The Advantages of Religious Diversity

by Benna Crawford

Different religious beliefs coexist and often do so in a geographically, politically or ethnically defined society. This may or may not imply a level of tolerance that accords equal respect to conflicting or dissimilar spiritual points of view. However, beliefs can build citadels and passions run deep, and in a shrinking world, broad tolerance for religious diversity may be an inescapable survival strategy.

Diversity and Pluralism

Accepting the reality of religious diversity in a society is merely the acknowledgement that a multitude of choices exists. The Harvard University Pluralism Project points out that pluralism, the engagement with diversity that can weave together a coherent society in the presence of religious differences, goes beyond mere acknowledgement of various points of view and spiritual beliefs. Pluralism involves learning about others’ faiths, actively reaching out to form relationships, accepting that differences in belief can coexist and committing to mutual respect and an ongoing dialog. Pluralism opens the door to real tolerance and a balanced view of contrasting, and sometimes conflicting, religions in a diverse culture, which helps to minimize or eliminate the negative consequences of fear, hostility, divisiveness and prejudice.

Divine Difference

In an ideal spiritually-diverse society, there is an absence of prejudice, exclusion, marginalization, small-mindedness and violence born of intolerance or ignorance about what is different. A rich tapestry of religious threads is protection against the blind, monolithic positions that, historically, have resulted in charges of heresy, brutal persecution, genocides and wars. Historians, archaeologists and scholars tell us that every faith is a vivid combination of scripture, tradition, ritual and personal encounter with some aspect of divinity.

Bricks, Mortar and the Heart

Humans preserve and promulgate the ideas of a Buddha, a Mohammed, or a Christ in scriptures, churches, mosques, temples, rituals and laws that are tangible and temporal. Doing so diminishes the immediacy and power of the message. This translation impoverishes believers and prevents any certain knowledge of whether all religions are the same at their core or whether there can be a universal truth. The diversity of spiritual systems people embrace demands something greater of them, according to Buddhist author and abbess Thubten Chodron. Living with religious diversity, its institutions and uncertainties, promotes compassion, patience and the humility of an open heart.

Corporate Benefits

While most U.S. corporations are secular in nature, a significant number of their employees are not. A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that proactively supporting religious diversity in the workplace has positive implications for the bottom line. Companies that recognize religious diversity have more success with recruitment, retention, and maintaining a harmonious corporate culture. Encouraging a relaxed attitude toward diversity includes scheduling flexibility to accommodate religious holidays and practices, planning company-wide events around religious calendars, and permitting discreet religious decorations at individual workstations. A broader implication for acceptance of diversity in an increasingly global business environment is the ability to function smoothly across cultures, adapt products and services to a variety of consumers and attract a wider pool of sought-after workers.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .

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