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The Pluralistic Hypothesis, Realism, and Post-Eschatology

  • S. Mark Heim (a1)


In his Gifford Lectures, An Interpretation of Religion, John Hick presents his pluralistic hypothesis in its fullest form, a religious account of the variety and unity of the great faith traditions. He summarizes this hypothesis in the assertion that in religious traditions and experiences an ‘infinite Real, in itself beyond the scope of other than purely formal concepts, is differently conceived, experienced and responded to from within the different cultural ways of being human’. It is in relation to this infinite Real that salvation/liberation takes place within each religious tradition as the ‘ transformation of human existence from self-centredness to Reality-centredness’.



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1 Hick, John, An Interpretation of Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 14.

2 Hick, p. 14.

3 Hick, p. 188.

4 Hick, p. 219.

5 Hick, pp. 235–6.

6 Hick, pp. 369–70.

7 See Ward, Keith, ‘Truth and the Diversity of Religions’, Religious Studies, 26 (1990), pp. 118.

8 Cf. Hick, p. 179.

9 Hick, p. 361, n. 8. Also see p. 180.

10 Hick, pp. 294–5.

11 Hick, seems to make a similar point in Death and Eternal Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 415–16. The eschatological vision which Hick himself describes in the conclusion of that book, were it to prove true, would seem to confirm vividly not only the truth and validity of some religious assertions over others (a fact that would not itself violate the pluralistic hypothesis) but particularly the truth and validity of one set of religious expectations of the nature and basis of salvation/liberation over others (which would violate the hypothesis). Hick is quite clear that An Interpretation of Religion is the definitive statement of his views and in recent comments indicates that at least his characterization of the final unitive state in Death and Eternal Life has been superseded. See Hick, John, ‘Straightening the Record: Some Response to Critics’, Modern Theology, 6: 2 (01), p. 191. See also note 14.

12 I am indebted to Keith Ward who has made this point cogently. See Ward, pp. 12–13.

13 Should a naturalistic account of religious belief prove in some way to be eschatologically verified — abstracting for the moment from the difficulty of specifying how that might be done — then Hick might allow this as disconfirming his hypothesis. For the purposes of my argument however this can be left aside: I am concerned with the differentiation of Hick's hypothesis from any other religious belief.

14 How much of Hick's earlier position in Death and Eternal Life he retains is for him to say. In what follows I leave aside any reference to his description of the final unitive state (see note II above). If his most recent understanding of this final unitive state regards it as one in which the Real is equally authentically experienced as personal or impersonal, this would only reinforce my argument that specific religious expectations remain experientially confirmed throughout. I address the rest of his eschatological vision because on my understanding of his argument in Interpretation this vision is compatible with the pluralistic hypothesis and would also seem to be one in which the various religious expectations prove not only to have been epistemically justified but predictively valid, thus maximizing the truth value of all religions. One would think then that this instance is highly favourable to Hick's hypothesis. Obviously the pluralistic hypothesis could be compatible with other visions as well — too many, I suggest!

15 Hick, , Death and Eternal Life, p. 415.

16 Hick, , Death and Eternal Life, p. 417.


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