Cultural pluralism is a sociological term that means the existence of multiple small cultures side by side with a dominant culture in a particular society.
A culturally pluralistic society allows all the existing small cultures to retain their independent existence, provided these cultures are consistent with the values and laws of the wider society. In such societies, there is a strong tendency for integration of all cultures rather than cultural assimilation.
Cultural pluralism is often interchangeably used as multiculturalism. But, these two sociological terms are different from each other.
Countries or societies are either homogeneous (one culture) or heterogeneous (multiple cultures). The examples of homogeneous societies are Israel, South Korea, Japan, etc.; and the heterogeneous societies are the United States, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, etc.
Not all heterogeneous societies are culturally pluralistic societies. For a society to be culturally pluralistic; there should be one dominant culture with the independent existence of all the small cultures.
In case, a society has no dominant culture and there is a sense of competition among all the existing cultures for domination; this phenomenon is called multiculturalism, not cultural pluralism.
Hence, in a culturally pluralistic society, all the cultures coexist; while in a multicultural society, there is a sense of competition among all the existing cultures.
For example, Saudi Arabia is a multicultural country. It hosts multiple small cultures but it does not allow these cultures to have their independent existence. While a lot of South Asian diaspora bring their cultures to KSA, their cultures are suppressed in Saudi Arabia. Thus, all the diaspora in Saudi Arabia practices KSA’s culture. Thus, Saudi Arabia can be a multicultural country but not culturally pluralistic.
Examples of Cultural Pluralism
If we go down in the history, we find the perfect example of cultural pluralism in the Islamic State of Madinah. In Madinah, there were different tribes of Muslims, Christians, and Jews that lived side by side. Muslim culture was the dominant culture, and other cultures were free to practice their religion and lifestyle without any trouble. All those diverse cultures mutually coexisted in Madina. Hence, Islam fully advocates and supports cultural pluralism in society.
Today, the concentration of specific ethnic groups like ‘China Town’ in multiple countries, or ‘Little Italy’ in New York city are some perfect examples of cultural pluralism.
Moreover, many states like the United States, United Kingdom, India, etc. are pluralistic. These countries are famous for cultural diversity. Multiple cultures coexist side by side with the dominant culture in these countries.
However, incidents of destroying mosques (i.e. including Babri Masjid with others) and persecution of Muslims through discriminatory laws in India testify that India is receding away from cultural pluralism. Similarly, intermittent persecution of black people in the United States and its controversial laws banning Muslims from entering the USA also highlight the same fact.
In short, the perfect example of cultural pluralism is hard to find today. In every country, we can witness an ongoing rift or clashes between cultures.