Out of Incorporation, Pluralism, By Lucia Hulsether

Religious pluralism is a contested discourse that has been subject to much criticism for its complicity with American economic and military imperialism. Yet liberal pluralism discourses have remained largely unmarred by critics of pluralism’s disciplinary power. This essay probes the source of communication breakdown between organizations that advocate pluralism—such as the Pluralism Project and the Interfaith Youth Core—and pluralism’s critical analysts in Ethnic Studies, Subaltern Studies, and Religious Studies. I theorize pluralism as both affective economy and philosophy of history, wherein the past is marked by discord and the future is a happy reconciliation under the auspices of the U.S. nation-state. I argue that when we accept as natural the terms on which mainstream pluralism discourse is constructed—the primacy of the nation-state, the concept of “world religions,” the possibility of redemption in linear time, the self-contained individual subject—other configurations of difference and power are rendered not only invisible, but even unthinkable. Critics who interrogate pluralism on the basis of its structural underpinnings and aim to “include,” instead of in terms of who is still excluded, are fully illegible to its liberal discourse. This illegibility of pluralism’s strongest critics raises again the question: If pluralism’s champions are still unable to fathom the concerns of their critics, of what “pluralism” do we speak?

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