Cultural pluralism is a term used to describe the cohabitation of different cultures in the same geographical space.
Despite living alongside one another, each culture maintains its own distinct identity. Unlike multiculturalism, cultural pluralism has one dominant culture. This dominant culture does not place pressure on minorities to assimilate.
Cultural pluralism encourages respect and appreciation for the different cultural traditions and customs within a society. It also acknowledges the rights of individuals to maintain their own cultural identity.
In a pluralistic society, people of different cultural backgrounds can live and work together, while still retaining their unique identities. This can lead to a more vibrant and dynamic society, as different cultures share their customs and traditions with others.
Examples of Cultural Pluralism
1. The United States
The United States is the best example of cultural pluralism, besides being the society to describe which the term cultural pluralism was first used.
America has a large and diverse population in which almost every ethnicity and linguistic community on earth is represented.
Despite this, there exists a dominant American culture underscored by certain values which are considered as distinctly American. The most distinguishing features of American culture are a preeminent position of exclusively American sports such as American football, baseball, and basketball in public life, distinctive American art forms such as Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country, and Jazz music and so on.
Additionally, public life and key leadership positions in business continue to be occupied by white anglo-saxon protestants (WASPs).
By contrast, modern Britain is considered multicultural, as continued migration has altered both its demographic profile and its cultural essence (Ashcroft & Bevir, 2017).
Canada is a country that is often cited as an example of cultural pluralism. This is due in large part to the fact that Canada is home to a diverse range of cultures and ethnic groups.
In addition, the government of Canada has implemented policies and programs that are designed to promote cultural inclusion and respect for cultural diversity.
The great Vancouver area, for example, has suburbs that are clusters of different ethnic groups. To the south, in Richmond, streets have a great deal of residents from China and Hong Kong, with services in most shops offered in Mandarin Chinese. To the South-East, in Surrey, there is a significant Indian population. To the North is a significant caucasian population.
This pattern is reflected in most major cities in Canada.
3. Montreal (Quebec)
Quebec is a province located in eastern Canada having as its capital Canada’s second most populous city, Montreal. Almost 78% of the population of Quebec identifies as belonging to French ancestry and speak French as their first language.
French is also the only official language in Quebec.
Despite the presence of a preponderant Francophone culture, Quebec is home to people of a large number of ethnicities including East Asians, South Asians, Latin Americans, Arabs, and Africans.
There is an expectation that migrants to Montreal should learn French, but there is no obligation to do so. All cultures, languages, and religions are free to practice their customs and traditions without having assimilate.
Australia is home to a diverse range of cultures and ethnic groups, especially in the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney.
Australia’s biggest ethnic groups are Anglo-Australian, Indian, and Chinese-Australian. Over 700,000 Australian residents were born in India and 650,000 were born in China.
Furthermore, thanks to a large influx of Vietnamese people following the Vietnam war, the nation has a substantial Vietnamese population.
In addition, the government of Australia aims to promote cultural inclusion and respect for cultural diversity. For example, the Australian government has established a number of programs that provide funding for community initiatives that promote social cohesion and intercultural understanding.
These programs include the National Community Capacity Building Program and the National Multicultural Festival Grants Program.
India is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries in the world. Ethnologue, a leading research publication on linguistics published from the United States recognizes India as being home to 456 languages – the 4th-largest number in the world (Ethnologue, 2019).
India is also home to almost all major religions of the world, besides being the birthplace of 4 major world religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.
Other major world religions such as Islam and Chirtianity arrived in India soon after they were founded in the 1st and 7th centuries CE respectively.
Despite this diversity, there exists a distinct Indian culture. This has been heavily influenced by Hinduism. Hinduism is the oldest religion on the Indian subcontinent, and is followed by nearly 80% of the Indian population.
While every other religious community is encuraged to maintain their own distinct religious identity and guaranteed complete constitutional freedom to do so, it is inevitable that they be influenced by the majority religion.
Similarly, the Hindi language is the most widely spoken language in India, and it occupies a distinct position among the hundreds of other languages spoken in India.
The presence of dominant community and culture, with freedom for minorities to maintain their distinct identities make India an example of cultural pluralism rather than multiculturalism.
6. The Amish Community
The Amish are a Chritisan religious community who migrated from Switzerland and Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries to American and settled in the North Eastern United States and South-Eastern Canada.
The Amish believe in living a life free of modern conveninences such as electricity, motorized vehicles, internet etc.
As a result they do not interact very often with people outside their community, and are often described as being ‘frozen in time’ (Heritagpedia, 2022). Additionally, they speak their own language, a dialect of German, known as Pennsylvania Dutch.
The Amish are not expected by the American or Canadian states to assimilate within their respective national cultures or use the English or French languages. They are allowed to follow their own customs and their own language.
Germany is the largest economy in Europe and is often called its economic engine. For this reason, it attracts a large number of migrants from east Europe, Turkey, West Asia, and Africa.
Among them, Turks are the largest ethnic immigrant group in Germany, forming the largest Turkish speaking population outside of Turkey.
Nearly all Turkish immigrants to Turkey are Muslims. Despite this wide kaliedoscopic aasotment of the cultures, religions, and languages, Germany remains a culturally pluralistic society in which all cultures are encouraged to retain their individual identity, while the Geman nation itself strongly identifies with a dominant German culture (Schahner, 2016).
Switzerland has 4 official languages – German, French, Italian, and Romansh, each representing the major ethno-linguistic groups that make up Switzerland.
However, the dominant ethnic group are the Germans, who make up about 62% of the Swiss population. Additionally, the country is also divided among various Christian denominations.
The country recognizes the identity and independence of each linguistic and religious denomination, with an understanding that the German-speaking populations constitute the dominant community and culture in the country (Mayer, 1951).
Madinah was an ancient city located in present-day Saudi Arabia. The city was founded by the tribe of Quraysh in the 6th century CE, and it soon became an important center of trade and commerce.
The city was a majority Islamic city but had a fledgling Christian population.
It was also the home of the prophet Mohammad. The prophet actively cultivated positive relationships with Christians, promising them protection, safety, and the right to practice their religion.
According to Mohammad, Christians were ‘people of the book’, so he had a positive opinion of them. He promised them that “no bishop, monk or church guard shall be removed from his position.”
10. New York City
New York City is home to more than 8 million people, making it one of the most populous cities in the world and full of cultural varaition. It is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with residents coming from every corner of our planet. As a result, New York City is a prime example of cultural pluralism.
Chinatown is perhaps the best-known ethnic enclave, but there are also vibrant Italian, Irish, Jewish, and Puerto Rican communities. Each of these neighborhoods has its own unique history and culture, and they all contribute to the rich tapestry of New York City life.
New Yorkers are proud of their culture and are quick to share it with others. This openness to different cultures makes New York City a unique and special place to live.
Related Concept: Cultural Relativism
Cultural pluralism is a reality in many parts of the world. It is a result of the increasing global interconnectedness that has made it possible for people from all corners of the world to come into contact with one another. This exposure to different cultures can lead to a greater understanding and appreciation for the richness and diversity of the human experience.
Key examples of cultural pluralism include the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and Madinah. Each of these places has a unique history and culture that has been shaped by the presence of many different groups.
Ashcroft, R.T. and Bevir, M. (2017) Multiculturalism in contemporary Britain: policy, law and theory Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 21(1), 1-21.
(May, 2019) What countries have the most languages Ethnolgue https://www.ethnologue.com/guides/countries-most-languages
Feichtinger, J. and Cohen, G.B. (2016) Understanding Multiculturalism: The Habsburg Central European Experience Berghahn Books
Mayer, K. (1951). Cultural pluralism and linguistic equilibrium in Switzerland. American Sociological Review, 16(2), 157–163. https://doi.org/10.2307/2087688
Ratner, S. (1984). Horace M. Kallen and Cultural Pluralism. Modern Judaism, 4(2), 185–200. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1396461
Schachner, M.K. (2016) From equality and inclusion to cultural pluralism – Evolution and effects of cultural diversity perspectives in schools European Journal of Developmental Psychology 16(1), 1-17.
(April, 2022) The World of Amish Crafts – A little known slice of American history Heritagepedia https://heritagepedia.com/2022/04/14/the-world-of-amish-crafts-a-little-known-slice-of-american-heritage/
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.