History of religious pluralism

For purposes of exposition, views about religious pluralism may be loosely classified into views about 1) inter-religious pluralism and 2) intra-religious pluralism. By inter-religious pluralism, we mean the views held within one major faith tradition (e.g., Christianity) about the validity or truth of other major faith traditions (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.). In contrast, intra-religious pluralism refers to views held by specific schools or denominations within a major faith tradition (e.g., by Eastern Orthodox Christians) about the validity or truth of other schools or denominations within the same major faith tradition (e.g., about Protestant Christianity or Roman Catholic Christianity).
The following subsections examine inter-religious pluralism within several major faith traditions.

Bahá'í views

Bahá'u'lláh, founder of Bahá'í Faith, urged the elimination of religious intolerance. He taught that God is one, and has manifested himself to humanity through several historic messengers. Bahá'u'lláh taught that Bahá'ís must associate with peoples of all religions, showing the love of God in relations with them, whether this is reciprocated or not.
Bahá'í's refer to the concept of Progressive revelation, which means that God's will is revealed to mankind progressively as mankind matures and is better able to comprehend the purpose of God in creating humanity. In this view, God's word is revealed through a series of messengers: Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, and Bahá'u'lláh (the founder of the Bahá'í Faith) among them. In the Kitáb-i-Íqán (Book of Certitude), Bahá'u'lláh explains that messengers of God have a twofold station, one of divinity and one of an individual. According to Bahá'í writings, there will not be another messenger for many hundreds of years. There is also a respect for the religious traditions of the native peoples of the planet who may have little other than oral traditions as a record of their religious figures.

Buddhist views

In the Brahmajala Sutta,[3] the Buddha is recorded as stating that the teachings of other sects of his day were based on one or more of 62 erroneous theories, and that falling into those errors would prevent attaining permanent liberation from suffering:
Bhikkus, there are countless philosophies, doctrines, and theories in this world. People criticize each other and argue endlessly over their theories. According to my investigation, there are sixty-two main theories which underlie the thousands of philosophies and religions current in our world. Looked at from the Way of Enlightenment and Emancipation, all sixty-two of these theories contain errors and create obstacles… A good fisherman places his net in the water and catches all the shrimp and fish he can. As he watches the creatures try to leap out of the net, he tells them, ‘No matter how high you jump, you will only land in the net again.’ He is correct. The thousands of beliefs flourishing at present can all be found in the net of these sixty-two theories. Bhikkus, don’t fall into that bewitching net. You will only waste time and lose your chance to practice the Way of Enlightenment.[4]
The earliest reference to Buddhist views on religious pluralism in a political sense is found in the Edicts of Emperor Ashoka:
"All religions should reside everywhere, for all of them desire self-control and purity of heart." Rock Edict Nb7 (S. Dhammika)
"Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions." Rock Edict Nb12 (S. Dhammika)
When asked, “Don’t all religions teach the same thing? Is it possible to unify them?” the Dalai Lama said:
People from different traditions should keep their own, rather than change. However, some Tibetan may prefer Islam, so he can follow it. Some Spanish prefer Buddhism; so follow it. But think about it carefully. Don’t do it for fashion. Some people start Christian, follow Islam, then Buddhism, then nothing. In the United States I have seen people who embrace Buddhism and change their clothes! Like the New Age. They take something Hindu, something Buddhist, something, something… That is not healthy. For individual practitioners, having one truth, one religion, is very important. Several truths, several religions, is contradictory. I am Buddhist. Therefore, Buddhism is the only truth for me, the only religion. To my Christian friend, Christianity is the only truth, the only religion. To my Muslim friend, [Islam] is the only truth, the only religion. In the meantime, I respect and admire my Christian friend and my Muslim friend. If by unifying you mean mixing, that is impossible, useless.

Classical Greek and Roman pagan views

The ancient Greeks were polytheists; pluralism in that historical era meant accepting the existence of and validity of other peoples religions. Ancient Greeks employed Interpretatio Graeca whereby the gods of other religions were equated with those of their own pantheon. The Romans easily accomplished this task by subsuming the entire set of gods from other faiths into their own religion; this was done on rare occasion by adding a new god to their own pantheon; on most occasions they identified another religion's gods with their own, see syncretism which can be a form of Inclusivism.

Christian views

Some Christians have argued that religious pluralism is an invalid or self-contradictory concept. Maximal forms of religious pluralism claim that all religions are equally true, or that one religion can be true for some and another for others. Some Christians hold this idea to be logically impossible from the Principle of contradiction
Other Christians have held that there can be truth value and salvific value in other faith traditions. John Macquarrie, described in the Handbook of Anglican Theologians (1998) as "unquestionably Anglicanism's most distinguished systematic theologian in the second half of the twentieth century," wrote that "there should be an end to proselytizing but that equally there should be no syncretism of the kind typified by the Baha'i movement" (p. 2). In discussing 9 founders of major faith traditions (Moses, Zoroaster, Lao-zu, Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Krishna, Jesus, and Muhammad), which he called "mediators between the human and the divine," Macquarrie wrote that:
I do not deny for a moment that the truth of God has reached others through other channels - indeed, I hope and pray that it has. So while I have a special attachment to one mediator, I have respect for them all. (p. 12])

Hindu views

The Hindu religion is naturally pluralistic. A well-known Rig Vedic hymn says that "Truth is One, though the sages know it variously." (Ékam sat vipra bahudā vadanti)[9]. Similarly, in the Bhagavad Gītā (4:11), God, manifesting as an incarnation, states that "As people approach me, so I receive them. All paths lead to me" (ye yathā māṃ prapadyante tāṃs tathāiva bhajāmyaham mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ) The Hindu religion has no theological difficulties in accepting degrees of truth in other religions. Hinduism emphasizes that everyone actually worship the same God, whether they know it or not. Just as Hindus worshiping Ganesh is seen as valid by those worshiping Vishnu, so someone worshiping Jesus or Allah is accepted. Many foreign deities become assimilated into Hinduism, and some Hindus may sometimes offer prayers to Jesus along with their traditional forms of God. For this reason, Hinduism usually has good relations with other religious groups accepting pluralism. In particular, Hinduism and Buddhism coexist peacefully in many parts of the world.

Islamic views

Muslims consider the monotheistic faiths that preceded it, Judaism and Christianity, to be valid in its original form Yet they believe that these religions were corrupted and are consequently invalid today. Muslims also believe that the Qu'ran confirms the scriptures that came before including the Torah and the Gospel.

Jain views

Anekāntavāda, the principle of relative pluralism, is one of the basic principles of Jainism. In this view, the truth or the reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and no single point of view is the complete truth. Jain doctrine states that an object has infinite modes of existence and qualities and they cannot be completely perceived in all its aspects and manifestations, due to inherent limitations of the humans. Only the Kevalins - the omniscient beings - can comprehend the object in all its aspects and manifestations, and all others are capable of knowing only a part of it Consequently, no one view can claim to represent the absolute truth. Jains compare all attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah or the "maxim of the blind men and elephant", wherein all the blind men claimed to explain the true appearance of the elephant, but could only partly succeed due to their narrow perspective.

Jewish views

Sikh views

The Sikh Gurus (religious leaders) have propagated the message of "many paths" leading to the one God and ultimate salvation for all souls who treading on the path of righteousness. They have supported the view that proponents of all faiths can, by doing good and virtuous deeds and by remembering the Lord can certainly achieve salvation. Students of the Sikh faith are told to accept all leading faiths as possible vehicles for attaining spiritual enlightenment, provided the faithful study, ponder and practice the teachings of their prophets and leaders. The holy book of the Sikhs (the Sri Guru Granth Sahib) says, "Do not say that the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran are false. Those who do not contemplate them are false." Guru Granth Sahib page 1350. and "The seconds,minutes,and hours,days,weeks and months and various seasons originate from One Sun; O nanak,in just the same way, the many forms originate from the Creator." Guru Granth Sahib page 12,13
The Guru Granth Sahib also says that Bhagat Namdev and Bhagat Kabir, who were both believed to be Hindus, both attained salvation though they were born before Sikhism took root and were clearly not Sikhs. This highlights and reinforces the Guru's saying that "peoples of other faiths" can join with God as true and also at the same time signify that Sikhism is not the exclusive path for liberation. Again, the Guru Granth Sahib provides this verse: "Naam Dayv the printer, and Kabeer the weaver, obtained salvation through the Perfect Guru. Those who know God and recognize His Shabad ("word") lose their ego and class consciousness." Guru Granth Sahib page 67  Most of the 15 Sikh Bhagats who are mentioned in their holy book were non-Sikhs and belonged to Hindu and Muslim faiths, which were the most prevalent religions of this region.
Sikhs have always being eager exponents of interfaith dialogue and will not only accept the right of other to practise their faith but have in the past fought and laid down their lives to protect this right for others. See the sacrifice of the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadar who on the final desperate and heart-rending pleas of the Kashmiri Pandit, agreed to put up a fight for their right to practise their religion. In this regard, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru writes in the Dasam Granth :
He protected the forehead mark and sacred thread (of the Hindus) which marked a great event in the Iron age.
For the sake of saints, he laid down his head without even a sign.13.
For the sake of Dharma, he sacrificed himself. He laid down his head but not his creed.
The saints of the Lord abhor the performance of miracles and malpractices. 14.
Dasam Granth, Bachitar Nanak, www.sridasam.org Page 131
The Sikhs have promoted their faith as an Interfaith religion and have taken a lead in uniting all the different religions of the world. The message of unity of the faiths is summed up in this quotation from the Guru Granth Sahib: "One who recognizes that all spiritual paths lead to the One shall be emancipated. One who speaks lies shall fall into hell and burn. In all the world, the most blessed and sanctified are those who remain absorbed in Truth." (Guru Granth Sahib page 142) Srigranth.org, Guru Granth Sahib page 142

Intra-religious pluralism

As noted earlier, intra-religious pluralism refers to views held by specific schools or denominations within a major faith tradition (e.g., by Eastern Orthodox Christians) about the validity or truth of other schools or denominations within the same major faith tradition (e.g., about Protestant Christianity or Roman Catholic Christianity). The following subsections describe views about intra-religious pluralism by various denominations and religious thinkers within several major faith traditions.

Christian views

Classical Christian views

Before the Great Schism, mainstream Christianity confessed "one holy catholic and apostolic church", in the words of the Nicene Creed. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians and most Protestant Christian denominations still maintain this belief.
Church unity was something very visible and tangible, and schism was just as serious an offense as heresy. Following the Great Schism, Roman Catholicism sees and recognizes the Orthodox Sacraments as valid. Eastern Orthodoxy does not have the concept of "validity" when applied to Sacraments, but it considers the form of Roman Catholic Sacraments to be acceptable, if still devoid of actual spiritual content. Both generally regard each other as "heterodox" and "schismatic", while continuing to recognize each other as Christian.[citation needed] Attitudes of both towards different Protestant groups vary, primarily based upon how strongly Trinitarian the Protestant group in question might be.[citation needed]
Many Christians hold that the Christian church is not just an institution, which can be broken into many denominations. They hold that each instituted church is able to worship God in a way that conforms to Scripture, which allows for many different styles and customs. They hold that all true Christians are united in belief in Jesus Christ, which can be judged against such documents as the Apostles' Creed.[citation needed]

Modern Christian views

Many Protestant Christian groups hold that only believers which believe in certain fundamental doctrines know the true pathway to salvation. The core of this doctrine is that Jesus Christ was a perfect man, is the Son of God and that he died and rose again for the wrongdoing of those who will accept the gift of salvation. They continue to believe in "one" church, believing in fundamental issues there is unity and non-fundamental issues there is liberty. Some Protestants are doubtful if the Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy are still valid manifestations of the Church and usually reject movements begun within 19th century Christianity, such as Mormonism, Christian Science, or Jehovah's Witnesses as not distinctly Christian.
Modern Christian ideas on intra-religious pluralism (between different denominations of Christianity) are discussed in the article on Ecumenism.

Islamic views

Classical views

Like Christianity, Islam originally did not have ideas of religious pluralism for different Islamic denominations. Early on, Islam developed into several mutually antagonistic streams, including Shiite Islam and Sunni Islam. In some periods believers in these two communities went to war with each other over religious differences.

Modern (post-Enlightenment) Islamic views

Some Shiite, Suni and Sufi Islamic leaders are willing to recognize each other's denomination as a valid form of Islam.[citation needed] However, many other Islamic leaders are unwilling to accept this; they view other forms of Islam as outside the Islamic religion.[