Samuel L & Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture, Harvard University (Cambridge, USA) — The NanoWisdoms org


Today, in Cambridge, USA, His Highness the Aga Khan delivered the prestigious Samuel L & Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture which was followed with a conversation with Diana L. Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Member of the Faculty of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School, and Director, Pluralism Project at Harvard University.

In this seminal speech — undoubtedly one of the his most important and comprehensive — the Aga Khan highlighted the fundamental, the essential, challenges we all face, individually and institutionally, by virtue of our humanity and, as an astute observer of the human condition, par excellence, offered his insights to how we may overcome them within our local, regional, national and communal contexts so as to create more harmonious, hopeful and satisfying societies.

For a very long time, as you know, the term most often used in describing the search for human understanding was the word “tolerance.” In fact, it was one of the words that was used in 1955 text to describe one of the objectives of this Jodidi Lecture. In recent years our vocabulary in discussing this subject has evolved. One word that we have come to use more often in this regard is the word “pluralism.” And the other is the word “cosmopolitan.”

You may know that our AKDN Network, a decade ago, cooperated with the Government of Canada to create a new Global Centre for Pluralism based in Ottawa, designed to study more closely the conditions under which pluralist societies can thrive.

A pluralist, cosmopolitan society is a society which not only accepts difference, but actively seeks to understand it and to learn from it. In this perspective, diversity is not a burden to be endured, but an opportunity to be welcomed.

A cosmopolitan society regards the distinctive threads of our particular identities as elements that bring beauty to the larger social fabric. A cosmopolitan ethic accepts our ultimate moral responsibility to the whole of humanity, rather than absolutising a presumably exceptional part. Perhaps it is a natural condition of an insecure human race to seek security in a sense of superiority. But in a world where cultures increasingly inter-penetrate one another, a more confident and a more generous outlook is needed. What this means, perhaps above all else, is a readiness to participate in a true dialogue with diversity, not only in our personal relationships, but in institutional and international relationships also. But that takes work, and it takes patience. Above all, it implies a readiness to listen. What is needed, as the former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson has said, and I quote, is a readiness “to listen to your neighbour, even when you may not particularly like him.” Is that message clear? You listen to people you don’t like!

A thoughtful cosmopolitan ethic is something quite different from some attitudes that have become associated with the concept of globalisation in recent years. Too often, that term has been linked to an abstract universalism, perhaps well-meaning but often naïve. In emphasising all that the human race had in common, it was easy to depreciate the identities that differentiated us. We sometimes talked so much about how we are all alike that we neglected the wonderful ways in which we can be different.

Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.

Mark Elliott, Vice Provost,
Michele Lamont, Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs,
Ali Asani, Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program,
Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion,
Members of the Harvard Community,
Distinguished Guests:

Thank you for your warm welcome.

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to return to Harvard and this wonderful campus. And it is a particular pleasure to be welcomed here by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, two of the world’s leading forces for informed global understanding.


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