The Possibility of Pluralism – Conceptualising Pluralism

The Possibility of Pluralism

First Seminar

On 7 October 2005, AKU-ISMC initiated the first seminar in a new series, 'The possibility of pluralism'. Invited speakers to the seminar titled Conceptualising Pluralism were: A. C. Grayling (Professor of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London, and Editor of Prospect) and Abdullahi an-Na'im (Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, Emory Law School, Emory University).

Professors Grayling (left) and an-Na'im (centre right).

The series is being jointly co-ordinated by AKU-ISMC's Director, Dr Abdou Filali-Ansary, and Prof Grayling and will result in a book based on the papers in the series.

A. C. Grayling opened the session with a lucid and penetrating analysis of the concept of pluralism. He distinguished between pluralism and two other cognate ideas: monoism and relativism. In his opinion pluralism 'mixes certain elements of concessive monoism and relativism, while rejecting other elements of both.' He also explored various conditions -toleration, diffusion of power and neutral public space - for the flourishing of pluralism.

Abdullahi an-Na'im explored the possibility of pluralism in the Islamic context today. He argued that the tradition - including the tradition of Sharia - should have a vote but not a veto. He stressed the need for giving justified space to the discourse on human rights in discussions about pluralism in Muslim contexts.

Participants and speakers interacting during a break in the proceedings.

Presentations were followed by a discussion among speakers and participants in which key ideas were further explored. Prof an-Na'im was questioned repeatedly about his stance on European Enlightenment, which he appeared to link directly to colonisation. The discussion also focused on the distinction between relativism and pluralism proposed by Prof Grayling.

The participants - heads and faculty members of various universities and research institutions in England, professionals and prominent members of the Muslim community in the UK, postgraduate students - appreciated the series and its new approach. A colleague from SOAS said that the events were now a regular part of his diary and that he looked forward to future seminars.​​​​