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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha Chair, Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, at the first session of the Conference on Pluralism and Development In Asia: Issues and Prospects – November 5th 2011

Let me begin with the obvious. Pluralism is fun. Uniformity is not only dull, it is also destructive. We all need variety in our lives, we need different interests to keep our minds active. We need to explore new idea, and we do this best through experiencing and engaging with a range of perspectives.

But, in celebrating variety, those of us who are innately fascinated by novelty must also realize that this has its risks. Conformity provides certainty, and we need to remember that security is perhaps the most important of all emotional needs for humans, or should I say for all living beings. And familiarity inculcates security. We should not then underestimate the strength of the need to live amongst those who share language and religion and customs.

Two factors have contributed to institutionalizing this thrust towards uniformity in the construction of nation states. The first is the strength of revealed religion. This is most apparent now with regard to Islam, where the urge for conformity seems particularly invasive of individuality. But we have to remember that this is not a new phenomenon, and the great intermingling of civilizations that took place through the explorations of post-Renaissance Europe was often fuelled by a thirst to convert.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2011
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