Liberal multiculturalism and the challenge of religious diversity
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This dissertation evaluates the recent academic consensus on liberal multiculturalism. I argue that this apparent consensus, by subsuming religious experience under the general category of culture, has rested upon undefended and contestable conceptions of modern religious life. In the liberal multicultural literature, cultures are primarily identified as sharing certain ethnic, linguistic, or geographic attributes, which is to say morally arbitrary particulars that can be defended without raising the possibility of conflict over metaphysical beliefs. In such theories, the possibility of conflict due to diverse religious principles or claims to the transcendent is either steadfastly ignored or, more typically, explained away as the expression of perverted religious faith. I argue that this conception of the relation between culture and religion fails to provide an account of liberal multiculturalism that is persuasive to religious believers on their own terms. To illustrate this failing, I begin with an examination of the Canadian policy of official multiculturalism and the constitutional design of Pierre Trudeau. I argue that the resistance of Québécois nationalists to liberal multiculturalism, as well as the conflict between the Québécois and minority religious groups within Quebec, has been animated by religious and quasi-religious claims to the transcendent. I maintain that to truly confront this basic problem of religious difference, one must articulate and defend the substantive visions of religious life that are implicit in liberal multicultural theory. To this end, I contrast the portrait of religious life and secularization that is implicit in Will Kymlicka’s liberal theory of minority rights with the recent account of modern religious life presented by Charles Taylor. I conclude by suggesting that Kymlicka’s and Taylor’s contrasting conceptions of religious difference—which are fundamentally at odds regarding the relation of the right to the good, and the diversity and nature of genuine religious belief—underline the extent to which liberal multicultural theory has reached an academic consensus only by ignoring the reality of religious diversity.