Understanding Religious Diversity:

Because of the Immigration Act of 1965, the United States is arguably the most religiously diverse country of all time. The Immigration Act abolished the National Origins Formula which dictated immigration policy prior to 1965. The National Origins Formula excluded Asians and Africans from immigrating to the U.S. and preferred Northern and Western Europeans over Southern and Eastern Europeans. Once the Origins Formula was abolished, the population of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa & the Middle East increased.

The Immigration Act of 1965 not only diversified the U.S.'s ethnic and racial makeup, it also expanded the religious diversity in the country. A new wave of immigrants brought a new wave of religious identities to the country. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and new varieties of Jews and Catholics immigrated from India and other parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa.

As immigrants assimilated into American life, more Americans began to appropriate these newly introduced religions for themselves. Now, in 2013, you may meet someone who identifies as a "Catholic Hindu" or a "spiritual" but not "religious" Christian. Additionally, in recent years there has been in increase in the number of religiously "unaffiliated" Americans. The PEW Research Center recently published a study which showed that nearly 33% of Americas between the ages of 18 and 30 consider themselves either atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, or simply unaffiliated.


 So What are Pluralism and Interfaith Cooperation?

Dr. Diana L. Eck, professor at Harvard and director of the Pluralism Project, says that pluralism is not simply diversity. Diversity is plurality, plain and simple; Dr. Eck defines pluralism as, "the engagement that creates a common society from all that plurality." In other words, pluralism is positive engagement between different religious and non-religious people. The following are four specifications regarding what pluralism is, and is not.

  • First, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.
  • Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence.
  • Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and our commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.
  • Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone at the "table" will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table - with one's commitments.[1]


The Interfaith Center at UNF strives to make pluralism a cornerstone of diversity on UNF campus. We develop and implement programs that provide opportunities for interfaith engagement and cooperation. The Interfaith Center also seeks to make interfaith cooperation a UNF priority. We use Interfaith Youth Core's (IFYC) model for our understanding about interfaith cooperation.

Interfaith Youth Core is a non-profit organization in Chicago, IL which seeks to make interfaith cooperation a social norm.

The way IFYC understands pluralism is:

  • Respect for people's diverse religious and non-religious identities
  • Mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds, and
  • Common action for the common good

IFYC believes that pluralism is achieved by two things:

  1. The science of interfaith cooperation: by creating positive, meaningful relationships across differences, and fostering appreciative knowledge of other traditions, attitudes improve, knowledge increases, and more relationships occur. These three are mutually reinforcing and backed by social science data, what we call the "interfaith triangle."
  2. The art of interfaith leadership: people who create and foster opportunities for positive knowledge and opportunities for engagement move other around the interfaith triangle and lead to a community marked by pluralism.[2]
For more information on Pluralism and Interfaith Cooperation, we have compiled a list of helpful resources! Download the .PDF HERE.
We believe one of the keys to pluralism and interfaith cooperation, is the ability to have civic discourse across difference. For a copy our Guidelines for Civic Discourse, click HERE.


[1] Diana L. Eck, “What is Pluralism,” Pluralism.org, <www.pluralism.org/pages/pluralism/what_is_pluralism

[2] www.ifyc.org/about