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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

What Difference Does the Difference Make? Horace Kallen, Alain Locke, and the Development of Cultural Pluralism in America
by Weinfeld, David, Ph.D., New York University, 2014, 298; 3635314
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation presents the biography of an idea, cultural pluralism-- the antecedent to modern multiculturalism--as told through the unlikely friendship of the two American philosophers who invented the term, Horace Kallen (1882-1974) and Alain Locke (1885-1954). Kallen, the German-born son of an Orthodox rabbi, claimed to have coined the term "cultural pluralism" in conversations with the African-American Locke at Harvard and Oxford in 1906-1908. Kallen would become a secular Zionist leader in the United States, while Locke would lead his own culturally pluralist project, the Harlem Renaissance.

Relying on largely unexamined archival material, this narrative of friendship between Kallen and Locke explores how cultural pluralism functioned both as an abstract concept and as a lived experience. That friendship serves as a microcosm of the complex relationship between Jews and Blacks in the United States, and illuminates the often-overlooked contribution of intellectual life in establishing a multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan community. Put simply, cultural pluralism is the view that different ethnic groups can persist, co-exist, and thrive in a single country, all the while enriching each other and the nation as a whole. But both Kallen and Locke were philosophical pragmatists influenced by William James. To them, cultural pluralism was not an abstract idea, but a practice they employed and experienced when interacting with diverse groups of thinkers.

For intellectuals in the US, cultural pluralism was less a means to ethnic solidarity than it was a form of education, learning by exposure to other peoples. Cultural pluralism was not simply about preserving ancestral heritage, but about building something new by forging multi-ethnic and interreligious friendships, networks, and intellectual communities. Crucially, cultural pluralism was an elite project. It was not geared to masses of immigrants and African-Americans but to the talented few who interacted with each other in transnational intellectual settings like Harvard and Oxford. Kallen and Locke were similarly elitist in their efforts to create social harmony out of diversity. Their lived experience of cultural pluralism shaped their written expressions of the philosophy, which set the tone for debates on multiculturalism that still rage across the globe.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Diner, Hasia, Bender, Thomas
Commitee: Engel, David, Hodes, Martha, Holloway, Jonathan
School: New York University
Department: Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, American history, Judaic studies
Keywords: Black-Jewish relations, Cultural pluralism, Horace meyer, Intellectual history, Kallen, Horace, Leroy, Alain, Locke, Alain, Pragmatism
Publication Number: 3635314
ISBN: 978-1-321-16302-5
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