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The plurality of truth

This is a critical analysis of Raimon Panikkar’s text “THE PLURALISM OF TRUTH” – the text can be accessed here (http://www.dhdi.free.fr/recherches/horizonsinterculturels/articles/panikkarpluralism.pdf)

Raimon Panikkar starts off his 1990 article on the pluralism of truth by reminding us why tolerating, nay, accepting each other’s culture and religion is now more important than ever; he highlights that for the first time in human history people from a variety of different cultures now share geographical locations rather than living far apart. Since the publishing of this article I would also add that due to the advancement of technology and the internet people of different cultures now interact with each other more frequently. As a result of these interactions we need some level of understanding of others’ cultures. However Panikkar argues that we claim to understand by “overstanding”, that is that in our mind we superimpose our own categories and superstructures to the subject we are trying to understand and see ourselves as superior. To me this seems like Panikkar is trying to argue that everyone judges and understands others’ cultures in an ethnocentric manner. Panikkar then questions the idea of a singular global culture that everyone can fit into, he argues that it is not possible as different ranges of extremes cannot fit into a society peacefully and that it would be impossible for people living in such a society to understand the universal range of human experience.

Panikkar then states that our society, I am assuming he is referring to western culture, is yet to achieve cultural and religious pluralism and that we have only become aware of plurality – that is that we recognise that different cultures and religions exist. Panikkar also argues that we are yet to achieve pluriformity – that’s to say we do not view all cultures and religions to be equal and believe that some are superior to others. However before we can arrive at Pluralism, Panikkar states that, we need to accept perspectivism and relativity. Perspectivism is used to describe the fact that humans interpret world in different ways; Panikkar then defines relativity as something that “tells us that everything depends on a set of collations in which that particular case, statement, fact, or situation can be expressed, and also falsified, verified or whatever. It abolishes any kind of absolutistic claim”.

This is where one of my first issues with Panikkar’s writing arise (perhaps due to my lack of knowledge on the subject) – He stated earlier in his paper that cultural and religious pluralism cannot be separated, I do not believe this is true; many aspect culture may be influenced by religion and vice versa however they are sparable. For example, if a Chinese Christian converted to Buddhism he/she did not change their culture – they only changed their religion; if they then moved to America and started dressing like American locals then he/she did lose a portion of their culture. The reason I wanted to highlight this is because I do not think true religious pluralism, that is achieving perspectivism and relativity, between all religions in a given society is possible as religion tends to make absolutistic claims which violate the law of non-contradiction.

Panikkar did foresee the above argument as he does mention that “pluralism does not deny the function of the logos and its inalienable rights. The principle of non-contradiction, for instance, cannot be eliminated. But pluralism belongs also to the order of mythos.” However I do not think this is a completing argument as it is not logical. Panikkar then finishes off the article by stating that religious, as I do not believe this statement is true of all aspects of life, truth is subjective and can only be understood tradition that elaborated it. This article makes me think that religious pluralism is not possible unless everybody accepts that their belief, read absolutistic religious claims, may be wrong.

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This is an altered version of an assignment submitted for human rights studies.