Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Managing Religion: Religious Pluralism, Liberalism, and Governmentality

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Managing Religion: Religious Pluralism, Liberalism, and Governmentality

Article excerpt

The discourse of religious pluralism pervades the study of religious diversity as well as public conversations about the role of religion in the public sphere. Today, studies of religious diversity often take pluralism as a given and assume that it provides an ideal, or even universal, framework for interpreting and engaging their subjects. (1) Such studies commonly begin by exploring the conditions necessary for pluralism to flourish or by asking how one might cultivate a deeper, more substantive pluralism. They tend to skip over any critical analysis of the assumptions and construction of the category itself. However, this is the place where I begin my inquiry-an investigation of the category of religious pluralism and its discursive practices. With a focus on the United States context, I consider the discourse of religious pluralism in light of the sociopolitical work in which it engages and ask how it seeks to govern or establish a normative function for religion in civil society, as well as how it subsequently contributes to liberal governance. I glean from the social theory of critical discourse analysis and use the concept of govemmentality to frame my examination.

The Discourse of Religious Pluralism

Before elaborating on the discourse of religious pluralism, I want to give attention to how I use the term "discourse" and the accompanying theoretical concepts and frameworks supporting my inquiry. I take from the social theory of critical discourse analysis, especially that of Norman Fairclough, which identifies discourse as a social practice that has linguistic form as a text, either written or spoken. (2) For Fairclough, discourse is a mode of representation as well as a mode of action, a form in which people may act upon the world and especially upon each other. It represents social realities and forms them through the construction of social identities, relationships between people, and systems of knowledge and belief. Discourse is shaped and confined by social structures, while at the same time, it is socially constitutive. That is, it plays a role in reproducing society, while simultaneously transforming it. It functions as a mode of political and ideological practice and, as such, creates and transforms power relations, as well as the collective entities that power relations shape. Discourse is a site of power struggle and has a stake in it; part of the power struggle is over access to shaping discourse. Drawing from the work of Antonio Gramsci, Fairclough argued that these discursive power dynamics frequently play out through processes of hegemonic struggle or through a means and structure of power in which one group establishes dominance over others in a complex process of consent and concessions that is largely unseen and naturalized. (3)

Applying these concepts to religious pluralism as a discourse involves recognizing that the texts and talks of religious pluralism not only point to social practices but are also themselves social, political, and ideological practices. It requires continuously keeping in view not just the phenomena that the discourse of religious pluralism seeks to describe but also the ways in which these discursive practices of describing and analyzing the subject of religious plurality simultaneously construct, reproduce, or transform their subjects. It also necessitates keeping in mind the co-constitutive relationship between the discourse of religious pluralism and the social and political realities of religious pluralism.

Parsing the discourse of religious pluralism involves identifying the variant modes in which the term "pluralism" is deployed. Horace Kallen brought the term into currency around 1924 when he wrote about cultural pluralism and advocated respect for ethnic diversity. (4) A few decades later, Will Herberg, in his influential 1955 Protestant-Catholic-Jew, used the term "pluralist" in contrast to the "'melting pot' assimilationist. …

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