The Politics of Identity

“Throughout history until very recently, most people for most of their lives were surrounded by others with whom they shared a faith, a tradition, a way of life, a set of rituals and narratives of memory and hope. Under such circumstances it was possible to believe that our truth was the only truth; our way the only way. Outsiders were few; dissidents fewer still. That is not our situation today. We live in the conscious presence of difference. In the street, at work and on the television screen we constantly encounter cultures whose ideas and ideals are unlike ours. That can be experienced as a profound threat to identity. One of the great transformations from the twentieth to the twenty-first centuries is that whereas the former was dominated by the politics of ideology, we are now entering an age of the politics of identity. That is why religion has emerged, after a long eclipse, to become so powerful a presence on the world stage, because religion is one of the great answers to the question of identity. But that, too, is why we face danger. Identity divides. The very process of creating an ‘Us’ involves creating a ‘Them’ – the people not like us. In the very process of creating community within their borders, religions can create conflict across those borders.”

The Dignity of Difference, Prologue, p. 9