On Christopher’s Patridge’s “Introduction to World Religions.”

We live in a global village, enriched by many cultures and religions. Whereas the arts, the music, and the literatures of the world add to the overall aesthetic quilt that is human culture, religions are often in conflict, sometimes even within their respective sectarian subdivisions. Based on the conviction that one’s own affiliation is the best of all, some religious leaders inspire their devotees to harvest the souls of others; others urge them to decimate those whose faith does not conform to their own holy book. Yet others dehumanize some members of their own fath.
In this mutually hurtful cacophony in the name God, it is good that there are also efforts to build bridges of appreciation and mutual respect. The book under review is one such. It will certainly serve to foster understanding. It clarifies its academic framework by an introductory chapter on Understanding Religion which, though incomplete in its references to only a few philosophers and psychologists, can be a useful guide to those who wish to know about religions from boarder perspectives.
Written mostly by specialists, the chapters cover every major religion and many less known ones too. The nineteenth century notion of the Near East being the Cradle of Civilization, though seriously questoned by many, is emphasized in one chapter. The personal stories of some practitioners are interesting, but may be irrelevant in a book of this kind because they are like efforts to grasp vast panoramas through peeping holes that reveal a snapshot or two here and there. The goal of the book could have been better served if scholars from the traditions had been asked to contribute instead. Like in most other books, Hinduism is presented from its purely Sanskritic perspective, with not a word on its rich, meaningful, and influential Tamil component. There is no mention of Tirumular or Saiva Siddhanta even in the glossary, if only because not many Western scholars have published extensively on these.
With all that, the presentations are all informative and non-judgmental, the pictures are colorful and interesting, and the language readable and concise. The book is encyclopedic without being overwhelming, and will certainly serve, however imperfectly, a very important need in today’s world.


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