Focusing on pluralism and cosmopolitism, the Aga Khan encouraged a society that embraces differences rather than fearing them while giving the distinguished Jodidi Lecture at Harvard last week.
"The road to a more cooperative world does not require us to erase our differences, but to understand them. A responsible, thoughtful process of globalization in my view, is one that is truly cosmopolitan. Respecting both what we have in common, and what makes us different," said the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
Given merely days before the recent terrorist attacks, the lecture was fitting in addressing current problems faced around the world.
In his introduction, Ali Asani, the Director of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard, said the Aga Khan has been responsible for both spiritual guidance and the material welfare of millions of Ismaili Muslims, residing in over 25 countries, sometimes in context of conflict and poverty.
"Often working quietly, and without seeking attention on the world's stage, His Highness's words, vision and deeds have impacted the lives of millions of people around the world,"Asani said, while introducing the Aga Khan.
A global humanitarian and advocate of social change, the Aga Khan has launched several development initiatives to improve the quality of life in developing countries, and to provide opportunities that would otherwise not exist.
This year's Jodidi lecture sold out in nine minutes, signifying its importance and resonance with the Harvard community. A member of the Harvard class of 1959, the Aga Khan spoke to the origination of the lecture itself, and how he interpreted its meaning when he was a student.
"When the Jodidi Lectureship was established in 1955, its explicit purpose was 'the promotion of tolerance, understanding and goodwill among nations.' That seemed to be the way history was moving," the Aga Khan said.
The advances of technology inspired the Aga Khan to believe that the world would in turn become more connected, and that diversity would be more widely accepted. Unfortunately, technology only allowed humans to grow further apart.
"We have more communication, but we also have more confrontation. What we didn't see 60 years ago is that technological advance doesn't mean human progress. The more we communicate, the harder it can be to evaluate what we are saying. More information often means less contact and more confusion," the Aga Khan said.
The less connected humans are as a whole, the less room there is for acceptance of individuality, he said, adding that a pluralist society does not require people to change who they are or abandon their roots, but instead sees the merit in different backgrounds, and seeks to learn from them.
Even the most tolerant people still fear the unknown, but pluralism and cosmopolitanism values explain how the human race can learn to live well together, if humans see the beauty in diversity, said the Aga Khan. In the end, he called for a dialogue, not just on a personal level, but on an international scale, for humans to listen and understand each other. Given recent world events that have divided many, the notion of welcoming alternative views and lifestyles, while a difficult task, could potentially lead to a more harmonious society, he said.
"Perhaps it is the natural condition of an insecure human race to seek security in a sense of superiority, but in a world where culture increasingly interpenetrate one another, a more confident and generous outlook is needed," he said.