Author: Peter Occhiogrosso
Trade Paperback, 626 pages
Publisher: Image Books
Publication date: May 1996
Price & More Info: Click Here
Additional books by this author
This book is a wonderful introduction to the major religions of the world. It's generally very easy to understand and while reasonably scholarly, it's not at all stuffy. Each chapter presents a major tradition (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, New Age and Beyond), describing both that tradition's history and its various offshoots or related sects. In addition, each chapter has a "Good Books" section, discussing the major sacred texts of the religion(s) under discussion; an "Inside a..." section, describing a typical place of worship; and a glossary. A lengthy bibliography is included, and the index is very helpful, with boldfaced numbers indicating the page(s) with definitions or explanations.
All religions are treated with respect, yet not uncritically. Each tradition is shown complete with its flaws, and in many cases, the negative aspects are shown to be more the result of succeeding human interpretation rather than original prophet intent, so far as we can tell. One of the most useful aspects to this reviewer was the connections and inter-relatedness made between the various traditions - I came away with a much greater belief in the idea that all religions are searching for the same thing, although they may use different vocabulary, rituals, and other details in the searching. It is difficult to think of many traditions not represented here - Asatru, Druidism, and Satanism are the only ones that come to mind. Witchcraft, along with many pagan ideas, is part of the "New Age and Beyond" section, but is presented fairly, if briefly, quoting a section from Starhawk's "The Spiral Dance."
However, there are some caveats. First, there are boxed sections throughout the book providing anecdotal or supplemental information. However, in many cases these fall in the middle of a discussion, and sometime even start in the middle of a paragraph or sentence, thus requiring the reader either to mentally switch topics back and forth, or to physically flip pages back and forth. Second, in some cases so much information is presented that one may become confused. In my case, this happened particularly with the "Good Book" section of the Taoism chapter, which on first reading, seemed to be attributing the sacred books of Taoism to Confucianism. Third, due to the publication dates of the book, some recent events may have rendered certain discussions in the book out of date - for example, the fatwa (death sentence) on author Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeini has since been lifted.
In all, despite these concerns, I would recommend this book to those who are looking for a reference to the various religions of the world and how they fit together. In my case, I'll let my actions speak for me - I'm actually going to buy my own copy to keep.
Reviewed by Julian
Additional Books by Peter Occhiogrosso