Theologian and philosopher of religion John Hick died Thursday at the age of 90. His long and productive academic career had included distinguished professorships at the University of Birmingham and Claremont Graduate University.
An influential thinker in the areas of Christology, eschatology, and the problem of evil, Hick will likely best be remembered for his “pluralistic hypothesis,” developed most fully in his 1986-87 Gifford lectures and the resulting 1989 book An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent, according to which “the great post-axial faiths constitute different ways of experiencing, conceiving, and living in relation to an ultimate divine Reality which transcends all our varied visions of it.”
Many of the positions for which Hick is famous are ones that I have come (largely by wrestling with his arguments) to reject—An Interpretation of Religion serves as the foil for a course I am teaching this semester called “Beyond Pluralism”—but Hick always impressed me as being immensely more gracious to his critics than most of them were to him. Even if, as some of Hick’s detractors liked to point out, the pluralist is, formally speaking, a kind of exclusivist (i.e., with respect to the truth of pluralism)—a trivial consequence of asserting anything at all—what counts, he demonstrated, are the substance and the sensibility.