Rationale and Objectives
There are many forms of pluralism in our globalized world: political pluralism, ethical
pluralism, ethnic pluralism, value pluralism, ... From a political point of view, it can be said
that pluralism is a characteristic of and a condition for a democratic society A democratic
state will, by law, aim to safeguard the possibility of pluralism, like the freedom of speech,
freedom to education, etc. For this purpose, tolerance and open-mindedness is required as
without them, there is no "democratic society". (cf. Nieuwenhuis, 2007).
A society in which different religious, cultural, ethnic and other groups live together and in
which a diversity of values and lifestyle coexist emphasizes the importance of tolerance and
respect. However, this raises the question at what point different becomes too different, what
can/cannot be tolerated, how to define boundaries between Sameness and Otherness and who
has the power to define such boundaries.
People often understand tolerance in a positive way. Nonetheless, tolerance reflects a
relationship based on power: those in power are in a position enabling them to “tolerate” – or
not, while those who are powerless can “be tolerated” – or not. Those who tolerate seldom
question their judgment and may think that they possess absolute truth.
Pluralism apparently takes the opinion of "outsiders" into account. According to the
underlying theoretical approach this can occur in different manners: trying to construct one
truth through divergent dialogues or accepting the co-existence of different truths without any
dialogue. The objective of this unit is to make students aware of the multifaceted meaning and
understanding of the concepts of "tolerance" and "pluralism" depending on different contexts
and disciplines and to enable them to recognize how these concepts are used, adapted and
sometimes even blurred according to specific interest groups in a plural society. Students will
also come to closely analyze, discuss and reevaluate their own intellectual position regarding
tolerance and pluralism.
Nieuwenhuis, Aernout (2007): The Concept of Pluralism in the Case-Law of
the European Court of Human Rights.