Transcendent Pluralism

Contributor: Donna J. Perrry
July 1, 2022

Author: Donna J. Perry, PhD, RN

First published 2005

Patterns of Transformation Source.
See detailed description of the Figure below

Major Concepts

Human dignity
Ecological dignity
Dialectic of dignity
Vertical liberty
Self affirmation
Effective purpose
Group bias
Genuine encounter
Knowing personhood
Feelings of valuation
Affective transformation
Transformative effect
Transformative risk
Sustaining elements
Transformative solidarity


Middle range theory

Brief Description

Transcendent pluralism is a middle-range theory inspired by the Righteous Gentiles, individuals who risked their own lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust. The theory addresses human transcendence of difference and is grounded in human and ecological dignity. Transcendent pluralism is defined as, “The evolution of the spirit of living beings within mutually transformative relationships leading to a loving community through human and ecological dignity” (Perry, 2015). My early work in this theory explored instances of nonviolent social transformation in which persons transcended their own group in order to advance the dignity of people in a different group. This included research about Israeli-Palestinian peacemakers in the Combatants for Peace movement and Catholics who undertook personal risk in order to support same-gender marriage during its initial legalization in Massachusetts. I have also studied humanitarian health care providers who traveled globally to provide care in resource-limited settings. In rece nt years, I have used the theory to examine relations between humans and other species in the field of human-animal interaction and health. My current research focuses particularly on human-wildlife relations. Transcendent pluralism is rooted in the unitary transformative paradigm and has been influenced by the philosophy of Bernard Lonergan, S.J..

Description of the Figure

Pattern evaluation is an important component of nursing theories rooted in the unitary transformative paradigm including Rogers’ Science of Unitary Human Beings and Newman’s Health as Expanding Consciousness. The figure provides an overview of patterns of transformation that have emerged from research using transcendent pluralism. These patterns reflect experiences of individuals involved in transformative change. In transcendent pluralism, pattern represents a way of being in the world. Patterns can evolve and change over time. The patterns that are depicted in this diagram portray change as directional without being linear or in predetermined stages. The patterns overlap as personal growth is a dynamic and fluid process. This growth includes both advances in knowledge as well as affective transformation. An overview of the patterns of transformation is provided below. A deeper exploration of the concepts embedded in these transformative processes can be found in the research publications for individual studies listed in the references.

The first pattern is the formation pattern in which a person is acculturated within their  family and community. This involves transmission of cultural beliefs, values, knowledge, and practices and may include transmission of biases. The devaluation pattern occurs when individuals become aware of devaluation of self and others and its manifestations within society, such as violence. This may include feelings of diminishment when one’s personal or community dignity is not valued by others and may also include witnessing or participating in the devaluation of other persons and communities.

The reconsideration pattern occurs when new experiences lead individuals to critically question whether certain beliefs or practices are valid. Often this questioning occurs through a “dialectic of dignity” or gap between ideals and reality of human or ecological dignity. For example, witnessing a “dialectic of dignity” within global health disparities can inspire care providers to advance capacity building on different levels []. An assumption of the theory is that nurses are especially attuned to noticing the dialectic of dignity because of the strong value of human dignity within our discipline. A threshold or “state of readiness” can occur when a person is aware of the dialectic of dignity and realizes that change is needed. At this time, it may be difficult to find a new path forward or even to know where to start. A “synergy opportunity” can facilitate the person becoming involved in change when a supportive organized structure exists to help individuals realize their desire for a new path. For example, in my study with global health care providers, many of the providers interviewed said they had a longstanding desire to participate in global health but were not sure how to get involved. When an opportunity became available to participate in a global health project sponsored by their hospital, they joined it. Supportive organizational structures can also help individuals to realize effective purpose when their desire to make a difference is fulfilled.

The revaluation pattern occurs as individuals become engaged in new relationships and actions with others holding similar values and deepen their sense of self and interpersonal dignity. Genuine encounter with the other can facilitate transformation of group bias and reconciliation. As individuals engage in actions to transform their organizations or communities toward greater dignity, they enter the action and challenges pattern, which may involve assuming transformative risk. Internal and external sustaining elements such as transformative solidarity with others can help to transcend risk and other barriers. Finally, individuals experience change within themselves and the broader community within the mutual transformation pattern.

Primary Source

Perry, D.J. (2015, Oct.-Dec.). Transcendent pluralism: A middle-range theory of nonviolent social transformation through human dignity. Advances in Nursing Science, 38(4), 317-329.

Application Sources

Perry, D. (2005, Feb.). Transcendent pluralism and the influence of nursing testimony on environmental justice legislation. Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice, 6(1), 60-71.

Perry, D.J. (2008). Catholic Supporters of Same Gender Marriage: A Case Study of Human Dignity in a Multicultural Society. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Perry, D.J. (2011). The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Movement: Combatants for Peace. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Perry, D.J. (2013, Summer). Effective purpose in transnational humanitarian health care providers. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, 8(3), 157-68.

Perry, D.J. & Ojemeni, M. T. (2016, Fall). Expanding humanitarian global health capacity for the human good; Global Health Governance, X(2),107-123.

Perry, D.J. & Averka, J.P. (2020). Caring for the circle of life: Wildlife rehabilitation and sanctuary care, Human-Wildlife Interactions, 14(2), 309-324.

Perry, D.J., Averka, J.P., Johnson, C., Powell, H. & Cavanaugh, A. (2022, on-line ahead of print). Visitors’ feelings toward moose and coyote in a wildlife sanctuary: The transcendent feelings of animal valuation scale, Society & Animals, 1-22.

About Donna J. Perry

Donna J. Perry, PhD, RN is an Associate Professor at the UMass Chan Medical School Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing. Donna received her PhD at Boston College where she studied the work of Bernard Lonergan as a philosophical underpinning for her research. She also completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Lonergan studies. Dr. Perry’s research is conducted using a theory she developed on the evolution of human and ecological dignity called transcendent pluralism. The theory has been used to study intergroup relations within a variety of contexts of peaceful social transformation. Recently, Donna has focused her research on inter-species relations, specifically human co-existence with wildlife. She is currently researching the influence of wildlife immersion activities for veterans with PTSD through an R-21 funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Donna is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Massachusetts.