In this volume, John Hick provides the most mature exposition of his understanding of religion and how different religions relate to each other. The most prominent defender of religious pluralism offers here different approaches to the own religion and how religions can be understood with different criteria.
The book is divided into five parts, with an introduction and epilogue as bookends. A central tenet of the argument is the religious ambiguity of the universe, leading Hick to three levels of interpretation, physical, ethical and religious. These are reflected in the core parts of phenomenological (part 1), epistemological (part 3) and criteriological (part 5) reflections.
The first part on phenomenology lays the groundwork of much of the remainder of the book. Here, Hick outlines in three concise chapters the way he understands religion and its soteriological character, focusing on aspects of salvation/liberation across different religious traditions. He concludes this first part with a discussion of cosmic optimism, arguing that the common message of all religion is one of good news.
In the following, second part, Hick outlines one of the basics of his framework, the religious ambiguity of the universe. He examines different arguments for this basic tenet of his argument, including cosmological, ontological and design reasons, and probabilities from moral and religious arguments.
The third part on epistemology forms the central part of the book and builds on the difference between noumenon and phenomenon, i.e. the Ding an sich and the way this thing appears to the human. It is Hick’s declared goal to use this Kantian idea in, “service in the epistemology of religion, [i.e.] the noumenal world exists independently of our perception of it and the phenomenal world is that same world as it appears to our human consciousness” (241). This serves Hick to accommodate non-theistic religions. The different religious systems collapse into one another, “the eastern and western paths constitute different forms of self-transcendence in response to the Real and it may well be that their differing eschatological mythologies serve the same soteriological function.” (356)
This leads to the fourth part, the part on religious pluralism, where Hick revisits the pluralist hypothesis, incorporating that for which he had argued in the epistemological part before: this argument allows him now for the extension to include the personae as well as the impersonae of the Real, including thus also religions without a personal deity in his pluralist framework, which up to this, he was unable to do.
In the fifth and final part, Hick turns to criteriologial arguments for his hypothesis. Of particular interest is here his argument for an ethical criterion, which sees as an common denominator across different religious traditions. Additionally, this part includes a chapter on the problem of conflicting truth claims, which argues that both historical and trans-historical conflicting truth claims can coexist together in light of the pluralist hypothesis, as they, “constitute different conceptions and perceptions of, and responses to, the Real from within the different cultural ways of being human.” (376)
In summary, John Hick provides in An Interpretation of Religion his most developed argument for his hypothesis of religious pluralism. Drawing on many sources from different religious traditions, as well as philosophy and other sciences, Hick delivers in this volume to the interested reader a concise outline for his pluralist framework.