Thursday, June 7, 2018

Lori G. Beaman's "Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity"

Lori G. Beaman is the Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change, Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, and the Principal Investigator of the Religion and Diversity Project, a thirty-seven-member international research team whose focus is religion and diversity. She is the co-editor of Constructions of Self and Other in Yoga, Travel, and Tourism: A Journey to Elsewhere (with Sonia Sikka), Atheist Identities: Spaces and Social Contexts (with Steven Tomlins), and Varieties of Religious Establishment (with Winnifred Fallers Sullivan).

Beaman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity, and reported the following:
English writer Ford Madox Ford once said if you “Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” Taking this invitation and directive to heart, I (rather serendipitously) discover that the very first word on page 99 of Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity happens to be Respect, with a capital ‘R.’ There is perhaps no word (both as a noun and a verb), more foundational to my emergent work on deep equality than the notion of respect.

Deep Equality is my rather lengthy reaction to two things: law’s dominance of the notion of equality and the pervasiveness of ‘tolerance’ and ‘reasonable accommodation’ as responses to diversity. Drawing from a range of sources including interviews, novels and films, I argue that the key to living well together is deep equality, and the elements of this are to be found in everyday interactions between people which are characterized by a number of elements, including respect. I approach this from an interdisciplinary standpoint: I am trained in philosophy, law and sociology and I draw from numerous other fields of study, including sociobiology and game theory, to construct my arguments.

Page 99 is in large measure representative of the strategy of the book: using short vignettes I trace the elements of deep equality that are evidenced by those stories. Fortuitously, page 99 includes both a vignette and mentions caring, humour, forgiveness, and generosity as additional elements of deep equality. In the process of sorting out how to live well together the focus becomes similarity—not sameness (i.e. everyone is really the same) and universality, and not difference (insisting on the peculiarity of everyone). This is a tricky balance particularly when religion is thrown into the mix. Consider this quote from page 99: “Some people told stories of protectiveness and caring that were manifested not in a paternalistic way, but as extensions of the agonistic process that creates a shared place of relationship in the everyday”. When religious difference is at the center of a particular conflict or debate, the agonistic process requires a relinquishment ‘rightness’ in order to achieve harmony. Given that the root word agon (‘struggle’ or ‘contest’ from the classical Greek) implies an inherent respect for all actors in a negotiation, agonistic respect becomes the ground upon which difference (religious or otherwise) can be a fertile space for human interaction and flourishing.
Learn more about Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue