Why There Is More Than One Reality: Introducing the Pluriverse

The pluriverse asks us to consider each other's fundamental differences and approach them with an open heart, empathy, and curiosity. How can we do so?

Feb 23, 2024By Maup van de Kerkhof, MSc Int'l Dev, Essayist & Researcher
introducing pluriverse multiple realities

 

To some extent, the world has always been globalized. However, contemporary technology has made us more interconnected than ever. While global policies define our dependence on concepts like “progress” and “universality,” implying that there is a single path for all and everyone on this earth, the concept of the “pluriverse” begs to differ. Or rather, it takes into account how we differ. And rightfully so. After all, can we really expect that the Hijra population in Nepal has the same needs, life objectives, desires, and moral virtues as a white man from Europe?

 

The Pluriverse: The Existence of More Than One World 

hijra dancer india
Hijra Dancer at Lumbini Pilgrim’s Park, Lumbin, Nepal. Photo taken by Adam Jones, 2014. Source: the author’s Flickr.

 

The fact that we differ is clear. However, diversity alone is not the focus of the pluriverse. In order to understand what the pluriverse means, we need to understand what our own beliefs and convictions encompass. Or rather, we need to understand that different beliefs and convictions scattered over different places and spaces are based on different metaphysical groundings.

 

In more academic terms, this is referred to as our ‘ontology,’ which relates to the kinds and structures of objects, properties, events, processes, and relations in every area of your own reality. In the case that you’re more familiar with the work of Aristotle, an ‘ontology’ is similar to his concept of ‘first philosophy.’

 

villanueva muslim christian kissing
El Beso by Manuel Crespo Villanueva, 1897. Source: Biblioteca Museu Victor Balaguer

 

So why does that matter in relation to the pluriverse? Let’s take the two most followed religions in our world to explain: Christianity and Islam. In Christianity, humans are created in the image of God, which grants them inherent dignity and a special status among created beings. The belief in the original sin of Adam and Eve’s disobedience suggests that humans are in a sort of ‘debt’ that can only be paid through redemption through Jesus Christ.

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On the other hand, in Islam, humans themselves are considered the pinnacle of creation. They are honored for their unique position as representatives of Allah on Earth. So while in Christianity humans are only humans because they are indebted to Jesus Christ, in Islam humans are humans because they are representations of Allah.

 

The Universe Versus the Pluriverse 

american progress john gast
American Progress by John Gast, 1872. Source: Library of Congress.

 

The basic idea of there being more than one world is clear: because of their ontological beliefs, different followers of the aforementioned religions will have a different sense of being in the world. The pluriverse stands as a testament to exactly these fundamental differences. Not merely the differences that are visible, quantifiable, and superficial, but rather the ones that are fundamental to the belief that such visibility and quantifiability are needed to inquire into our reality in the first place. The pluriverse represents a multifaceted nature of reality, which is unlike the hegemonic Western view that continues to shape the world according to universal principles.

 

When reasoning from this Western worldview, there is an emphasis on materialism, science, and unity in diversity. The belief is that we can understand anything as long as we try hard enough. Our current tools, or the tools that will arise later on this same track we’re on, are capable of explaining all complex phenomena through laws and principles. All entities, no matter how distinct they are, are ultimately connected through a shared existence that can be explained through these laws and principles.

 

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In the Laboratory by Henry Alexander, ca. 1885–87. Source: Met Museum.

 

The pluriverse, on the other hand, is relational in nature and emphasizes interconnectedness between all beings and elements. It therefore naturally aligns with ontologies that consider themselves relational. Relational worldviews take on a more holistic and inclusive understanding of existences, taking into account spiritual, cultural, and ecological dimensions as well.

 

While the ‘universe’ claims that reality can ultimately be explained, a pluriversal approach acknowledges the existence of diverse worldviews contributing to the tapestry of reality. Each worldview has its own significance and value, and acknowledging the interconnectedness between all worldviews allows for the connection of your own well-being with the well-being of other beings with other perspectives.

 

Sure, the universal perspective recognizes that Islam and Christianity are different. However, in politics, they are treated based on the very same principles. The pluriverse surpasses this, asking us to allow for different expressions and policies to arise from different bases.

 

Where Does the Pluriverse Come From? 

zapatistas territory sign
Zapatistas Territory Sign in Chiapas, Mexico by Matthew Rader, 2006. Source: The author’s website.

 

The universe and the pluriverse are not two distinct concepts that can co-exist simultaneously with each other. The concept of the pluriverse is a sort of critique that asks us to break out of the dogmatic convictions that are at the root of our world’s most pressing problems. 

 

While the cornerstones of the pluriverse have long been present in Indigenous ontologies worldwide, the concept only gained greater significance from the 21st century onwards. In contemporary philosophical discourse, postcolonial and decolonial thinkers have explored the pluriverse as a counterpoint to Western hegemony. It is a result of cooperation in the so-called Global South and the creation of movements that are against the unjustly claimed authority of the Western and Eurocentric worldview.

 

One of the most prominent groups when thinking and talking about the pluriverse are the Zapatistas, a revolutionary and autonomous leftist movement that is currently based in the southern region of Chiapas, a Mexican state. Key features of the movement revolve around building “a world where many worlds fit,” therefore focusing on Indigenous rights, peaceful resistance to neoliberalism, autonomy, and self-governance, as well as global solidarity and collaboration—amongst others.

 

The Pluriverse and (Human) Identity 

identity
Identity (Identitaet) by Valie Export, 1973. Source: MoMA.

 

Because of the acknowledgment of a myriad of interconnected worlds, the very fabric of our human identity also changes through the lens of the pluriverse. For example, we don’t have a fixed and isolated identity. Across cultures and dimensions, individuals find themselves embedded in a complex interplay of narratives, values, and communal bonds.

 

By exploring other interpretations of existence—whilst not necessarily fully comprehending them—a profound sense of belonging in relation to these interpretations arises. Because you start to understand your differences with the worldviews you encounter, you will be able to reflect on your own worldview and why it is unique in comparison to the others. An open heart, empathy, and curiosity are obligatory for engaging in such an exploration.

 

Ecological Implications and Other Beings 

peacock photo twilight
National bird wondering near Kerandi River in simliguda of Koraput at the time of Twilight by Shiv’s fotografia, 2015. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Not only does a pluriversal perspective ask us to address interpersonal differences on a fundamental level; it also embodies a profound shift in how we perceive and address ecological challenges. As we widen our lens to encompass the diverse worlds that coexist, a new paradigm emerges that transcends the boundaries of ecosystems and species. Because of this, the Western reductionist approach can be overcome.

 

What does that mean?

 

Mainly, it means that there cannot be an isolated focus on one single environmental issue. Again, the interconnectedness of all the ecological problems that are currently present has to be the focus. The theory is that there is an underlying cause to all of our environmental problems: the Eurocentric and universal worldview. By acknowledging every living being, from the smallest microorganism to the highest threes and the biggest whales, the interconnected web of life can flourish and resolve its problems.

 

As we delve into the ecological implications of the pluriverse, we discover a call to action that transcends the conventional boundaries of environmentalism. It invites us to envision a world where our stewardship extends beyond our immediate surroundings, encompassing the intricate connections that bind all life together.

 

The Pluriverse in Practice: Implications for Problem Resolution 

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Source: MoMA

 

The beauty of the pluriverse is that, in some form or way, it’s tangible. It is a concept that is based on the realities of many people in this world. While the killing, silencing, marginalization, and annihilation of other knowledge systems by the Eurocentric worldview (or, ‘epistemicide’) continues, it has never been a hundred percent successful—and never will be. The sheer scale of the oppression by the Western worldview informed the necessity for conceptualizing the pluriverse. However, it was already lived before it was ever conceptualized. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine possibilities for applying it in practice.

 

The Climate Crisis and Indigenous People 

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Indigenous march in Brazil to demand land protection. Source: Al Jazeera.

 

For starters, the pluriverse emerges as a catalyst for inclusivity. It calls upon us to recognize that our differences are not divisional steps on a hierarchical ladder. Rather, they are the cornerstones of our shared home. By doing so, new possibilities emerge.

 

Take, for example, the climate crisis. Current solutions are technocratic and based on market mechanisms. However, whose technology is allowed to be part of these ‘technocratic’ solutions? As expected, the ones that are found in the universal reductionist approach. This means that the 5% of people who protect 80% of the biodiversity on earth are not even recognized for having any valuable insight regarding a solution. Indeed, Indigenous people make up 5% of our world’s population, yet protect by far the most biodiversity than any other group will ever be able to do. Since our current solutions are rooted in Eurocentric interpretations, Indigenous people are in no form or way recognized for their efforts; let alone accommodated through funding. In fact, less than two percent of global climate finance reaches small farmers and Indigenous Peoples.

 

It’s not hard to see that this can be overcome if our policies are designed in a more pluriversal manner. If so, worldviews aren’t marginalized but equally respected and acknowledged, allowing for a more adequate response to the problems that affect us all.

 

The Necessity of the Pluriverse

araucanian man graveyard
Araucanian man in a graveyard in rural Chile, in the 1920s by Harriet Chalmers Adams, 1922. Source: National Geographic.

 

It’s no secret that the concept of the ‘pluriverse’ is in stark opposition to the current processes that shape many policies and actions worldwide. The pluriverse asks us to overcome polarization by acknowledging our interconnectedness. It asks one to accept that someone else’s value judgment may be different from yours.

 

Now, just acknowledging that we are interconnected with each other and other beings isn’t all that there is to it. Rather, respecting our differences and expressing empathy and curiosity towards these differences are really at the heart of the pluriverse. Only then can the tapestry of life be designed equally by each and every worldview.

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By Maup van de KerkhofMSc Int'l Dev, Essayist & ResearcherThrough his studies and volunteering experiences, Maup has worked with many different cultural groups in various countries. Understanding a distant culture gives him a deep satisfaction, something which he tries to pursue throughout his professional life. He holds an MSc in International Development with a specialization in Inclusive Innovation and Communication. Additionally, he is interdisciplinary trained in anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and political sciences. Maup is also an essayist and commissioning editor, where he commissions work relating to decolonizing the processes and organizations active in the global community like the UN or WTO.