The best books on multiculturalism and the role of culture in our lives

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm intrigued by boundaries and the relationships between different ideologies, or isms. In 1992, I joined the European Project at The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. This was a fascinating group of people from Israel, Palestine, and Germany who studied the connections between Europe and the Middle East. Then I opened a new field of studies that continues to engage me: multiculturalism. In my books and articles (most recent: The Republic, Secularism and Security: France versus the Burqa and the Niqab), I examine the extent to which democracy may interfere in the cultural affairs of minorities within democracy, how to find a balance between individual rights and group rights, and whether liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable. 


I wrote...

Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism: Liberalism, Culture and Coercion

By Raphael Cohen-Almagor,

Book cover of Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism: Liberalism, Culture and Coercion

What is my book about?

This is one of my major books, the product of ten years of research and thinking. Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism addresses three questions: whether multiculturalism is bad for democracy, whether multiculturalism is bad for women, and whether multiculturalism contributes to terrorism. The research was quite challenging, tackling issues such as female circumcision, male circumcision, denial of education to women and children, sanctioning community members who wish to opt out, and discrimination against minorities in France and Israel. The book aims to examine whether liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable, and what are the limits of liberal democratic interventions in illiberal affairs of minority cultures within democracy.  It is argued that liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable if a fair balance is struck between individual rights and group rights.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Liberalism, Community, and Culture

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

Studying at Oxford, I was surprised that quite a few of my lecturers, including Ronald Dworkin and Jerry Cohen, hardly ever discussed the importance of culture in our lives. As someone who believes in the motto Know from where you are coming in order to know where you are going, I do not underestimate the power of culture, religion, and tradition in shaping communities. My library research discovered the excellent DPhil dissertation that Kymlicka wrote while he was in Oxford. This dissertation was a fresh air for me, accentuating the need to take culture seriously. Kymlicka reshaped his dissertation into this book which I regard as one of his very best books. Kymlicka presents the liberal view about the nature and value of community culture and bridges between liberalism and multiculturalism. I share this view and promote it in my own studies.

Kymlicka and I later cooperated in writing together an essay that was published in two forums. I recently attended a conference that celebrated another of his books, Multicultural Citizenship.

By Will Kymlicka,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liberalism, Community, and Culture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Liberalism is often described as a theory about the proper relationship between the individual and the state, but it also contains a broader account of the relationship between the individual and society. This book presents the liberal view about the nature and value of community and culture in an unusually explicit and systematic way, and links it to more familiar liberal views on individual rights and state neutrality.


Book cover of Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

I met Bhikhu Parekh when I arrived at the University of Hull in 2008. Bhikhu and I share many common interests and we interact constantly on a number of projects. Bhikhu Parekh wrote many important books and essays, and Rethinking Multiculturalism is arguably one of the most important books, if not the most important. The book is divided into three parts: historical, theoretical, and practical. In this comprehensive and rich work, Parekh critiques Rawls, Raz, and Kymlicka and then probes practices that most frequently lead to clashes of intercultural evaluation. Parekh argues that we can understand individual rights also in non-Western ways, so as to ensure that we do not deny non-liberal cultures certain opportunities to promote their own ways of living.

By Bhikhu Parekh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rethinking Multiculturalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This important and much acclaimed book rapidly became a classic on first publication. In it, Bhikhu Parekh shows that the Western tradition of political philosophy has very limited theoretical resources to cope with cultural diversity. He then discusses how it can be revised and what new conceptual tools are needed. The core of the book addresses the important theoretical questions raised by contemporary multicultural society, especially the nature and limits of intercultural equality and fairness, national identity, citizenship, and cross-cultural political discourse. The new second edition includes a substantial additional chapter addressing key issues.


Book cover of The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

Drawing on contemporary cultural politics from Western Europe, Canada, and the United States, Benhabib understands cultures as continually creating, re-creating, and renegotiating the imagined boundaries between "us" and "them." She defends the creation and expansion of deliberative discursive multicultural spaces in liberal democracies, arguing that a legal pluralist model can be a good complement to deliberative and discursive democratic multiculturalism. In her insightful study, Benhabib contends that the Rawlsian model of public reason and the deliberative model of democracy share certain fundamental premises. Both view the legitimation of political power in the examination of the justice of institutions to be a public process, open to all citizens. The idea that justice should be in the public eye, open to scrutiny, examination, and reflection is fundamental.

By Seyla Benhabib,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Claims of Culture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How can liberal democracy best be realized in a world fraught with conflicting new forms of identity politics and intensifying conflicts over culture? This book brings unparalleled clarity to the contemporary debate over this question. Maintaining that cultures are themselves torn by conflicts about their own boundaries, Seyla Benhabib challenges the assumption shared by many theorists and activists that cultures are clearly defined wholes. She argues that much debate - including that of "strong" multiculturalism, which sees cultures as distinct pieces of a mosaic - is dominated by this faulty belief, one with grave consequences for how we think injustices…


Book cover of Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

Song’s interdisciplinary work in the fields of politics, law, and philosophy explores the tensions that arise when culturally diverse democratic states pursue justice for religious and cultural minorities and justice for women. Much of Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism relates to North America. Song argues that egalitarian justice requires special accommodations for cultural minorities and that gender equality may restrict cultural accommodation. While we need to be sensitive to historical cultural rights, we should also protect basic human rights. Song lucidly and incisively discusses cultural defense in criminal law, aboriginal membership rules, and Mormon polygamy, examining the role of intercultural interactions in shaping such cultural conflicts. As I did in my work, Song emphasises intercultural democratic, deliberative dialogue as a means for resolving cultural conflicts.

By Sarah Song,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Justice, Gender and the Politics of Multiculturalism explores the tensions that arise when culturally diverse democratic states pursue both justice for religious and cultural minorities and justice for women. Sarah Song provides a distinctive argument about the circumstances under which egalitarian justice requires special accommodations for cultural minorities while emphasizing the value of gender equality as an important limit on cultural accommodation. Drawing on detailed case studies of gendered cultural conflicts, including conflicts over the 'cultural defense' in criminal law, aboriginal membership rules and polygamy, Song offers a fresh perspective on multicultural politics by examining the role of intercultural interactions…


Book cover of Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did I love this book?

This is an excellent collection of essays. Susan Moller Okin and some other world's leading thinkers discuss the tensions between feminism and multiculturalism. This book served for me as a point of departure when I wrote my book. One of the major criticisms of multiculturalism is that it is bad for women. I examined whether this is necessarily the case, and whether it is possible to resolve the tensions between group rights and individual rights. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? raises serious concerns as many cultural rites are, indeed, harmful to women. They include polygamy, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, punishing women for being raped, differential access for men and women to health care and education, unequal rights of ownership, assembly, as well as political participation, and unequal vulnerability to violence. While as liberals we want to respect the customs of minority cultures, we also do not wish to compromise our commitment to gender equality. 

By Susan Moller Okin, Joshua Cohen (editor), Matthew Howard (editor) , Martha C. Nussbaum (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Polygamy, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, punishing women for being raped, differential access for men and women to health care and education, unequal rights of ownership, assembly, and political participation, unequal vulnerability to violence. These practices and conditions are standard in some parts of the world. Do demands for multiculturalism--and certain minority group rights in particular--make them more likely to continue and to spread to liberal democracies? Are there fundamental conflicts between our commitment to gender equity and our increasing desire to respect the customs of minority cultures or religions? In this book, the eminent feminist Susan Moller Okin and…


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American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of American Flygirl

Susan Tate Ankeny Author Of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 

Susan's book list on women during WW2

What is my book about?

The first and only full-length biography of Hazel Ying Lee, an unrecognized pioneer and unsung World War II hero who fought for a country that actively discriminated against her gender, race, and ambition.

This unique hidden figure defied countless stereotypes to become the first Asian American woman in United States history to earn a pilot's license, and the first female Asian American pilot to fly for the military.

Her achievements, passionate drive, and resistance in the face of oppression as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a female aviator changed the course of history. Now the remarkable story of a fearless underdog finally surfaces to inspire anyone to reach toward the sky.

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

What is this book about?

One of WWII’s most uniquely hidden figures, Hazel Ying Lee was the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license, join the WASPs, and fly for the United States military amid widespread anti-Asian sentiment and policies.

Her singular story of patriotism, barrier breaking, and fearless sacrifice is told for the first time in full for readers of The Women with Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia, Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown and all Asian American, women’s and WWII history books.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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