What is Cultural Pluralism: Explained with Examples

Cultural Pluralism can be defined as an arrangement in a society where multiple smaller cultures assimilate in mainstream society but also maintain their cultural uniqueness without being homogenised by the dominant culture.

What is Cultural Pluralism

The difference in cultural pluralism can be observed between homogeneous societies like Israel, Japan, South Korea which have only one dominant culture and hence no need to accommodate other cultures and heterogeneous societies like United States of America, India, United Kingdom, etc. However, while a lot of societies are heterogeneous i.e. they have multiple cultures, that does not necessarily mean that they are also culturally plural because cultural pluralism requires not just the existence of different cultures within a society but also respect for these cultures by the dominant culture. For example, in Saudi Arabia, while a lot of migrants bring their culture along and the country now has a considerable South Asian diaspora, their cultures are suppressed and relegated to the private realm i.e. they are not allowed to practice their culture openly. Thus Saudi Arabia might be a heterogeneous society but not a culturally plural one.

Often cultural pluralism and multiculturalism are used interchangeably, however, there is one difference. In multiculturalist societies, there is no dominant culture. It is the peaceful coexistence of various small cultures. India has always been proud of its culturally plural society. India has a dominant North Indian, Hindu, Hindi speaking culture however cultures from the south and northeast India like the cuisines (Idli, Vada, Uttapam), dance forms (Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Bihu), literature (Sangam literature) are not only respected in the rest of the country but gets an equal space in the cultural display on Republic Day. Religious pluralism in the form of the prevalence of mosques, gurudwara, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi temples and their open religious celebration often joined in by their Hindu friends is a testament to India’s religious pluralism. Pluralism cannot be forced by the government through laws, it gets incorporated in societies as they learn to accommodate and respect new cultures. India’s long historical tradition of welcoming cultures that land at its shores allows for the presence of today’s culturally plural society. The difference between India’s and America’s cultural pluralism is evident. America calls itself the ‘Melting Pot’ of cultures where all cultures melt to form a common American identity. Cultures are secondary to the preeminence of national identity. However, India does not force one unitary idea of an’ Indian identity’ because there is no one definition of what it means to be an Indian.  Because of its respect for cultures, India allow citizens to openly practice their culture and come up with their own definition of India. One dominant idea of India is not imposed upon others to follow. Thus the west follows a “negative” idea of cultural pluralism i.e. it relegates culture to the private realm so one person’s culture does not interfere with another person’s culture and multiple cultures can coexist peacefully. However, India has a “positive” idea of cultural pluralism where it allows for full expression of culture in the public realm and instead fosters an idea of respect for different cultures. It is this culturally plural India that we take pride in and seek to protect for ages to come.

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