Six Ways of Being Religious
Dale Cannon, Western Oregon University
Pub Date: 1996
Read This Book
Conditions of Use
This is an introductory textbook for students who are first exploring the phenomenology of religion, most notably those who are beginning the process read more
This is an introductory textbook for students who are first exploring the phenomenology of religion, most notably those who are beginning the process of comparative religion. Cannon’s approach to the six ways of being religion is a helpful tool which can help students break religious traditions down into manageable portions that can be focused so that helpful comparison can be made. His approach deliberately balances reading with empathy (an emic view through the eyes of insiders) with objectivity (etic scholarly analysis). He does this through first presenting the comparative framework of the 6 ways of being religious as broken down into the following “ways”: sacred rite, right action, devotion, shamanic mediation, mystical quest, and reasoned inquiry. He spends 6 chapters presenting carefully the theory of these “ways,” their justification, and their use. He carefully posits that these are neither exclusive nor exhaustive, but does suggest that they are helpful heuristic avenues through which one can then apply a comparative structure. He then spends 9 chapters in practical application of this comparative framework to Buddhism and Christianity through carefully selected case studies which are excerpted within the chapters themselves so that the primary texts and their analyses are in one place. This book, is therefore both theory and application. This is a good comprehensive discussion to show the validity of the theory he posits. Students will be able to understand what he is arguing and why it matters within the confines of this book without having to reference several other texts. While it is not exhaustive in that it does not cover all the religions of the world in his application, this is not the goal of the book and it is a very good approach to teach students to apply a theory to real examples. One particularly helpful element for students is the glossary at the end of the text which defines key technical terms which are either bolded or italicized throughout the text. The glossary does not only define terms, but also provides internal references for where to find the key definitions within the actual text of the book itself. There is also a comprehensive index that can aid students.
As a book on the theory of religion, this works hard to find the balance between empathy with religious insiders while at the same time remaining objective. Therefore, it is not a book that judges the rightness or wrongness of any religious tradition from any particular perspective. Instead, the goal is to understand religions objectively to describe and manage what any particular religion is doing by means of comparison with another religious tradition. This is very objective. The only place where there is possibly some normative judgment is in Cannon’s division of “virtues” and “vices” of each particular way of being religious in chapter 5. He finds in each way of religion some characteristics that are that way’s practice at its “best” and “worst.” Here, he seems to mean that “best” and “worst” are code for most productive uses of a particular way of religion for the particular adherents and which is least productive. This is, in some ways, a normative judgment. However, he does this for two reasons. First, it is not a structure of “good” and “bad” but rather the applicability of one particular way over against another for any particular religion. He also does this because the adherents of the particular traditions would agree with these normative judgments. Some “ways” of religion will function for some religions far more closely than others.
This book, originally published in 1996, is obviously not the most up to date text on the theory of religion two decades later. However, it is written in a way that shows its value over time. The drive of the book is its theory which are able to applied just as well today as in the mid-1990s. That being said, the text could be, if the author so chose, to be updated. It might be very simple for the author, for example, to find more up to date case study examples in the application chapters. However, because these are to be illustrative rather than exhaustive, there is no problem using slightly more dated examples to illustrate the point.
This book is incredibly clear for novitiates and professionals. It does a very good job of continuing to use the scholarly terms necessary for the professional field of religion, yet through the use of bold and italics type face makes clear to the student that these are technical terms that are clearly defined either in text or in the glossary at the end. It therefore does not sacrifice scholarly integrity for clarity while still being very clear and lucid in its presentation.
The use of the careful technical terminology throughout the text creates a very consistent vocabulary throughout the book.
Structurally, this text is organized chapter by chapter. Each chapter has its own footnotes, bibliography, and study questions internal to itself which makes it ideal to be excerpted chapter by chapter. It might be somewhat difficult to read chapters 2-6 on the theory of the ways of being religious out of order, but a careful selection of readings could be possible. By contrast, the application chapters (chapters 7-15) could easily be excerpted. Because these are structured around case studies and because Cannon quotes the case studies themselves within the structure of the text itself, it does not require abundant internal references outside the chapter itself.
This text was very clear and the structure of theory leading to practice is very clear for readers.
There were numerous charts and helpful visual aids throughout the book. The text and the visual aids were incredibly clear with no distortion. The only display feature which could be improved would be to restructure the internal page numbers of the book with the .pdf page numbers. Because of the front matter of the text, there is a discrepancy so that the text’s page 1 is the .pdf’s page 16.
The text was very clear and free of grammatical or spelling errors. The only two errata that I found were that Origen of Alexandria’s name is misspelled as “Origin” on page 268 and the table of contents misspells “sacred right” for “sacred rite.” Otherwise, there were no issues.
This book is a very inclusive book that not only uses many examples from both Buddhism and Christianity, but it includes primary examples from various types of Christianity and Buddhism which only illustrates the variety of groups within each tradition and leads the reader to imply this same diversity is present in all religions. Further, the structure of the 6 ways of being religious builds within it an automatic respect for diverse experiences of differing groups.
This is a valuable source, particularly for students coming to the academic study of religion for the first time.
Table of Contents
PART I GENERIC WAYS OF BEING RELIGIOUS
- CHAPTER 1 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
- CHAPTER 2 THINKING GENERICALLY ABOUT RELIGION
- CHAPTER 3 DIFFERENT WAYS OF BEING RELIGIOUS
- CHAPTER 4 THE WAYS OF BEING RELIGIOUS EXEMPLIFIED
- CHAPTER 5 VARIATIONS IN QUALITY OF PRACTICE OF THE WAYS
- CHAPTER 6 USING THE FRAMEWORK
PART II APPLYING THE FRAMEWORK TO A COMPARISON OF WHOLE TRADITIONS
- CHAPTER 7 APPLYING THE FRAMEWORK TO THE WHOLE OF BUDDHISM
- CHAPTER 8 APPLYING THE FRAMEWORK TO THE WHOLE OF CHRISTIANITY
PART III APPLYING THE FRAMEWORK TO A COMPARISON OF PARALLEL WAYS IN DIFFERENT TRADITIONS
- CHAPTER 9 THE WAY OF MYSTICAL QUEST
- CHAPTER 10 THE WAY OF REASONED INQUIRY
- CHAPTER 11 THE WAY OF RIGHT ACTION
- CHAPTER 12 THE WAY OF DEVOTION
- CHAPTER 13 THE WAY OF SHAMANIC MEDIATION
- CHAPTER 14 THE WAY OF SACRED RITE
- CHAPTER 15 CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS: COMPARING BUDDHISM AND CHRISTIANITY BY MEANS OF THE FRAMEWORK
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
INDEX OF SUBJECTS AND NAMES
INDEX OF RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
About the Book
The book proposes 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: 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.
About the Contributors
Dale Cannon is a retired professor of philosophy and religious studies at Western Oregon University.