giants of the philosophes were Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau. Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu (1533-92), a landed aristocrat, was a defender of his class interest. Among his associates was the Count of Boulainvilliers (1658-1722), who held that French nobility was descended from a superior Germanic race, a view that contributed to the emergence of racism in the West.
In his The Spirit of Laws (1748), Montesquieu developed two principal ideas. One was that forms of government varied according to climate and circumstances, for example that despotism was suited more to large empires in hot climates and that democracy only would work in small city-states. Thus democracy is inconsistent with the idea of empire. The other idea was the separation and balance of powers. In France, he believed that power should be divided between the king and a number of “intermediate bodies” – parliaments, provincial estates, organized nobility, chartered
towns, and even the church. It was natural for Montesquieu, a judge in parliament, a provincial and a landed nobleman, and reasonable for him to recognize the position of the bourgeoisie of the towns, but as for the Church he observed that while he took no stock in its teachings, he thought is useful as an offset to undue centralization of government. Montesquieu admired the unwritten English constitution as he understood it, not for its democratic qualities but in believing that England carried over, more successfully than any other European country, the feudal liberties of the
Middle Ages. To Montesquieu, government should be a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, a term representing the interests of the bourgeoisie, not the general population and definitely not workers and peasants.
The ideas of Montesquieu were well known to the drafters of the US constitution, who, because the United States at that time had no history of social institutions besides slavery, distorted the meaning of democracy and the separation of powers as defined by Montesquieu to create a political structure peculiarly suited only to US conditions. Those who now claim that the US version of democracy is a heritage of the Enlightenment universally suited for all humankind have been highly selective in their understanding of history.
Strictly speaking, the modern world arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries with the transfer of power from the aristocracy and the absolutist kings (Louis XIV in France and James I in England) to the upper middle classes – the elite bourgeoisie. The upper middle classes were represented by constitutional assemblies, legislatures, and parliaments, which took power away from the kings and aristocrats by violent revolutions or by reform legislation: England (1688, 1830s), the United States (1776), France (1789, 1830, 1848, 1870), Canada (1840s and 1850s), and Germany (1848,
1918). Japan embarked on a deliberate program of “modernization” in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
The shift of power was accompanied by the Industrial Revolution and liberal, or ffree-enterprise economic theory (laissez faire), the economic counterpart of the middleclass political revolutions. Critiques of this modern, elitist middle-class, democratic, and laissez-faire industrial system emerged at various points in the 19th century, most notably in Marxist and other socialist movements. Although these movements of the working people were critical of the upper-middle-class entrepreneurs who led the 18th century and early 19th century “modern” revolutions, Marxists and other
socialists remained modern in most of their assumptions. Thorough-going critique of the modern world view and its rational-scientific outlook, its rationally organized economic production system, and its rationally centralized bureaucratic politics did not emerge until the late 19th century and early 20th century. Such critique came at first only from philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), scientists such as Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), and artists and writers. Only in the late 20th century did such postmodern critique become widespread. For most people in the 1980s, in Europe and North America and increasingly around the world, modern ways of life dominated, although intellectuals had been attacking or reinterpreting modern views for some time.
One way to understand Western modernity is to look at countervailing social, political and religious manifestations. As anthropologists, sociologists and historians have studied the “traditional village societies” that survived in a few remote areas of Europe and in non-Western cultures, they have learned much about the nature of the modern Western world view. The very name “traditional society” focuses on what is perhaps the most important single aspect. “Modern” means “now” – a world view focusing on the now, on the latest, on the newest and the most dominant. A traditional society takes “handed down” things (Latin tradita) as its starting point and modifies them slowly even as it tries to be faithful to the inherited ideas and customs. A modern world view implicitly assumes the superiority of the latest and newest as liberating and expansive, and almost invariably scorns the old-fashioned as constrictive and oppressive. The confrontation of the non-Western world with the ascending West that turned out to be aggressively intrusive, and the rationalization of victimization as a deserved fate of not being modern, has affected the development of the non-Western world, particularly the ancient cultures found in China, India and the Middle East. It forced these cultures to reject age-old values that had evolved from centuries of struggle toward harmony to adopt the new barbarism of domination, militarism and racism to survive.