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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Religious Studies

Human Rights or Religious Rules? by J. A. van der Ven (Empirical Research in Religion and Human Rights: Brill) The relation between religion and human rights is a contested one, as they appear to compete with one another. Religion is often considered to represent a tradition of heteronomy and subordination in premodern times. Human rights emerged from early modern and modern times and stand for principles like human dignity, autonomy, equality. The first question in this book is how to define religion, its meaning, functions and structures, and how to study it. The second question is how to understand religion from its relation with human rights in such a way that justice is done to both religion and human rights. These questions are dealt with using a historical and systematic approach. The third question is what the impact of religion might be On attitudes towards human rights, i.e. human rights culture. For an answer, empirical research is reported among about woo students, Christians, Muslims, and nonreligious, at the end of secondary and the beginning of tertiary education in the Netherlands. More

Thinking About Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion by Ivan Strenski (Blackwell Publishing) Thinking about Religion: A Reader by Ivan Strenski (Blackwell Publishing) Is the Bible unique and flawless divine revelation? Or is it an historical human document subject to criticism? Is religious experience a link to the divine? Or is it a product of social pressure or psychological malformation? This book tells the story of how and why classic theorists have posed such questions, and how the theories and methods of religious studies arose as attempts to answer them. Engaging with leading figures from the history of anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy and theology, the author traces the study of religion back to the eighteenth century. He reveals how the discipline evolved in response to great cultural conflicts and major historical events, such as the discovery of prehistoric cultures in the caves and ruins of Neolithic Europe and the colonial encounter with the 'higher' civilizations of India and China. He also examines the influence of inner experience, tackling issues such as human survival and wish-fulfilment. Along with the accompanying Thinking about Religion: A Reader, this book offers a complete resource for introductory students of religious studies.
Excerpt: In George Eliot's Middlemarch, the ardent Dorothea Brooke confronts Will Ladislaw with a question embracing an essential option reflected in Thinking about Religion: "What is your religion?," Dorothea asks. But, then adding immediately lest her pious query be misunderstood "I mean not what you know about religion, but the belief that helps you most?" (Eliot 1872, p. 381). However, as the title Thinking about Religion indicates, unlike Miss Brooke, I would have much preferred to ask Will the other question and a follow-up what did he know about religion and how did he come to think about religion as he did? Still, in that simple yet forceful question Eliot's fervent heroine captures a perennial distinction in the life of religion itself. Unlike the purpose of Thinking about Religion, Dorothea wants to know about how Will has tended to be 'religious' or to have practiced a 'religion.' She cares not at all for the central concerns of Thinking about Religion how religion itself has become a problem as well as the focus of 'theorizing' about religion. Much as all readers of Middlemarch come, thus, to admire Dorothea Brooke, I, for one, wish she had asked my question!

For better or for ill, Thinking about Religion takes its stand squarely on the importance of understanding how and why people have come to think about religion how people have sought to "know about religion," how they have made of religion an area of human curiosity by submitting religion to endless interrogation, understanding, and explanation. Thinking about Religion then rests on the view that knowing about religion is, therefore, inseparable from having questions about religion, from interrogating religion, from seeing religion as an arena of problems. What, for example, was the first religion? How many religions are there? Are all religions equally true, or is there only one, and so on? Even more recently, certain thinkers responded to these problems by proposing 'theories' that aim to solve these problems.

It is true that from place to place, in rare outbursts of creative curiosity, people have asked such basic questions about the nature, value, and justification of religion. But these were fleeting episodes in the spotty history of human curiosity, that left behind no major books or treatises, no sustaining institutions or 'schools,' no lasting cultural influences in the forms of lines of inquiry or major questions about religion. On the contrary, religion did not become a real arena of problems, rigorously interrogated and systematically researched, until fairly late in the history of the West. There would never have been the study of religion as we know it, unless religion itself had first become a problem in some sustained way. This book tells the 'story' of important attempts to raise and solve many of the chief problems of religion by inventing what we can call 'theories' of religion.

As the British cultural critic Terry Eagleton explains, the appearance of 'theories' indicates the existence of perceived problems the sense that "something is amiss." Theories aim to fix these problems by explaining how and why they occur. Problems of religion pop up like dreaded "small bumps on the neck," warning us that "all is not well" in the religious world (Eagleton 1990, p. 26). In the modern West, we have experienced a rash of such 'problems' what Eagleton calls "a really virulent outbreak of theory," something indeed "on an epidemic scale" (Eagleton 1990, p. 25). This 'epidemic' of problems of religion has ignited intense theorizing about religion that has conspicuously engaged practically every major Western thinker of any note since the 1500s Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Durkheim, Max Muller, Freud, and many others. Thinking about Religion proceeds from the main premise that both this 'epidemic' and the attempts of 'theories' to address it cry out for understanding. Thinking about Religion seeks to provide an understanding of both some main problems of religion and the theories constructed to deal with those problems. The present study is committed to understanding both the intellectual and cultural causes of our theorizing about religion and the theories themselves. This book is, then, about how our 'theories' about religion theories about its nature, truth, utility, value, and such emerged in the history of the modern West. This book is about the ways some remarkable thinkers tried to understand and explain religion as a result of its becoming a problem, and about why they thought they were right in coming to their theoretical answers to these problems.

Religion is not unique in having emerged from what we take for granted in ordinary life, only then to become the subject of theories. Ordinary people have engaged in everyday artistic or economic behaviors for a long time and in many places. Artistic and economic life was just lived, without becoming the subject of academic study, such as esthetic or economic theories. Something special must happen to raise these commonplace features of everyday life to the level of academic, intellectual, or theoretical discourse. Something special must happen in order to link these everyday activities with academic programs or government departments and ministries. It is a very long way from the more or less unexamined economic life of that vendor of "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" at Scarborough (market) fair in the folk song, to the theory of supply-side economics, or to economic 'problems' under the consideration of the US Council of Economic Advisors. Certain faint continuities are recognizable, but the science of economics was a product of modern thinkers in the modern world, not a persistent feature of human history. So too have departments of religious studies created their own buzz with the 'theories' of religion they both teach and create.

So, like art and economic life, religion became the object of a disciplined academic or systematic program of self-reflection what can be called 'science.' Only in the past century and a half has there been anything called a "science of religion." Although we tend not to use the term 'science of religion' these days, it is still the normal way the study of religion is identified, for example, in France, where the "sciences religieuses" can claim a solid history of over a century and a half. Likewise, in the German-speaking world, under its formidable-sounding title, Religionswissenschaft holds sway, as it does in the Netherlands, as we will see, in the title of the Dutch scholar Cornelis P. Tiele's major work, Elements of the Science of Religion, itself inspired by Max Muller's project for a "Science of Religion" at Oxford. All these represent major and deliberate efforts to go beyond belief, and even to go beyond everyday curiosity about religion. If this situation were otherwise, we would have to explain why the documentary evidence for a 'natural' or much earlier disciplined and systematic study of religion is simply non-existent.

Up to the time when thinkers started studying religion in terms of scientific ideals, critical or radical self-reflection about religion was the main business of the religions themselves, and served the special needs of religious communities. Shakers, for example, worried about how they might expand their membership. Muslims meditated about whether their chief leadership should be confined to blood relatives of Muhammad. Roman Catholics disputed among themselves about how to deal with the role of women and the like.

While the problems that the individual religions wrestled with were real problems, they were 'in-house' problems. They were not the kind of problems that mattered to any and all religions, or for religion as religion. Shakers, Muslims, Catholics may well have had their problems, but they were those only afflicting Shakers, Muslims, and Catholics respectively. As such, the answers offered for their problems were not like scientific theories, since they did not need to appeal to the broad range of human belief and experience. Shakers did not have to satisfy Catholics about the answer they gave to their own 'in-house' Shaker problems, and vice versa. But the theories provoked by the general problems of religion did need to speak across sectarian and religious lines. These theories needed to speak in the manner of 'science' and try to appeal to the broadest consensus about the nature of facts, evidence, and such that they could. The new scientific studies of religion had therefore to be comparative, and never allow one individual religious perspective to hold a privileged place.

Therefore, in the West, beginning no more than 300 years or so ago, religion in this general and comparative sense became theorized. As a consequence, religion thus became the object of many sorts of concerted inquiry or disciplined study. In this critical and inquiring mode, people typically ask of religion a series of questions, mentioned at the beginning of the introduction: What is religion? What was the first religion? Does it make sense to inquire about the chronological origins of religion at all? How many religions or kinds of religion are there? Do religions change? If so, do they change according to any regular principles we might discover, such as evolution or degeneration? Is religion essentially private or instead essentially social? Do all religions require a belief in god? Afterlife? The supernatural? What makes a religion simple? What makes it complex, and so on? (Strenski 2003). These are only some of the myriad questions that stimulated the curiosity of some of the bravest and most adventurous thinkers of our history. They took a fateful step and dared to imagine that they could offer explanations of what is commonly thought to be the epitome of the unexplainable in human life religion. Thinking about Religion seeks to help students of religion understand what these thinkers said about the nature of religion, and how and why they had the courage to think they were right in doing so.

But, Why Did They Think That They Were Right?

By focusing on the question of why the great theorists in the study of religion thought they were right about the ultimate meaning of religion, Thinking about Religion differs fundamentally from most of the ways we have tended to approach the theories in the study of religion. This book does not seek exclusively or even primarily to assemble a series of devastating criticisms of the major methods and theories in religious studies. This book is not about targeting a theory or theorist for 'execution.' This is not a book that primarily shows how one can do a neat 'butchering' job on theories of religion by `cutting them up.' To be sure, readers will find criticism and analysis enough in the pages to follow. And, thus, readers will find ample discussion of why a given theory may be said to be wrong.

Thinking about Religion concentrates on why thinkers thought they were right, rather than on why they may have been wrong, because I think we can learn much more by approaching theories this way. I should add that I am not some kind of relativist who believes that all theories and methods are equally true. I believe that we should not delude ourselves about the shortcomings of any theory of religion. All are flawed in some way, and it would be foolish to think otherwise. No perfect Prince Charming of theories waits to carry us off to some intellectual paradise. It is not likely that some single theory of religion just waits to be discovered or created to solve all the problems encountered with religion. Thinking about Religion does not operate from assuming the likelihood of the arrival of Prince Charming.

But just because Prince Charming is not on his way, it is another thing entirely to make the flaws in theories our main preoccupation in the study of theories of religion. For that reason, while this book notes the weaknesses of theories, I believe that it is not productive simply to dwell upon the shortcomings of theories. Such a self-satisfied and negative position surely cannot be the end of critical inquiry into our theories of religion! It is just too easy making a career out of showing how any theory falls short by leaving things out, or does not match up well with the 'facts,' and thus cannot meet the standards of being 'true.' Once we have exposed the weaknesses or fatal flaws of a theory, what have we finally accomplished? Do we draw the conclusion that theorizing is a relatively worthless activity, since any theory can have holes shot in it? Do we scorn theorizing in the same way biblical Creationists disparage Darwinian evolution, because it is, after all, 'only theory'? Or, if we still think theorizing may be a worthy activity, what have we learned about how theories actually come to be and thus perhaps how we ourselves might construct them merely by shooting holes in them, or by cutting them up? Every course in methods and theories that I know seems to conclude by leaving a trail of wreckage a littered scene of disabled or terminated theories breathing their last. Is this what we really want as the end result of our critical inquiry into theories of religion? Thinking about Religion was written and conceived in the belief that those who value theorizing in the study of religion want more.

Leading Questions: On Seeing Both the Forest and the Trees

This 'more' is to deepen our understanding of past theorizing so that we get the point of what the great theorists were trying to achieve even when they failed to achieve it. This process involves a delving into the contexts of the creation and formation of theories, so that we can begin to see what the theorists were really trying to achieve, and how the theories they created measure up to what they hoped to produce.

As such, this effort at understanding theories of religion essentially entails something of an historical approach to theories and theorizing about religion. Understanding the development of the study of religion reminds me of what it was like finding my way around my present home city of Los Angeles. There is no 'pole star' against which to set a

straight and single course across an otherwise simple expanse of land. Like such a great and often random-seeming city, the development of the study of religion presents us rather with a sprawl of historical details, frustrating encounters with grid-locked arguments, broad boulevards of ignorance across which no easy crossing is obvious. Learning how to navigate such a city requires getting one's bearings with respect to different and shifting landmarks and, as our position in the cityscape changes, against new points of reference again.

Thinking about Religion offers us at least two such major orienting points of reference that the great theorists seemed to use to focus their efforts. The first is their repeated search for Natural Religion, whether conceived as the 'first' religion, the common denominator of all religions, or some fundamental human capacity for religiousness, analogous to a moral sensibility or the esthetic sense. The answers given for the quest for Natural Religion by the first wave of great theorists dominate the polemic of Parts I and II of Thinking about Religion. The second way this book finds its way through the landscape of theoretical thinking about religion is by noting how the a second wave of more modern thinkers in Part II tend to address the central problem of the ultimate nature and status of religious experience. Long gone is the historical quest for an absolute beginning point, now replaced by attempts to explain how and why the proclaimed experiences of religious folk have come to be. Is the feeling of absolute dependence upon a great power, often constituting the essence of the reports of encounters with the sacred by believers, to be taken at face value? Or, as Freud would suggest, are we not rather in the presence of mythologized versions of our childhood memories of parental power? Or, again, to follow Durkheim, are we better advised to trace these indubitable feelings to the even more indubitable fact of our absolute dependence upon society? Part III of the present volume seeks to lay out some of the more influential accounts of the real nature of so-called religious experiences.

One final suggestion for students as they read through the book. Be alert to three steps I tried to follow as I wrote each chapter. First, each chapter tends to be organized around a basic problem of religion emergent at a particular time because of various changes that occur in a society. Such a change might be the discovery of heretofore unknown prehistoric societies of Europe, and the way they put into question the Bible's version of the human past. This, in turn, put into question the account of the world and humanity given in the sacred scripture of the West, and thus of the religious life led in accord with its guidance. Or, such a change might be the 'discovery' of the Freudian unconscious, and the revision this has caused in many quarters, of our sense of our own ability to know ourselves and especially to know if we can trust our religious experiences. Second, once these 'shocks' to the religious self-consciousness are felt, what reactions by way of new theories of religion emerged? What, for example, did Robertson Smith have to say about modern Christianity, with it strong emphasis on belief in God, once what he took to be the earliest levels of biblical religion seemed totally devoid of beliefs as such? What was Freud to make of the prevalence of modern Christian religious experience of absolute dependence upon God the father, when to him it seemed as if this might be based on childhood memories of the power of our own human fathers? Third, and finally, no matter whether we find that thinkers like Robertson Smith or Freud were wrong or not about their conclusions about religion, the job of understanding these (and all the other) theories is only complete when we have satisfied ourselves that we understand why the theorists thought that they were right! How and why, for example, could anyone, like Robertson Smith to take a case in point, think that there could even be people, much less religious people, who lacked beliefs!? How could he have thought such things? Whatever else students take from this book, I at least hope they will feel that they understand how and why some remarkable folk thought about religion.  

Thinking about Religion: A Reader by Ivan Strenski (Blackwell Publishing) This concise reader creates a useful mix of classic and contemporary responses to issues in the study of religion, ideal for those coming to the subject for the first time. Pairing pivotal theorists and theories of religion alongside cutting-edge criticism from both their contemporaries and modern-day scholars, this vibrant collection enables students to gain a balanced understanding of the diverse methods, theories, and theorists involved.

The major historical and methodological developments in the study of religion in the West are traced through the works of leading theorists including Herbert of Cherbury, David Hume, Georges Sorel, Baruch de Spinoza, Friedrich Max Muller, Edward Burnett Tylor, William Robertson Smith, James Frazer, Bronislaw Malinowski, Max Weber,

Sigmund Freud, and Emile Durkheim. Each of these primary figures meets their critical match in contributions from contemporary scholars designed to raise questions both for and against their approach and work.

Along with Ivan Strenski's textbook, Thinking about Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion, this reader offers a complete resource for introductory students of religious studies.

Excerpt: This Reader offers selections of twelve different kinds of major approaches to thinking about religion, drawn from the work of classic figures in the study of religion. Balanced against each classic statement are critical assessments of each of the positions by prominent scholars of our own day and, where possible, by contemporaries as well. Thus, for instance, right from the start, in considering Herbert of Cherbury's quest for Natural Religion, readers are offered the criticism of Herbert's near contemporary, David Hume, and also a sharp analytic survey by the modern-day scholar of religious studies, Robert Segal.

The sections of this book are called "chapters" because they correspond to the divisions of its theoretical and analytical companion volume, my Thinking about Religion: An Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion, also published by Blackwell.

While it has not always been feasible to provide both modern and historical contemporary critics for each classical theoretical statement, readers will find what I believe is a fresh list of critics, typically passed over in most anthologies of this sort. These include Karl Menninger or Henry Hazlitt on Freud, Georges Sorel on Renan, David Hume on Herbert of Cherbury, Sam Preus on Spinoza, Winston Davis and Sidney Hook on Weber, William Dwight Whitney on Max Muller, Robert Alun Jones on Durkheim, George W. Stocking Jr. on Frazer, Tylor, and Malinowski. Likewise, substantial theoretical thinkers sometimes neglected in standard surveys receive a much-deserved hearing. Here I refer to such figures as Herbert of Cherbury, Spinoza, Ernest Renan, William Brede Kristensen, or Ninian Smart. A further innovation of the present Reader is the occasional 'find' an entry typically discovered in an obscure or virtually inaccessible source. This may take the form of a conversation of theorists with each other, as in James Frazer's obituary of Robertson Smith, or Claude Levi-Strauss's 1942 memoir on the occasion of Malinowski's sudden death, which appeared in a short-lived surrealist magazine published in New York City during the darker days of Levi-Strauss's exile there during the Second World War. To underline the point that the thinkers in this Reader often made (and rode) cultural waves in their times, I have deliberately included a good number of critical entries drawn from sources appealing to the general educated reading public, such as the renowned American weekly magazine of opinion, The Nation.

Where possible, I have also tried to disturb the conventional reputation of certain thinkers by showing them in a light in which they are seldom seen. In this Reader, the behaviorist and pragmatist Bronislaw Malinowski is found espousing the virtues of a methodological feature of the phenomenology of religion that he later opposed "empathy." While he is widely recognized as a great philosopher, David Hume is not often enough counted as I count him among the giants of the early days of the field of the study of religion. Similarly, in my own small way, I have sought to end the contentious

divorce between biblical studies and general religious studies by reconciling these two fields to each other. As this Reader shows, the historical record reveals the ways in which religious studies can be said to have begun with critical study of the Bible. I hope this Reader will do its part in seeing that this relationship is resumed for the benefit of all.

The twelve classic theoretical positions I have selected roughly conform to an historical script. Beginning with the Renaissance and its gradual awakening to the diversity of religions in the New World and across a Europe torn apart by sectarian strife, we sample some of the first attempts to square this new reality of seemingly incorrigible religious difference with an equally abiding optimism about the unity of truth and the human ability to know it. We then move on to the Enlightenment and the early stirrings of Romanticism, to sample something of the flavor of the critical questioning of the literal truth and integrity of the Bible that engages scholars of sacred scriptures even to this day. Here in the same era we also meet up with Romantic 'Orientalists' and their passion for unlocking for their own use the exalted mysteries of those 'other Bibles' whether these be the Vedas of ancient India, the Buddhist Sutras, Confucian Analects, the holy Koran, or even the hieroglyphics of Pharonic Egypt. Oddly juxtaposed to the critical, yet self-interested, scrutiny of such lofty scriptural texts was the work on religion driven by a variety of nineteenth-century evolutionary theories, Darwin's being but one of many. Nineteenth-century discoveries pushing back estimates of the age of the earth many millennia beyond its biblical age had profound effects upon conceptions of the nature and destiny of the human race with the question of the religious nature of 'primal' humanity being foremost among them. Archeological discoveries of the remains of 'cave men' revealed as well a far deeper human ancestry than anyone might have imagined, and a past that had been utterly effaced from human memory or history in the modern period. Questions about the truth of the beginnings of religion were now given another push further back into human prehistory.

When we arrive at the more familiar ground of twentieth-century theoretical proposals for thinking about religion, we meet up with two broad approaches. These are, first, what we might call `reductionist' theories of religion in which modern anthropological, psychological, and sociological sciences seek to understand or explain religion in terms of variables which are themselves not religious. Second are the so-called 'phenomenological' approaches, as well as those approaches to thinking about religion influenced by the phenomenological ideal of 'religion' as a relatively autonomous variable in cultural and social life. Here, instead of religion being explained or as some would say, explained away the project at hand is to explore, and thus to understand, either how religion is structured, or how the religious dimension of life helps us understand or explain other dimensions of cultural and social life, such as political orientation or economic behavior, for example.

What then distinguishes this Reader from other anthologies on methods and theories in the study of religion is its arrangement of theoretical approaches to religion in terms of their cultural and historical situations. The Reader reflects commitment to an historically contextualized treatment of the ways great religious theorists have thought about religion. But in embracing historical and cultural contextualization, I am not thereby aligning myself with a crass and incoherent historical determinism. I believe real life is far too complex for such metaphysical vulgarities as historical determinism or its ideological opposite, for that matter. It makes no sense in my view to claim either that religion or theories of religion are ontologically separate from history, or reducible to it. How could they be, given that all theories occur in particular times and places, yet are equally well

not just automatic consequences of those periods of history? Everyone of capable mind and knowledge did not produce Durkheim's theory of religion; only he did. As such, this Reader anthologizing historical approaches to theories of religion assumes both that the theories employed in modern religious studies belong to their own times and places, and that various historical times and places belong to different ways of thinking about religion. While not restricted in the relevance and application to their own times and places, theories about how we should think about religion bear the unmistakable marks of their times. Likewise, the times in question have been made what they are by the theories that arose then and there. Again, thinkers both ride the waves of history, and make those historical waves as well. Marxist theory was as much a part of its nineteenth-century European history as that history was made what it was by the appearance of Marxist theory. If Marxist theory is unthinkable outside the nineteenth century, so also is the nineteenth century unthinkable without Marx.

This mutual interdependence of theory or thinking about religion with its own time and place emerges with most force when seen in terms of the role played by problems. It is no accident that revolutions in our thinking about religion have been deeply implicated in many of the critical cultural upheavals of Western civilization and its history either as a cause of such upheavals or as their effect. Thinking about religion in an unorthodox fashion, for example, can cause social disruption of its own. If one doubts this, just ask Baruch Spinoza or William Robertson Smith, both of whom thought about the Bible in radically new ways, and both of whom, as a consequence, sparked such public controversies in their communities that they suffered censure. But thinking about religion also happens because religion became a problem at a particular time and place in a particular way. This is to say that religion becomes a problem because of significant changes in our world. Both Spinoza and Robertson Smith were in positions to think about (biblical) religion in the disturbing ways that they did, for instance, because their worlds were also being disturbed by new intellectual perspectives, such as the rise of the historical sciences, etc. Like the proverbial grain of sand in an oyster, the creation of problems caused by the intrusion of new influences frequently provided-much needed catalysts for the creation of the 'pearls of wisdom' produced by the minds of engaged scholars.

Although this volume is organized around what I have proposed as twelve of the more significant theoretical thinkers or kinds of thinking about religion, I make no claim to completeness in the list that I present. To do so would require an impossibly large volume or even volumes. That would not have been practical. But I do feel that the list I have provided offers a set of thinkers and approaches to thinking about religion that can be said to be recognizably representative of the study of religion as it has come to be known and practiced.

Living Religions - Western Traditions by Mary Pat Fisher (Prentice Hall) is a highly readable and stimulating survey of the major global religions and new religious movements that originated in the West, with particular focus on how people are trying to live by them in today's world. Evocative illustrations enhance this approach; first-person interviews of ordinary people and boxes uncovering the spiritual roots of well-known public figures bring this book to life. Covering the key religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and new religious movements together with a brief chapter on indigenous religions that focuses primarily on Native American traditions, the social context, origins, teachers, scriptures, and historical development of each faith are carefully explored, with emphasis on how practitioners themselves understand their tradition from the inside. For readers interested in a comprehensive book about Western religions, as well as the clergy of various faiths.

Religion is not a museum piece. As the twenty-first century unfolds, religion is a vibrant force in the lives of many people around the world, and many religions are presently experiencing a renaissance.

Living Religions - Western Traditions is a sympathetic approach to what is living and significant in the world's major religious traditions that have originated in the West as well as in local indigenous religions and new religious movements. This book provides a clear and straightforward account of the development, doctrines, and practices of these faiths. The emphasis throughout is on the personal consciousness of believers and their own accounts of their religion and its relevance in contemporary life.

One of the unique features of this text is personal interviews with followers of each faith. This material provides interesting and informative first-person accounts of each religion as perceived from within the tradition. This volume includes special boxes featuring interviews with a Jewish holocaust survivor, a Southern Baptist Christian, who is now manager of a wilderness camp for inner-city youth, an Egyptian pharmacist, who returned to Islam because he learned to appreciate it from a scientific point of view, and a German follower of the Unification Movement. In addition, first-person accounts have been interwoven throughout the text.

Living Religions - Western Traditions also includes feature boxes on "Religion in Public Life." These portray the spiritual roots of selected followers of Western religions each of whom is making a significant contribution to modern societySenator Joseph Lieberman, Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, and Muslim scholar Farid Esack. In their stories, one recognizes that deep religiosity can go hand-in-hand with deep social commitment.

There are also feature boxes on "Religion in Practice," such as Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, and "Teaching Stories," which can serve as take-off points for discussions about core values imbedded in each faith.

Violence perpetrated in the name of religion is often in the news these days. Living Religions: Western Traditions includes probing discussions of this disturbing factor in the major Western religions and also in new religious movements. Distinctions are made between the basic teachings of religions, none of which condones wanton violence, and the ways in which religions have been politicized. There is extensive coverage of the socio-political context of the contemporary practice of religions, especially the changes that have come in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States .

Throughout the book, women's contributions and women's issues are carefully considered. Women's voices are woven into the discussions throughout, including those of female theologians who are bringing vital new perspectives to religious scholarship. African and AfricanAmerican religious experiences are also of increasing interest, and these are extensively covered in this volume. There are poignant descriptions, for instance, of the lives of American Muslim converts who are trying to maintain traditional piety in the midst of modern materialistic society.

The opening chapter, "The Religious Response," brings critical scholarship to bear on underlying issues in the study of religion. Throughout the book the latest scholarship has been applied. The book incorporates extensive quotations from primary sources to give a direct perception of the thinking and flavor of each tradition. Particularly memorable brief quotations are set off in boxes.

One of the most engaging features of Living Religions - Western Traditions is its illustrations. 120 illustrations, 64 of them in color, helps to bring  the religions to life. Narrative captions accompanying the illustrations offer additional insights into the characteristics and orientation of each tradition and the people who practice it.

Each tradition is presented clearly and without the clutter of less important names and dates. Key terms, defined and highlighted in bold-face when they first appear, can also be found in an extensive glossary. Because students are often unfamiliar with terms from other cultures, useful guides to the pronunciation of words that may be unfamiliar are included in the glossary.

Maps are used throughout the text to give a sense of geographical reality to the historical discussions as well as to illustrate the present distribution of the religions. There is also a map of the missionary journeys undertaken by the apostle Paul in the chapter on Christianity. Timelines are used to recapitulate the historical development of the major religions up to the present.

Readers who want to delve further into the literature, there is, at the end of each chapter, an annotated list of books that might be particularly interesting and useful in a deeper study of that religion.

The Meaning of Life in the World Religions edited by by Joseph Runzo, Nancy M. Martin (Oneworld) Bringing together in one volume the work of some of the world's most prominent religious scholars, this is a clear and concise exploration of the religious perspective on the meaning of life.

Written in non-technical language, this collection of essays by such distinguished thinkers as John Hick, Huston Smith, Ninian Smart, Sallie McFague and Keith Ward not only addresses the distinct views of the major religious traditions, but also offers comparative analysis and original insight. The result is a detailed but accessible study that underlines the power of cumulative wisdom to educate and enlighten, and allows the reader to arrive at an informed understanding of the meaning of life.

The first volume in Oneworld's Library of Global Ethics and Religion, this authoritative book will stimulate and absorb students, scholars and the interested general reader alike.

 Editors summary: As we now move into the twenty-first century, there are over four-and-a-half billion adherents of the world religions. Christianity, a proselytizing tradition, has spread globally until there are nearly two billion Christians today, over half of whom are Roman Catholic, while about a quarter of Christians are in various Protestant denominations and half of the remainder are in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy. The other actively proselytizing world religion, Islam, has a billion adherents around the globe with Indonesia being the most populous Islamic nation. Hinduism itself has nearly one billion adherents, while Buddhism has about three hundred and fifty million. Important, smaller traditions in the world today include approximately twenty million Sikhs, fourteen million Jews, six million Baha'is, and perhaps four minion Jains, not to mention the indeterminate millions who are influenced today by Confucian thought. Indigenous traditions, such as those originating in Africa, make up the remainder. This remarkable panoply of living traditions, with their central place on the world stage, bring valuable and divergent perspectives and resources to the question of the meaning of life, for they carry wisdom which has been tempered by centuries and strengthened by the testament of devout lives.

The present volume brings together many of the most prominent voices for religious pluralism at the close of the twentieth century, and in their essays the authors offer authoritative expositions of Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and even Haitian Vodou, as well as comprehensive overviews and philosophical perspectives on the world's religious traditions. Keith Ward and Ninian Smart begin the volume, exploring the nature of religion and the possibilities of dialogue and comparison across religions. Ward argues strongly for a distinctly religious perspective on life's meaning, as do Joseph Runzo, Huston Smith, and John Hick in subsequent chapters, although each characterizes this perspective in a somewhat different way. Specific formulations of life's meaning within particular traditions are then presented, with Philip Quinn's essay beginning this portion of the book. He first lays out clear parameters of what would constitute a meaningful life in any context, before turning specifically to the case of Christianity. EE. Peters and Charlotte Fonrobert then offer us vivid portraits of life's meaning for those following the tenets of Islam and Judaism. Turning to Asia, Julius Lipner creates an overarching vision encompassing the many varieties of religiosity that fall under the name of "Hinduism." Christopher Chapple then compares Hindu yogic traditions with Jainism, and Masao Abe invites us into a Buddhist experience of a radically interdependent world in which we become free to live truly through a direct confrontation with death and the fullness of Buddhist emptiness. John Berthrong concludes the section by taking us into the very different world of Confucianism, which grows side by side with Buddhism in China.

Next Joseph Runzo, Nancy M. Martin, Anne C. Klein, and Karen McCarthy Brown explore more deeply the fundamental relationality that underlies religious approaches to life's meaning. Runzo offers us a framework for exploring the meaning and nature of that love which marks the human-divine relationship, while Martin provides an in-depth example from Hindu devotional traditions of this type of all encompassing love. Mein explores Buddhist understandings of relationality through the cultivation of mindfulness and the guru or deity visualization practices of Tibetan traditions, and Brown introduces us to the spirits and healing j traditions of Haitian Vodou with its deeply African roots.

In the concluding essays Huston Smith, John Hick, and Sallie McFague offer us global perspectives as they return to broad questions about the religious point of view and religious pluralism. Both Smith and Hick present comprehensive formulations of what the religious perspective can offer us in terms of life's meaning, pointing to a supreme valuing of life coupled with a cosmic optimism about the potential for solving the human condition. McFague takes up the specific case of Christianity, leaving behind exclusivist claims and proposing an inclusive and cosmic vision of Christianity's message to a world, a vision of the world as the body of God.

These essays collectively present the reader with the necessary historical understanding, comparative analysis, and philosophical insights of the world's religions and of leading contemporary thinkers, to arrive at an informed personal understanding of life's meaning. Perhaps the meaning of life is best found in the combined cumulative wisdom of the world religions. Or it may be that there is no one meaning but a plurality of meanings for life to be found among the world religions. Or perhaps a universal core to the meaning of life underlies an irreducible plurality of perspectives among the world religions. The answers to these questions are left to the reader to decide. Whatever answers the reader arrives at for him/herself, these essays present a compelling case for using the rich resources that the world's diverse religions bring to questions of life's meaning.

Religious Ambiguity and Religious Diversity by Robert McKim (Oxford) This book is built around the two themes of religious ambiguity and religious diversity. Robert McKim first asks whether religious traditions can account for the fact that the beliefs that they wish their adherents to accept are not clearly true. He then explores the significance for religious belief of the fact that there are so many competing religious traditions. He argues that the world is open to being interpreted by reasonable people both naturalistically and religiously, and indeed that there are a number of religious interpretations that are accepted by reasonable people.

A central thesis of the book is that beliefs about religious matters ought to be held tentatively, with an awareness that the beliefs in question may be wrong. This applies to the beliefs of theists, of atheists, and of members of non-theistic religions alike. McKim shows the validity of this thesis by appealing to the theistic problem of the "hiddenness" of God; that is, the question of why, if God exists, it is not clear to everyone that this is so and why in general the facts about God are not clear to everyone. He examines a wide range of putative explanations for the hiddenness of God and finds none of them convincing. At the same time he contends that the hiddenness of God is not a plausible argument for atheism. He marshals these findings in support of his contention that beliefs in this area should be held tentatively. He goes on to argue that the apparent competence of members of a number of religious traditions also is a reason to be tentative about the claims of each of them. Yet he defends an approach to religious belief that will preserve much of what matters to the various disagreeing communities.

Grappling with themes vital to philosophers and theologians of all religions and denominations, McKim's book is provocative and essential reading.

Exploring Religious Diversity by Paul J. Griffiths (Exploring the Philosophy of Religion: Blackwell) analyzes the philosophical questions raised by the fact that many religions in the world often appear to contradict each other in doctrine and practice. The volume distinguishes the differences between religious and nonreligious responses to these questions, and evaluates the fundamental philosophical underpinnings of these contemporary debates. It further discusses what a religion is and how diversity in religion can be understood, and examines the concepts of religious truth and salvation. Questions considered include:
Can there be more than one true religion?
What is the relation between commitment to one's faith and tolerance of other faiths?
How does one's awareness of diverse religious claims affect the degree or strength of belief in one's own religion?
In what ways can the concept of salvation and its prospects be construed in response to the contradictory nature of different religions?


Many questions of conceptual and practical interest are raised by thinking about religious diversity. Exploring Religious Diversity is intended principally as a map of the territory covered by these questions. It is a guide to what the questions are, and to ways of thinking about and answering them that have proven attractive and interesting to many. It also contains suggestions, recommendations, and arguments as to how these questions are best thought about. Since each question treated is complex, controversial, and possessed of many and deep connections to other equally complex and controversial questions, I don't expect any of the recommendations offered to find wide acceptance; they will have done their work if they provoke further thought and writing on the topic.

Three threads that run through the book deserve brief comment here. The first thread is an attempt, not often made, to distinguish with as much clarity as possible responses to the questions posed by thinking about religious diversity likely to be congenial to the nonreligious from those likely to be congenial to those with religious commitments. This I take to be important because of the deep differences in the way these questions appear to the two groups; and because of the influential nature of the attempts by the democracies of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century to offer consistently nonreligious (or religiously neutral) answers to the questions of religious diversity.

The second thread is an attempt repeatedly to draw attention to the fact that resolutions of the questions treated in the book, whether proposed by the religious or the nonreligious, always assume and deploy convictions about matters of fundamental philosophical importance. Disagreements about particular solutions to the questions of religious diversity will not be arrived at without attention to these more fundamental disagreements. This is important because it provides a nice illustration of a general philosophical truth: argumentative attempts at resolution of a particular philosophical problem are most useful not when they produce agreement, but when they show with clarity how deep the disagreement really goes.

The third thread is the frequent recommendation of peculiarly Christian responses (responses that rely on Christian assumptions) to the questions of religious diversity. The responses of this kind that I commend and argue for will not be attractive - and perhaps not even interesting - to non-Christians; they won't convince all Christians, either. But their presence is required by the book's second thread, since this suggests that any attempted resolution of the questions of religious diversity cannot avoid and should not try to avoid deploying controversial assumptions of a philosophically fundamental sort. Since this book is written by a Catholic Christian, the assumptions of this kind that inform its attempted resolutions are inevitably and properly those of Catholic Christianity. Their presence and use therefore serves as an illustration of the book's understanding of how the questions of religious diversity inevitably must be approached. Christian readers can enter more fully than non-Christian ones, perhaps, into those parts of the book in which specifically Christian positions are recommended; but non-Christian readers can profit from them as examples of how a religiously-committed person reasons about these matters.

This interdisciplinary work is a primary research tool for initial research in the affective aspects of religious studies


Adopting a fresh approach to sourcebooks on the religions of the world, Princeton Readings in Religions moves away from an emphasis on philosophy and the religious expressions or elite groups to represent instead a wide range of current and historical religious practices The series provides a new configuration of texts by making available for the first time works that have never have translated before, including ritual texts, hagiographical and autobiographical works, folktales, and ethnographic material Although the hooks arc designed for students, specialists will discover in them a wealth of unfamiliar and valuable material. Furthermore, the selections, appealing in themselves, are placed in an understandable context to attract a wide audience of general readers The contributors include experts from around the world, each of whom provides a substantial introduction for his or her piece, placing the text in time and genres discussing the history and influence of the work, and identifying points of particular difficulty or interest Each volume also contains a substantial general introduction in which the history of the traditions is outlined and the significance of each work is explored.

RELIGION OF TIBET IN PRACTICE edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (paper $22.50, 560 pages, 0-691-0183-4, Princeton Readings in Religions, Princeton University Press) HARDCOVER, $60.00, 0-691-0184-2)

RELIGION OF TIBET IN PRACTICE is a landmark work, the first major anthology on the topic ever produced. It presents a stunning array of works (hagiographies, pilgrimage guides, prayers, accounts of visits to hell, epics, consecration manuals, sermons, and exorcism texts) that together offer an unparalleled view of the realities of those who have inhabited the Tibetan cultural domain over the centuries. The volume provides a wealth of voices that together lead to a new and more nuanced understanding of the religions of Tibet.

The thirty-six chapters are testimony to the vast scope of religious practice in the Tibetan world, past and present, offering works heretofore unknown. The chapters are organized thematically under five headings: "Accounts of Time and Place," "Remarkable Lives," "Rites and Techniques," "Prayers and Sermons," and "Dealing with Death and Other Demons." They juxtapose materials from different sects, historical periods, and geographical regions in an attempt to broaden the range of what we understand the religious practices of Tibet to encompass. Each chapter contains a translation and a substantial yet accessible introduction by a leading scholar of Tibetan religions. Religions of Tibet in Practice represents the largest sourcebook on Tibetan religions ever assembled, a work of great value to scholars, students, and general readers.

Donald S. Lopez, Jr., is Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the editor of three other volumes in this series: Buddhism in Practice, Religions of India in Practice, and Religions of China in Practice. He is also the author of Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sutra (Princeton).

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