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Accept Pluralism

The Project

logo accept pluralismThe concept of tolerance and the practice of toleration were the lenses through which the project ACCEPT PLURALISM developed between 2010 and 2013. It explored a set of contemporary diversity challenges, mainly in the fields of education and politics in 15 European countries.

A plurality of concepts and terms exist as regards the possible ways of dealing with cultural diversity and the challenges that it raises in Europe today. Toleration is a contested concept subject to disputes that change over time.

There is general consensus that a society needs to be clear about what it does and does not tolerate, and what it agrees to accept, respect and accommodate within the public sphere. There are things that we should not tolerate but we should be able to discuss publicly. These include racism and sexism, but also more specific concerns that have been at the forefront of public debates on cultural or religious diversity over the past few years, such as marriage at the age of puberty, polygamy and so on. There are also issues that should be tolerated, and hence should not be outlawed, but about which it is not necessary that we all come to an agreement. Finally, the limitations of tolerance also need to be acknowledged. Tolerance involves power: the power of the majority over a minority. And it also implies non-acceptance or non-respect. ‘To tolerate’ can mean to live and let live but it may also mean to look down upon, and disapprove. In other words, in some cases tolerance hides inequality and domination.


Muslims and the Roma

The case studies undertaken in the ACCEPT PLURALISM project have shown that there are mainly two groups in Europe that attract negative attention in the public sphere because of their presumed inability to integrate into mainstream European secular, modern, democratic societies: Muslims and the Roma. Interestingly, while Muslims are for their most part a post-immigration minority, the Roma are natives of Europe (or indeed are supposed to have immigrated to Europe from India about a thousand years ago). But what matters most here are the ways in which they are perceived to be culturally, ethnically or religiously different thus putting to the test society’s dominant norms and practices.

Both Muslims and the Roma acquired a renewed significance in the post-1989 period in Europe. With the implosion of the Communist regimes and the re-unification of Europe, particularly after the 2004 Enlargement, there was a need for new ‘Others’ against whom to reassert a positive identity relating to this reconnected and enlarged Europe. These two Europe-wide minorities, present in most EU countries, offer a mirror against which Europe can assert its common values. This is particularly important as these values are relatively universal (peace, human rights, equality, freedom) and hence do not offer a strong enough emotional basis on which to forge a political community.


Religious Diversity

Our research suggested that the most challenging form of cultural diversity is religious diversity. In all of the 15 European and moderately secular countries that were studied, it became evident that the presence of a dominant religion unavoidably frames discourses and institutional structures. However, the question of secularism arises mainly in relation to minority religions, but also particularly in relation to Islam, and not in relation to the expression of a majority, institutionalised religion, given as a default option.

The study of different countries showed that not all minorities demand the same type of solutions. While some Muslim or Roma students in Sweden, Germany, the UK or Bulgaria may ask for their religious dress code to be accommodated for, in France or Greece immigrants ask to be treated on the basis of equality and secularism, asking however that no concessions would be made for any religious faiths.

Our research also showed that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between ethnic or religious discrimination and socio-economic disadvantage. In the case of the Roma for instance, the question of alleviating poverty, and improving access to basic services and employment appear as a necessary step before any other policy aiming at combating discrimination and segregation can or should be introduced. Policies aiming to address the situation need to tackle both dimensions simultaneously.


Levels of Diversity Governance: Local, National, European

Cultural, ethnic and religious diversity challenges play out at local, national and EU levels, but integration takes place at the local level, even if policies are national and guidelines are European. Equally, our case studies also showed that intolerance and exclusion are promoted at local level by local political groups, often with the aim of gaining votes by blaming immigrants for urban decay or insufficient welfare resources, and hence hampering national policy efforts of integration. Despite repeated decrees and programmes for the integration of Roma children in mainstream schools, both local authorities and parents associations have strongly resisted such de-segregation efforts in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Poland.

The national level remains the most important one for addressing cultural diversity challenges and proposing sound legislative solutions, while the EU offers opportunities to civil society actors and public administrations for networking and funding, it also represents an additional political arena for mobilisation.


Best Practices and Tolerance Indicators

One of the aims of the ACCEPT PLURALISM project was to compare tensions arising in different countries by different types of minorities, notably native historical minorities vs. migrant populations, with a view to highlighting common practices and policies. Good practices were identified, albeit in a small number of countries. For instance, a tradition of autonomy in education, and the possibility of setting up ‘free schools’ in Denmark or the Netherlands that satisfy the request of parents to have their children educated according to their own philosophy and beliefs, opened up the possibility of setting up Muslim faith schools in both countries.

The project clearly suggested the need not only for exchanging good practices and policy learning among countries and between the wider fields of migrant and native minority integration policies. It also pointed to the need for effective monitoring and assessment on how each policy measure, targeted programme or grassroots initiative contributes to a more tolerant and more cohesive society. The project thus created the Tolerance Indicators Toolkit, a set of indicators that can be applied in specific policy areas (mainly in school life and in politics), for specific periods of time and/or on specific issues, providing an overview of how a country is doing in that specific field, by comparison to other countries or to itself in the past.


Consortium and People


  • Professor Tariq Modood, Head of the UK Research Team
  • Jan Dobbernack, Research Assistant
  • Nasar Meer, Lecturer at Southampton University, affiliated to the UK Research Team
  • Jon Fox, Head of the Hungarian Research Team 

  • Professor Violeta Zentai, Head of the Research Team  
  • Aniko Horvath, Research Assistant
  • Zsuzsanna Vidra, Research Assistant

  • Professor Maurizio Ambrosini, Head of the Italian Research Team
  • Elena Caneva, Research Assistant

  • Professor Ricard Zapata Barrero, Head of the Spanish Research Team
  • Flora Burchianti, Research Assistant 

  • Marko Hajdinjak , Coordinator, Head of the Bulgarian Research Team
  • Professor Antonina Zhelyazkova, Research Assistant
  • Maya Kosseva, Research Assistant

  • Professor Ayhan Kaya, Head of the Turkish Research Team 

  • Professor Riva Kastoryano, Head of the French Research Team
  • Angéline Escafré-Dublet, Research Assistant 

  • Professor Veit Bader, Head of the Dutch Research Team 
  • Marcel Mauss, Researcher 
  • Inge Versteegt, Research Assistant

  • Professor Hans Ingvar Roth, Head of the Swedish Research Team
  • Linda Ekström, Research Assistant
  • Fredrik Hertzberg , Research Assistant

  • Professor Werner Schiffauer, Head of the German Research Team 
  • Nina Mühe, Research Assistant 

  • Iseult Honohan,  Head of the Irish Research Team 
  • Nathalie Rougier, Research Assistant

  • Professor Michal Buchowski, Head of the Polish Research Team

  • Professor Per Mouritsen, Head of the Danish Research Team 
  • Lasse Lindeskilde, Research Assistant
  • Tore Olsen, Research Assistant
  • Morten Brænder, Research Assistant

  • Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Head of the Romanian Research Team 
  • Madalina Doroftei, Research Assistant

  • Doris Peschke, General Secretary and Head of the CCME team

  • Josie Christodoulou, Policy Coordinator, Head of the MIGS team

  • Sarah Levin,  Director of Banlieues d'Europe
  • Charlotte Bohl, Project Assistant


Research and Publications


The ACCEPT PLURALISM project has published a Handbook on Tolerance and Cultural Diversity in Europe.

Geared toward teacher-trainers, this Handbook is intended primarily for use in programmes that prepare teachers to serve in high schools in Europe. While it could be beneficial for teachers of any subject, the Handbook may be most useful to those who are preparing to deliver courses on European civics and citizenship education. The Handbook’s targeted readers are high school students and undergraduate University students between 17 and 23 years of ageThis Handbook seeks to inform and educate youth, to help them understand diversity and talk about it using a common set of terms.  It aims to give young people the tools to resolve dilemmas that they may face in their everyday lives and in the future.and talk about it using a common set of terms. 

The main purpose of this Handbook is to clarify terms commonly used to talk about diversity such as nationalitynational identity or citizenship but also concepts such as integrationmulticulturalism and intercultural dialogue. Secondly, the Handbook introduces the concepts and phenomena underpinning fear of diversity. Finally, the Handbook proposes answers to the challenges of ethnic and religious diversity in everyday life. Taken as a whole, this Handbook seeks both to clarify important terms associated with its subject matter and to clearly articulate the principles that should guide democratic life in European societies.   

The Handbook on Tolerance and Cultural Diversity in Europe has been adopted as training material by

New Knowledge Highlights

Comprehensive Country Reports

The ACCEPT PLURALISM project publishes 15 Country Synthesis Reports presenting the final empirical and theoretical findings of the project on each country.

  1. Concepts and Practices of Tolerance in France
  2. Conceptions of Tolerance and Intolerance in Denmark: From Liberality to Liberal Intolerance?
  3. Tolerance and Cultural Diversity in the United Kingdom
  4. Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Discourses in Bulgaria
  5. Tolerance and Cultural diversity in Ireland, Concepts and Practices
  6. Overview Report on Tolerance and Cultural diversity Concepts and Practices in Italy
  7. Comprehensive Report on Turkey: The Myth of Tolerance
  8. Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Discourses and Practices in Greece
  9. Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Concepts and Practices in Hungary
  10. Tolerance-Discourses in Germany: How Muslims are constructed as national others
  11. Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Discourses in the Netherlands
  12. Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Discourses in Romania
  13. Tolerance of Cultural Diversity in Poland and Its Limitations
  14. Tolerance and Cultural Diversity Concepts and Practices in Spain
  15. Tolerance and cultural diversity discourses and practices in Sweden


Page last updated on 05 April 2024

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