7. Multiculturalism, Identity Politics, and the Critique

Multiculturalism is another concept which excites a number of definitions. Yet at a political level the matter often seems quite clear: the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, could in 2015 quite forthrightly state that “[m]ulticulturalism leads to parallel societies, and therefore multiculturalism remains a grand delusion.” The expectation was that “[t]hose who seek refuge with us also have to respect our laws and traditions, and learn to speak German.” Nor is Merkel alone in this opinion. In 2011, David Cameron, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, maintained that “[u]nder the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.” The variety of definition in play here concerns the distinction of cultural groupings and the capacity of these to maintain the distinction in terms of language, religion, mores, and even forms of justice. Multiculturalism, according to this logic, inhibits  integration of new citizens within wider society, and when understood against the backdrop of terrorism, might promote allegiance to a foreign ideology and find expression in local acts of terror.

The reading for this week begins with a consideration of the criticisms issued to multiculturalism – by liberalism. Erik Christensen considers the charge against multiculturalism found in Susan Okin’s “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?,” in light of the defence mounted by Will Kymlicka. This furthers the questions of culture and pluralism raised last week.

  • Christensen, Erik. “Revisiting Multiculturalism and Its Critics.” The Monist 95, no. 1 (2012): 33–48.

A second article from this special issue of The Monist outlines different models for approaching cultural diversity (especially in relation to black Americans): “cultural assimilation,” “transculturalism,” and “pluralism.”

  • Brooks, Roy L. “Cultural Diversity: It’s All about the Mainstream.” The Monist 95, no. 1 (2012): 17–32.

As a reaction against the weaknesses in multiculturalism, interculturalism has emerged as an alternate model. Some question whether this actually differs from multiculturalism, especially at a policy level. But Nasar Meer and Tariq Modood suggest four differences: first, interculturalism expects more than “coexistence,” in that it is “geared toward interaction and dialogue than multiculturalism. Second, interculturalism is “more yielding of synthesis than multiculturalism.” Third, interculturalism maintains “a stronger sense of the whole,” with a more intentional discourse on “societal cohesion and national citizenship.” Fourth, “where multiculturalism may be illiberal and relativistic, interculturalism is more likely to lead to criticism of illiberal cultural practices (as part of the process of intercultural dialogue).”

Multiculturalism and identity politics seem to be identified within the populist position. While one might understand a constellation of religious difference, migration and terror, and the reaction against such, the issues of gender, sexuality and indigenous rights seem equally under attack and with no differentiation in logic. It might be the case, however, that the concern with identity politics precedes those of a post 911 era. This might help explain the divisions evident within the evangelical vote. David Swartz offers an interesting commentary on this issue.

  • Swartz, David R. “Identity Politics and the Fragmenting of the 1970s Evangelical Left.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 21, no. 1 (2011): 81–120.

Turning to theological reflections on multiculturalism, many of the available resources focus on the issues of multicultural churches and especially multicultural worship. While a valuable discussion in terms of recognising apparent differences, sometimes it fails to address issues of power, gender, and cultural communication.

  • Frederiks, Martha. “World Christianity: A Training School for Multiculturalism.” Exchange 38, no. 1 (2009): 3–20.
  • Vélez Caro, Olga Consuelo. “Toward a Feminist Intercultural Theology,” in Feminist Intercultural Theology: Latina Explorations for a Just World, edited by Maria Pilar Aquini, and Maria Jose Rosado-Nunes, 248–64. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007.

Further Reading:

  • Lopez, Antonio, and Javier Prades, eds. Retrieving Origins and the Claim of Multiculturalism Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014.
  • Okin, Susan Moller. “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?,” in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?, edited by Susan Moller Okin, Azizah Y. Al-Hibri, Sander L. Gilman, Joseph Raz, Saskia Sassen, Cass R. Sunstein, and Yael Tamis, 9–24. Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • Padilla, Elaine, and Peter Phan, eds. Theology of Migration in the Abrahamic Religions Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  • Wood, Benjamin J. “Plurality and the Rule of Love: The Possibility of Augustinian Multiculturalism.” Political Theology 16, no. 1 (2015): 47–60.