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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Universalising Rhetoric and Particularist Identities: Humanity, the Humanities, and the Future of Our Religious Pasts

Douglas Pratt.

Embedded within any religion is a discourse of universalism. It is a sine qua non that a religion’s ‘Weltanschauung’ is comprehensive. Whether of local scope or globalising intent, a religion must of necessity provide for its adherents a universal outlook, a way of coping with, categorising, and en/countering, the world in which the religious person—and the religion—is set.

However, Western modernity has relegated religion to the sphere of private perspective and personal observance: religious communities are but voluntary collectives within society, no longer an integral expression of it. And, in the history of humanity, religion is perceived to have more often than not played a negative, even oppressive, part. So modernity’s quest for reason’s free reign has relegated religion, certainly in its Western Christian modality—once ‘queen of the sciences’—to a subservient, muted, role.

However, in the contemporary global context of competing universalising religious rhetorics, religious diversity poses a challenge. For, as people move, so do cultures and their religions. Religion is both embedded in culture and, very often, the seed-bed of a culture. Religio-cultural identities can be highly particular, to the point of disturbing both the modernist quest for a global commonality of human community, and the post-modern desire to advance the toleration of différence.

I argue there is yet a dimension to be addressed more intentionally by the Humanities. Societies dealing with the reality of contemporary religious plurality have yet, for the most part, to forge an adequate framework of understanding, a suitable mentalité, wherein legislative, policy and social conditions can adequately encompass and respond with justice to religious plurality. The contemporary challenge to the Humanities is to address the problematic of religious pluralism as a modality of interpreting the manifest religious plurality as an integral component of the next world order.


Douglas Pratt  (New Zealand)
Senior Lecturer, Religious Studies
Department of Philosophy Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
University of Waikato

Dr Pratt is a graduate of Auckland, Otago and St Andrew’s (Scotland) Universities with degrees in Philosophy and Theology.
Appointed foundation lecturer in Religious Studies at Waikato in 1988, he is also an honorary lecturer in Theology at the University of Auckland. Among his publications are ‘Religion: a first encounter’ (1993), ‘Identity and Interaction: Islam and the Challenge of Interreligious Dialogue’ (2000), ‘Relational Deity’ (2002), and ‘Rethinking Religion’ (2003).

  • Religious Pluralism
  • Religious Rhetoric
  • Religious Identity
  • Universalism
  • Particularism
  • Postmodernism

(Virtual Presentation, English)