We live in a world of increasing diversity.
Our Canadian work and community spaces reveal ethnic and cultural diversity. We increasingly respect and even celebrate that diversity in the public square. But what about the diversity of religious, spiritual, or non-religious worldviews? What do we know about that kind of diversity, and the beliefs and values associated with it? Canadians may well have common values but a lack of awareness of the worldview groundings of those values can lead to misunderstandings, tensions, and even the silencing of certain worldview voices. Is it possible to enhance worldview literacy to add even more richness to the diversity in this country?
An Erasmus+ funded project has unfolded in the European context that may provide some guidance and direction here. Entitled “Sharing Worldviews: Learning in Encounters for Common Values in Diversity”, it seeks to engage diverse worldview voices through learning encounters. Its goal is to equip citizens with the ability to engage in dialogue in mutual respect of different worldviews. It seeks to overcome tensions that often flare up in the public square because of this diversity. Specifically, it aims to engage students early in the learning process in the classroom, encourage international collaborations, create an online platform to promote religious literacy, or worldview literacy as it is understood in many parts of Europe, and help students and teachers encounter the religious, spiritual, and non-religious other.
So, why might this be important?
Ninian Smart, a pioneer in the development of religious studies, stated:
“An educated person should know about and have a feel for many things, but perhaps the most important is to have an understanding of some of the chief worldviews which have shaped and are now shaping human culture and action” (Worldviews, 1983).
Smart recognized that much can be learned from the study of worldviews and how they shape thinking and behaviours. The German philologist Max Müller said that:
“he who knows one, knows none.”
Müller recognized that it is only in our encounters with others that we come to know ourselves – our worldviews – in greater depth.
Understanding culture beyond food and clothing
An episode of CBC’s The Nature of Things entitled “True Survivors”, noted that each culture has a view of the world – a worldview – that goes far beyond food and clothing. That worldview asks: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be alive? What is our place in the world? These are existential concerns, and we are at the juncture where they become globally important.
We often celebrate our diversity in Canada in festive displays of distinctive ethnic food and clothing. This is an excellent way to bring diverse people together as a beginning initiative. But it is important for us to also get beyond the superficial, for issues facing us today warrant deeper engagement. What can a greater understanding of worldview diversity contribute to the richness of Canada, or any other country?
Moving beyond fear to engagement
Diversity is the essence of the world that we inhabit. We see it on vivid display in nature – and marvel at its beauty. Our appreciation of the diversity of nature is also enhanced when we better understand and experience it directly. And what of human diversity? When we become more aware of it, we also come to better understand and appreciate it, including the worldview diversity that accompanies it. But we all too often fear what we do not know. Therefore, enhancing knowledge and awareness of worldview diversity becomes an important step in overcoming that fear.
A deeper understanding of the religious, spiritual, or non-religious other, and their deepest existential concerns – how to live well, what it means to be human, and more – becomes necessary as we face the challenges of today and tomorrow. Might a “Sharing Worldviews” approach enhance public understanding, and in turn make us all the richer?