Diana L. Eck (born 1945 in Bozeman, Montana) is a scholar of religious studies who is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, as well as a Master of Lowell House and the Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard. Among other works, she is the author of Banaras, City of Light, Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, and A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Became the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. At Harvard, she is in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, the Committee on the Study of Religion, and is also a member of the Faculty of Divinity. She has been reappointed the chair for the Committee on the Study of Religion, a position which she held from 1990 to 1998. In March 2012, Diana authored her book India: A Sacred Geography.
Raised as a Christian Methodist in Montana, Eck later embraced Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist beliefs about spirituality and now she describes her religious ideals as “interfaith” infrastructures. She has been connected with the World Council of Churches, and Harvard Divinity School.
Eck received her B.A. in Religious Studies from Smith College in 1967, and her M.A. in Indian History from The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1968. In 1976 she received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Comparative Study of Religion.
Since 1991, Diana Eck has also turned her attention to the United States and has been heading a research team at Harvard University to explore the new religious diversity of the United States and its meaning for the American pluralist experiment. The Pluralism Project has developed an affiliation with many other colleges and universities across the country and around the world. In 1994, Diana Eck and the Pluralism Project published “World Religions in Boston, A Guide to Communities and Resources” which introduces the many religious traditions and communities in Boston, Massachusetts – from Native Americans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, to Zoroastrians. In 1997, Diana Eck and the Pluralism Project published an educational multimedia CD Rom, On Common Ground: World Religions in America (Columbia University Press). This CD Rom received awards from Media & Methods, EdPress, and Educom.
Eck’s interest in other religions combined with her own ‘Christian pluralist’ faith led her to develop her concept of pluralism. Pluralism, for Eck, is the best response to the challenges of religious diversity. The term pluralism has been understood in numerous ways but Eck is clear to distinguish between pluralism and plurality – two words which are often used interchangeably and without distinction. Whilst plurality is the fact of diversity, pluralism is a response to that diversity – and in Eck’s account, it is an active, positive response.
Eck lays out three prevalent responses to religious diversity: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. An exclusivist approach takes the position that “my way is the only way”. An inclusivist might consider that there are grains of truth in other ways, but ultimately understands that “my way is the better way”. In contrast, a pluralist response seeks to find new ways of positively engaging with diversity, exploring differences whilst seeking common understanding. On the website for Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, Eck describes the four principles of pluralism:
- Pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity
- Pluralism is not tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference
- Pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments
- Pluralism is based on dialogue.
In 1996, Prof. Eck was appointed to a U.S. State Department Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad, a twenty-member commission charged with advising the Secretary of State on enhancing and protecting religious freedom in the overall context of human rights.
In 2003, Diana Eck received the Montana Humanities Award from the Governor of Montana
In 2007, Professor Eck was made a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the USA