cultural pluralism

[ kuhl-cher-uhl ploor-uh-liz-uhm ]
/ ˈkʌl tʃər əl ˈplʊər əˌlɪz əm /
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Definition of cultural pluralism

noun Sociology.
a condition in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences.
a doctrine that a society benefits from such a condition.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is cultural pluralism?

Cultural pluralism is a situation in which a minority group maintains its distinct culture while participating in a society with a separate, dominant culture.

Cultural pluralism occurs when a minority group retains its own culture and still participates in the bigger society. For example, while France is mostly populated by people who would consider themselves French, many people of different cultures also live there. If Italian  immigrants chose to speak Italian rather than French and continue to follow their Italian traditions while working and living in France, this would be an example of cultural pluralism.

For cultural pluralism to be present, there must be a dominant culture and the minority culture must participate in society while remaining distinct within it. A country that is made of many equally sized cultural groups that all live together is an example of multiculturalism, not cultural pluralism. Nor is it cultural pluralism when the minority culture comes into conflict with the dominant culture or is suppressed by the dominant group. With cultural pluralism, a cultural group integrates rather than assimilates into the dominant culture.

Why is cultural pluralism important?

The idea of cultural pluralism is credited to philosopher Horace Kallen who wrote about it in the 1910s. Kallen was specifically concerned about American Jews retaining their culture and religion in a country he believed aggressively encouraged minority groups to assimilate and become Americanized, that is, to adopt the customs and attitudes common to Americans. Kallen argued that Jews had found economic success in America that other immigrants hadn’t because they had managed to successfully coexist with the dominant culture while strongly maintaining their own Jewish culture and identity.

Kallen’s ideas of cultural pluralism were and continue to be both supported and criticized by other sociologists and philosophers. Some people argue that cultural pluralism is too simplistic  or encourages the cultural groups to avoid each other and remain separate from each other. People who support the idea of cultural pluralism often argue that it is the best way to promote diversity and avoid cultures coming in conflict with each other.

Did you know … ?

For most of his life, Horace Kallen’s idea of cultural pluralism was mostly known only in the world of sociological study and debate. More recently, the idea has become popular enough that international organizations such as the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, Canada, have been formed to encourage the spread of cultural pluralism.

What are real-life examples of cultural pluralism?

Cultural pluralism is still a popular idea in modern sociology that is a topic of debate between those who support the idea and those who do not.


What other words are related to cultural pluralism?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Cultural pluralism is when a minority cultural group is absorbed and becomes part of a more dominant cultural group.

How to use cultural pluralism in a sentence