What is pluralism and why does it matter?

As college and university campuses welcome more and more  international and indigenous students, we are all exploring what it means to live and learn together.

The Canadian Center for Pluralism  and the Harvard Pluralism project suggest that we need to go further than “tolerance” of other cultures, to a deep curiosity about our differences and commonalities:

Pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference.   . . . It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another

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.

                                                   – The Harvard Pluralism Project

The following principles might help us build a pluralistic society where we can  learn together and be enriched by the diverse traditions and beliefs that we all bring to this new learning  experience:

  • Listen  carefully with the intention of understanding other viewpoints.

  • Have the courage to share our unique perspectives.

  • Notice when anyone is alienated or isolated and find ways to build the bridges that create inclusion and belonging.

  • Accept that conflict is part of the human experience. Seek understanding of other ways of seeing a situation and solutions that work for multiple perspectives.

  • Try to empathize with those individuals you find the most challenging – community is easy when you stick with those you find like-minded. The real test is noticing when your judgmental mind is activated and putting aside your need to be “right”  to try to understand how the other person views the situation.

  • Create opportunities for meaningful, open dialogue and stay curious!

So, how will we know whether we are on a path towards creating a pluralistic community?

It seems to me, that if we have learned more about each other’s countries, religions and values we will have made a good start. However, if we have been through some difficult, vulnerable conversations and opened our minds to new ways of seeing life,  we will have created a community where  we engage, explore and celebrate both commonalities and differences.

It will be our words, actions and commitment to pluralism that will allow new kinds of pluralistic learning communities to flourish.


Selkirk College Residence Advisors  2015/16

If we get it even somewhat right, we may also be creating templates that influence the worlds we live in.

If you want to read more about pluralism, there are many initiatives at the Global Center for Pluralism in Ottawa and the Harvard Pluralism Project:



What do you think pluralism is?  How well is your college or university doing at encouraging deep cultural exploration?



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