Washington University Professor John Inazu Lectures at Eastern

     On Oct. 6, the Agora Institute hosted a lecture by author and professor John Inazu on his recent book “Confident Pluralism.” Dr. Inazu began his lecture by discussing the way that modern culture has almost entirely separated itself from religion. He then gave a brief anecdote about an academic institution stepping out of “mainstream culture” by utilizing religious texts in its curriculum. Inazu recalled how one of his students responded to this situation by stating that because of this institution’s choice, the institution had to accept that it could no longer depend on governmental services (police officers, firefighters, etc.), because it had separated itself from the public and mainstream society.

     Inazu transitioned from this anecdotal story into his notion that it is vital for society as a whole to find common ground and thus not view an institution’s decision to embrace certain religious ideas as a complete withdrawal from the public sphere. Inazu clarified that by this phrase “common ground” he does not mean complete unity, as he views legitimate unity as impossible and believes that any attempts at this unity would be forced and disingenuous. Instead, Inazu claims that as humans there is a need to acknowledge each other’s differences and protect the space for these differences in society and culture, even if this fosters disagreement.

     Inazu carried his introductory anecdote into a discussion of plurality. He mainly referred to the role of religion and how it has become pluralized in our society—referring to the notion that there is not one dominant denomination of Christianity or other religious sect. Using Christianity as a specific example, Inazu claimed that Christians should protect the religious freedom of all in the same way they would want their religious freedoms to be protected. He sees this as where the role of confidence comes into pluralism: in order for Christians to truly succeed in fostering this protected common ground, they must be confident enough in their own beliefs to engage in debate and discussion with other religious groups.

     Overall, Inazu’s lecture called for justice amongst all people. Inazu highlighted three practices for confident pluralism: tolerance, humility and patience. In regard to tolerance, Inazu stressed that it is not the same as blind acceptance, but instead a “practical endurance for the sake of coexistence.” Inazu inferred that even if one’s own rights are not being persecuted, one should notice and attempt to protect the rights of others, because there cannot be partial justice or partial liberty.

     Inazu called for accountability and camaraderie, not the eradication of differences or the averaging of beliefs, but a mutual respect between different religions and different communities. However, as Inazu argues, in order to achieve this “confident pluralism” we would have to start by applying the three principles he outlined—tolerance, humility and patience—to our daily interactions with others.

     Source: John Inazu Lecture

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