Posted by: smstrouse | July 27, 2013

Reflections on “Pluralism Summer” – so far

When I first decided to move from Buffalo to Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in interfaith dialogue, I remember telling someone, “Right now, I know a little bit about some other religions. But I want to know a lot about a lot of them.”

As we approach the final third of our “Pluralism Summer,” I’m reminded of how much I still have to learn. Our guests have fed us with such a rich banquet of information, personal stories and experiences: from chanted Baha’i prayers to a Wiccan guided meditation to a Sufi’s reflections on Ramadan – and more.

And there’s still good stuff to come: Sufism Reoriented, Hindu, Secular Humanism, Sikh, as well as a woman extraordinarily ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. At the end of the summer, we’ll go off on a congregational retreat to Mercy Center, where one of their specialties is a program of East/West meditation. We’ll get to spend some time with Fr. Greg Mayers, who is both  priest and Zen master.

Some people may see this venture as a slippery slope into relativism, but I would heartily disagree.  We live in a time of examining the meaning of such words as:

  • spiritual and religious
  • atheism, theism, panentheism
  • secularism, humanism
  • interfaith, intrafaith, interspiritual

For example, many people claim that we live in a secular society, but there is evidence to the exact opposite.  A New York Times review of Charles Taylor’s book “A Secular Age” quotes Taylor’s observation that “most people are incapable of being indifferent to the transcendent realm” and that we are moving into an era of “galloping spiritual pluralism.”

In our search for fullness and meaning and experiences of the transcendent, we have access to the spiritual wisdom of a wide variety of cultures. This banquet of richness is not without its pitfalls, however. As the review said “This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options.” Our challenge is to determine how the best of another tradition relates to the best of our own – but what a wonderful challenge that is.

As we continue to discuss and debate whether we are spiritual or religious, humanists or panentheists, atheists or mystics – we have so many opportunities to learn a lot of things about a lot of people.  As Satchmo said it best, “It’s a Wonderful World.” Let’s enjoy it!



  1. I delight in the information on your web site.


  2. Thanks, Susan. So well said! The way you posed our challenge: “…to determine how the best of another tradition relates to the best in our own…” is key.
    Peace, Kathleen


  3. […] Originally published on July 27, 2013 by Pr. Susan M. Strouse […]


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