Multiculturalism: a Christian retrieval

“Is it possible for a society marked by deep ethnic and religious diversity to identify a workable framework for deep diversity which does justice to all communities?”

Answering this question is the burden of Jonathan Chaplin’s recent Theos booklet entitled ‘Multiculturalism: a Christian retrieval’. In less than a hundred pages, Jonathan explains what multiculturalism is and what it is interpreted to be, and discusses how, and why, Christians can and should retrieve it. His argument is more than a liberal plea for a thin conception of ‘tolerance’, and is predicated on an affirmation of multicultural justice rooted in concrete policies and a deeper definition of shared citizenship.

CTC and PEN was pleased to welcome Jonathan Chaplin to East London recently for a seminar to discuss his essay with local clergy and members of the PEN Network. We met at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre, the UK headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service, in Wapping. A diverse group including academics, parish clergy, community organisers and friends of CTC listened as Jonathan outlined his argument and put forward the case for a Christian vision of multiculturalism.

The seminar was received well, and generated a great deal of discussion. Clergy working in the very diverse neighbourhoods of inner-city London reflected on how they felt out of place when returning to predominantly white British areas when on holiday or conference. Different understandings of secularism, and the appropriateness of religious language when negotiating divergent identities, were debated and the legitimacy of different uses of the word ‘multiculturalism’ assessed. Afterwards, those attending said how valuable it had been to have the space to think about and discuss this topic away from the day-to-day practice of mission and ministry in a multicultural, multiethnic context.

The success of this seminar format, and the fruitfulness of the discussion, means that CTC and PEN will be exploring the possibility of making this a more regular programme. If you’d like more details of future events like this, please contact the PEN administrator, Susanne Mitchell, on pen(at)theology-centre.org.

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