About The Conference and Workshop

11-13 October 2007
After Pluralism convenes a multidisciplinary group of scholars from law, history, religion, anthropology, literature, and sociology, who question the categories of religion, pluralism, and secularism in a global range of contexts. The Keynote Panel on October 11 is open to the public via registration, and the Conference and Workshop on October 12-13 are by invitation only.


Pluralism has been an important underlying logic within many recent discussions and debates about tolerance, difference, and democracy in multicultural societies, but it has not fared well as either a descriptive or analytical tool. The political language of pluralism emphasizes orthodox religious institutions and theologies and imagines religious individuals relating to each other across distinct lines of difference. As a consequence, models of interreligous engagement that begin with pluralism obscure both the range of orthodoxies and diversity within religious traditions, their sometimes fuzzy and indistinct boundaries, and additionally the range of ways that diverse religious actors respond to similar modern circumstances. Building on these critiques, this conference poses the question of what will come "after pluralism." This workshop and conference will gather together junior and senior scholars whose work shows that interreligious contact is often better characterized by the interplay and friction of overlapping identities and concerns in spheres not necessarily considered "religious" (including law, media, and education) rather than by transactions across bounded and distinct traditions.

We take as a beginning point the observation that religious interactions, including contests, collaborations, and coalitions, take shape in numerous public settings including schools, hospitals, courtrooms and the halls of legislature. As demonstrated by debates about the uses of sharia within Canadian family law, global conflicts over democratic principles of free speech versus blasphemy, and government funding of religious family planning groups in the United States, numerous religions share (albeit often uncomfortably) similar economic, legal, and media positions, in both national and global arenas. These modern settings and the interactions that shape religious identity and collaboration draw our attention to the ways that secular and social structures both shape and change the importance and power of religious identity, coalition, and authority in public life, and likewise draw out attention to as yet un-named social processes of "contact" and "interaction" that likely characterize religious engagement in the public sphere as much as (if not more so than) "pluralism."

These observations demonstrate that religious interaction needs re-imagining: it is not fully understood either through models of pluralism and religious toleration, or more contentious frames such as a "clash of civilizations." This is a watershed moment for debating and rethinking the models of inter-religious engagement that shape both academic and public conversations.

Two linked After Pluralism conferences held at the University of Toronto and Columbia University will provide a springboard for vital deliberation on the part of scholars seeking to understand religions’ incarnations in a variety of public spheres.

The website for the Toronto conference is here.