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Religious Pluralism and Pluralistic Religion: John Hick's Epistemological Foundation of Religious Pluralism and an Explanation of Islamic Epistemology toward Diversity of Unique Religion

From: The Pluralist
Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 2010
pp. 94-109 | 10.1353/plu.0.0037

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The path of religious pluralism starts with the fact that our world contains a number of religious faiths having different ideas of the nature of divinity as the main and fundamental principle of religions and therefore, different and various dogmas, rites, and rituals.

Despite the claim that the idea of religious pluralism is a product of modern philosophical schools, specifically new epistemological principles, I have attempted to demonstrate that what I have called "pluralistic religion," as a part of a necessary and substantial distinction that has to be drawn between this hypothesis and John Hick's classic theory of "religious pluralism," is strongly rooted in the principle of "ultimate truth and uniqueness of religion," which has one of its valid interpretations in Islamic epistemology.1

It is perhaps worth noting that this view not only does not deny the strong and unavoidable exclusivist tendency of all religions, but also tries to justify and clarify the necessity of such a tendency. Obviously, in this epistemological structure, the term exclusivism has an implication, completely distinct from the common meaning of the term, which stands contrary to the term pluralism. I also believe that this hypothesis would provide the fundamental bases for "pluralism in truthfulness" as the essential outcome of the ultimate uniqueness of religion which manifests and reveals itself in various and diverse forms. Thus, based on such an interpretation, the true claim of exclusivism in religions is considered as a complementary element for religious puralism, which refers to the various manifestations and crystallizations of ultimate truth of religion.

In this paper, I begin with John Hick's classic version of religious pluralism. According to Hick, one of the most prominent developers and defenders of religious pluralism in the twentieth century, the theory of pluralism should be built on philosophical and epistemological principles rather than religious and theological tenets. The culmination of Hick's analysis in this paper refers to a new appraisal of his theory, within which I believe that four significant philosophical components have constituted Hick's epistemological structure of religious pluralism: two of them have been explicitly mentioned by him, and the others are in fact tacit, though crucial in his hypothesis. Kant's theory of epistemology, Wittgenstein's distinction between "seeing" and "seeing-as," Schleiermacher's principle of religious experience, and Gadamer's hermeneutical interpretation are these four elements. Also, in the paper, some critical points and objections to Hick's theory have been presented in brief.

It is thus obvious that the new term, pluralistic religion, has been used to indicate the alternative theory to Hick's classic hypothesis which is commonly called religious pluralism.

Religious Pluralism, John Hick, and the Problem of Ineffability

Hick begins his Supra-Christian perception of God with the fact that the history of religions sets before us innumerable gods, with different names and various characteristics. In his remarkable book, God Has Many Names, he has mentioned some of these names in both nontheistic and theistic religions that might probably form a list as bulky "as the telephone directory of a large city" (40-50). Hick believes that all these names with their own characteristics can be divided into two major categories, personal and nonpersonal Gods, both humanly experienced and conceived. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between the "Real an sich" and the real as variously experienced and thought by different human communities (Hick, Disputed 179).

Hick emphasizes that this distinction can also be seen within religions. The Hindu thought distinguishes between Nirvana Brahman (Brahman without attributes, exceeding the grasp of human language) and Saguaro Brahman (Brahman with attributes, known within human religious experience); or in Islam, al Haq, the Real, the absolute divine reality beyond human description, differs from Allah, who is to be understood within 99 Attributes in Qur'an alongside others in sacred scripture. The same distinction is easily found in other religions, according to Hick.2

Hick's emphasis on the expression, the Real, is to designate the transcendent reality authentically experienced in terms of different sets of human concepts, as the different gods and impersonal absolutes belonging to major religious traditions. In developing his theory, he relies heavily on the Kantian distinction between the Real...

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