In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Multiculturalism

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Theories of Multiculturalism
  • Anthologies
  • Nationalism and Self-Determination
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Secularism and Religious Diversity
  • Race, Racism, and Racial Identity
  • Toleration, Harm, and the Limits of Multicultural Accommodation
  • Multiculturalism and Gender Equality
  • Citizenship, Solidarity, and Social Cohesion
  • American Multiculturalism
  • Multiculturalism in Comparative Perspective
  • Critical and Alternative Perspectives
  • White Identity and Majority Cultural Rights

Philosophy Multiculturalism
Michael Murphy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0361


Multiculturalism is a branch of political philosophy that explores the relationship between cultural diversity and human freedom and well-being, while offering justifications for accommodating the claims of cultural minorities in legal and political institutions and public policies. Multiculturalism is an umbrella term that covers several distinct subliteratures, including the study of identity politics, the politics of recognition, national self-determination and the politics of multinational citizenship, secularism and religious diversity, and the politics of indigeneity. Within these distinct literatures there are many different theories of multicultural accommodation, each with its own unique set of assumptions, argumentative strategies, and guiding normative principles, yet most of these theories converge around a common set of questions and concerns. Perhaps the most fundamental question is which social groups are included in the term “cultural minority”? While some define this term very broadly, most theorists focus their attention on ethnocultural groups such as immigrants and historical linguistic minorities; ethnonational groups, including stateless nations and indigenous peoples; religious minorities, such as European Muslims or North American Hasidim; and, to a somewhat lesser extent, racial minorities such as African Americans. Multiculturalists also seek to understand the nature of the demands these different groups make on the state, and what specific changes in law, the configuration of public institutions, or the distribution of rights and resources are critical to addressing their concerns. For example, linguistic and religious minorities might seek the right to operate their own separate religious schools with public funding, immigrant minorities may seek exemptions from certain laws or regulations (e.g., dress codes) that inhibit their participation in public institutions, while stateless nations and indigenous peoples frequently demand rights to territory and self-government. While there is near-universal agreement among multiculturalists that states should accommodate at least some of the demands of cultural minorities, they frequently disagree when it comes to determining the precise nature of that accommodation and how it can be justified in moral terms. Multiculturalists also differ profoundly when it comes to striking a balance between minority rights and traditional liberal concerns for freedom, equality, and fundamental individual rights (especially the rights of women and minors), and in terms of how they address the impact of multicultural policies on citizenship, social cohesion, and national unity. Although multiculturalism encompasses its own distinct universe of concerns, in many ways it grapples with age-old philosophical questions such as the nature of justice, the limits of liberal toleration, the significance of the secular-religious divide, and the appropriate division between the spheres of public and private life. In a world where issues of religious, ethnic, and ethnonational diversity continue to be a major source of public and political concern, multicultural political philosophy comprises an invaluable source both of moral and practical guidance.

General Works

This category includes general introductions to multiculturalism (Crowder 2013, Murphy 2012), collections of influential essays by single authors (Kymlicka 2001, Tully 2008), and other works that, while not aiming to be comprehensive theories of multiculturalism, nevertheless examine questions of diversity through a distinctive theoretical lens, such as the politics of difference (Young 1990), diverse constitutionalism (Tully 1995), even-handed justice (Carens 2000), identity claims (Eisenberg 2009), deliberative democracy (Festenstein 2005), or recognition (Modood 2013).

  • Carens, Joseph H. Culture, Citizenship, and Community: A Contextual Exploration of Justice as Evenhandedness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1093/0198297688.001.0001

    Defends the merits of a case- and context-sensitive approach to cultural justice that incorporates a state policy of evenhandedness (as opposed to a hands-off policy of liberal neutrality) toward cultural-minority claims. Includes very insightful analyses of nationalism, immigration and language policy, religious difference, and indigenous rights.

  • Crowder, George. Theories of Multiculturalism: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013.

    A good overview and analysis of the main thinkers on the different sides of the multiculturalism debates. Also articulates a contextual approach to questions of cultural accommodation that is inspired by the value pluralism of Isaiah Berlin.

  • Eisenberg, Avigail. Reasons of Identity: A Normative Guide to the Political and Legal Assessment of Identity Claims. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199291304.001.0001

    Examines the prospects and perils of using identity-based justifications for accommodating minority demands. Of interest both to pure theorists and those looking for practical insights into how courts, legislatures, and other public institutions can address questions of religious, indigenous, gender, and sexual identity in a coherent and equitable manner.

  • Festenstein, Matthew. Negotiating Diversity: Liberalism, Democracy & Cultural Difference. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2005.

    A deliberative approach to the politics of cultural diversity that offers a highly informative, and balanced, critical engagement with some of the more influential theories of multicultural accommodation.

  • Kymlicka, Will. Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Citizenship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/0199240981.001.0001

    Brings together some of Kymlicka’s most influential essays on immigrant multiculturalism, indigenous rights, nationalism, race relations, American multiculturalism, and cosmopolitanism, alongside a response to critics of his earlier work in Multicultural Citizenship (Kymlicka 1995, cited in Theories of Multiculturalism).

  • Modood, Tariq. Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013.

    An intriguing defense of multiculturalism as a mode of integration that promotes equality between the members of minority and majority cultures. Also seeks to move questions of immigrant-driven diversity and the secular-religious divide more squarely to the center of multicultural theory, focusing in particular on the accommodation and integration of Muslim migrants in Europe.

  • Murphy, Michael. Multiculturalism: A Critical Introduction. Routledge Contemporary Political Philosophy. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2012.

    A highly accessible introduction that critically examines the work of many of the most influential champions and critics of multiculturalism, while defending a contextualist and civic approach to multicultural accommodation. Includes chapters on toleration and the rights of internal minorities, the impact of multicultural policies on citizenship and social cohesion, the role of culture and cultural relativism in multicultural theory, and a useful typology of multicultural policies.

  • Tully, James. Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity. John Robert Seeley Lectures. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139170888

    Rejecting the Eurocentric biases of modern liberal constitutionalism, Tully defends a philosophy and practice of diverse constitutionalism wherein participants seek agreement on just terms of political association by means of an intercultural dialogue that recognizes and respects their culturally diverse ways of being and acting in the world. Devotes particular attention to the struggles of indigenous peoples for land rights and self-determination.

  • Tully, James. Public Philosophy in a New Key. Vol. 1, Democracy and Civic Freedom. Ideas in Context 93. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790744

    Part of a two-volume work presenting Tully’s distinctive approach to legal and political theory. Vol. 1 contains several first-rate chapters on identity politics, indigenous self-determination, and multinational democracies.

  • Young, Iris Marion. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

    In this classic work, Young critiques the predominant distributive conception of liberal justice for its failure to adequately address the plight of cultural minorities and other marginalized social groups. Her own alternative conception of justice is informed by a politics of difference that seeks to combat majority oppression and domination via democratic inclusion and group-differentiated rights and social policies.

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