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image of Philosophia Reformata

The starting point of this article is the fact that, as the Dutch-American political scientist Arend Lijphart has observed, ‘[m]ost experts on divided societies and constitutional engineering broadly agree that deep societal divisions pose a grave problem for democracy, and that it is therefore generally more difficult to establish and maintain democratic government in divided than in homogeneous countries.’2 If this is true it does not bode well for democracy, since to a certain extent all countries are multicultural societies today. Fortunately, therefore, the Human Development Report 2004, published for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — after having carefully examined it — rejects this claim. According to the Report, cultural differences can indeed lead to social and political conflict, but only if the state does not recognize and accommodate the diverse ethnicities, religions, languages, and values in a particular country. Active multicultural policies are required to achieve this and to thereby make democracy viable in divided societies.3 This article consists of four sections. I will begin by setting out the concept of multicultural democracy, as advocated by the UNDP, in general. Next, I will specifically deal with the topic of church and state, which is both at the heart of this concept and traditionally of particular interest to Christian Philosophy. Section three looks at the Reformed contribution to the topic of church and state in religiously plural societies in the past. Finally, section four raises the question how the notion of pluriform democracy, as developed by Reformed thinkers and put into practice in the Netherlands during the better part of the twentieth century, relates to the concept of multicultural democracy. As the subtitle already indicates, the article is very much meant to serve as a working paper, not as the final word on this complex issue. For example, an earlier version of it was presented during the Assembly of the Reformed Ecumenical Council, held in Utrecht, Netherlands, from 12-26 July 2005.4 Although this Assembly had at its disposal a 92-page report on ‘Church, State and the Kingdom of God’, it was unable to reach any final conclusions, and decided to continue its discussion of the topic during the next Assembly in 2009.


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