The framework of generic ways of being religious is a hypothesis, an interpretive hypothesis. It holds that there exist different ways of taking up and embodying (almost) any given religious tradition, different ways of interpreting the stories and symbols that constitute the primary language of that tradition. Differently put, the hypothesis is that within any major tradition there are a plurality of possible ways participants go about (or might go about) getting in touch with, and attaining at-onement with, what that tradition takes to be ultimate realityo. It maintains that these ways are recognizably similar across different cultures and traditions. So much are they evident that they appear to manifest generic possibilities for carrying on religious lifeindeed, a finite set of generic possibilities built into the human condition.
If this is so, then the framework of generic ways of being religious provides a basis for recognizing what might be called religious common sense. This is to say, it points to a basis of common sense considerations, relatively independent of the theologicaf' considerations (considerations relating to the core system of symbols) that divide one tradition from another, a basis on which many of the differences between religious viewpoints and practices can be mutually understood, allowed for, handled amicably, and in some cases reconciled. Common sense here does not mean commonplace ideas and truisms that a given group of religious people happen to hold about religion. Rather, the term refers to aspects of the common human condition with regard to religious belief and practice that are fairly readily discoverable by almost anyone in any tradition who has a modicum of thoughtful sensitivity, curiosity, open-mindedness, and empathy. Being generic, these commonsense considerations have a certain independence from the specifics of any given religious tradition. Yet they are not the sort of things that outsiders to any religious practice are likely to notice, for they pertain to forms of religious practice that recur from one religious tradition to the next and only infrequently outside those traditions. Recognition of these considerations is the fruit of thinking generically about religion.
The framework thus calls attention to a basis for making religious sense in common among persons who differ religiously from each other. It points out how religious people have a lot more in common than it may at first appear. With the framework, insiders who identify primarily with one way of being religious should be able to understand and appreciate why other insiders from the same religion might identify with a quite different way of being religious and still be worshiping the same ultimate realityo. With the framework as well, insiders who identify primarily with one way of being religious should be able to understand and appreciate much of the religious life of insiders from another religious tradition who identify primarily with the same generic way of being religious, even though they hold quite different fundamental beliefs about ultimate realityo.
Chapter 5 will explain at some length how the framework implies a commonsense basis for evaluating the quality of practice within each of the ways of being religious. Much of what insiders judge regarding noble expression and degeneration, virtue and vice, in the practice of any one way can be sorted out on this basis. It accounts for why assessments of quality for one way should be kept distinct from assessments of quality for other ways. In other words, what is good for sacred rite is not necessarily something good for devotion or mystical quest, and what is bad for shamanic mediation is not necessarily something bad for right action or wisdom. An understanding of these matters is directly relevant not only to helping people relate to others who differ from themselves religiously but also to helping people grow and mature in their own religious life. As well, by clarifying the conditions under which a practice within a given way of being religious moves between excellence and degeneration, such understanding is directly relevant to maintaining the health and well-being of a religious tradition. Thinking generically about ways of being religious in this respect contributes directly to the achievement of a commonsense practical wisdom.
The six generic ways point to a common basis of appeal in handling religious differences, criticizing and reforming religious practice, and generally helping people find meaning and maturity in their religious lives, a commonsense basis alongside and complementary to the specific norms of a religion embodied in authoritative scripture and tradition. The framework of the six ways predicts that in every tradition it is possible to find religious common sense more or less operative.