SIX WAYS OF BEING RELIGIOUS:
A FRAMEWORK FOR
COMPARATIVE STUDIES OF RELIGION
Dale Cannon, Ph.D.
Western Oregon University
The purpose of this home page is to make known and accessible to Internet subscribers an innovative framework for comparative study of religion. Specifically, it is a framework designed to assist persons in uncovering similarities and differences between religious ideas and practices, without begging questions as to the theological and philosophical significance of those similarities and differences. The framework is intended to be useful for persons attempting to make sense of the bewildering diversity of ways people carry on religious life from within (that is, empathetically), not only between religions but also as may be found within any one religion. It presents a kind of map for sorting out this diversity and offers a rationale for why religious life should have the diversity it has.
More specifically, familiarity with (and a developed imagination for) these generic patterns in whatever tradition enables ready acquaintance with and understanding of phenomena exhibiting these same generic patterns in other very different traditions. Contrariwise, unfamiliarity with (and an undeveloped imagination for) any one of these generic patterns will tend to inhibit or block empathetic understanding and will tend to result in reductive generalizations and false contrasts between traditions.
The framework is the hypothesis that six generic ways of being religious may be found in any large scale religious tradition such as Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or Hinduism and that one or more may be found in smaller traditions of religious practice: sacred rite, right action, devotion, shamanic mediation, mystical quest, and reasoned inquiry. These are recurrent ways in which, socially and individually, devout members of these traditions take up and appropriate their stories and symbols in order to draw near to, and come into right relationship with, what the traditions attest to be the ultimate reality.
Understanding these six ways provides a sound basis for making sense of the variety of expressions that emerge in any one tradition and a foundation of mutual recognition -- of religious common sense -- between religious traditions, despite significant differences. Once grouped together on the basis of the six ways, commonalities between otherwise apparently disparate and opposed traditions become evident, mutual recognition becomes possible, and dialogue is facilitated.
The framework and each of the six ways of being religious is explained at length by means of numerous examples and applications in book form: Dale Cannon, Six Ways of Being Religious: A Framework for Comparative Studies of Religion (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1996). ISBN 0-534-25332-6. To order the book from Wadsworth click here. Once there, click on "search Wadsworth title" and then type "Six Ways of Being Religious."
The author invites comment and feedback on the framework of ways of being relgious and the book from students, scholars, and other persons who are seriously interested in the comparative study of religion. To contact the author, Dale Cannon , click here.