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Invitation to World Religions, 3rd Edition
Featuring a unique, consistent, and modular chapter structure – “Teachings,” “History,” and “Way of Life” – and numerous pedagogical features, Invitation to World Religions, Third Edition, invites students to explore the world’s great religions with respect and a sense of wonder. This chapter structure enables students to navigate each religion in a consistent and systematic way and to make comparisons between religions. The book describes the essential features of each religion and shows how they have responded to basic human needs and to the cultural contexts in which they developed. The authors also encourage students to develop an appreciation for what religious beliefs and practices actually mean to their adherents.
THE WORLD’S RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS have offered answers to the weightiest questions of human existence, contributed to the formation of political and social institutions, inspired masterpieces of art and literature, and provided many of the cultural values and ideals on which entire civilizations have been based. Today, religions continue to play a powerful role in shaping the ways in which people understand
themselves, the world they live in, and how they should live.
Invitation to World Religions welcomes students to the study of religion. In these pages, we open the doors and invite the reader to explore with wonder and respect. We describe the essential features of the world’s great religions and show how they have responded to basic human needs and to the cultural settings in which they developed.
We also compare the answers religions have offered us regarding some of the most essential human questions: Why are we here? What is the nature of the universe? How should we live? Our aim has been to balance concision and substance in an introductory text that is accessible, as well as challenging.
A team of authors cooperated in writing this book, each one of us bringing a particular scholarly expertise—as well as years of teaching experience—to the respective chapters. We wrote with important learning goals in mind. We want students to gain an objective understanding of the beliefs and practices associated with the world’s religions, but we also encourage an empathetic appreciation of what their beliefs and actions actually mean to adherents. By emphasizing the connections between religious traditions and their cultural contexts, we seek to heighten awareness of the extent to which religions have influenced, and been influenced by, politics and society, literature, the arts, and philosophy. We also examine the role of religions in our contemporary world, particularly the frequently uneasy boundaries between religion and science, urbanization, and globalization. A thoughtful reading of this book will provide a clear understanding of the characteristics that are unique to individual religions and highlight many of their shared qualities and concerns. Finally, we trust that every reader will find here a means of making sense of other ways of believing and living and of finding a solid basis for the tolerance and respect that are so critically important in times like ours.
Religions are multidimensional. Accordingly, all but the first and last chapters examine three primary aspects of each religion: teachings, historical development, and way of life (practices and experiences). These three aspects are presented in the same order in every chapter in which they appear. Although they appear in the same order, we do not devote equal attention to each category. To do so would be to ignore the varying nature of the religious traditions. Judaism, for example, naturally calls for extensive attention to historical development; Jainism, for which an early historical record barely exists, does not. In each case, we shape our coverage in the way that seems most natural given the characteristics of the tradition under discussion.
Teachings. Commonly found in scriptures, myths, creeds, and ethical codes, the basic teachings of a religious tradition convey its answers to fundamental questions, such as: What is the human condition? How can the human condition be improved or transcended? What is the nature of the world? What is ultimate reality, and how is it revealed? The authority on which a religion answers questions such as these is also important. Are its truths revealed? Are they the products of intellectual effort? Are they insights gained in moments of profound psychological experience? Or are they simply traditional ways of looking at reality and our place within it that have been passed down from generation to generation?
Historical Development. Every religious tradition has a history that reveals how and why it developed its distinctive features, including its system of beliefs, leadership and governance structures, social institutions, and forms of artistic expression. Sometimes the forces that generate change arise largely from within a tradition, as in the case of conflict between opposing sects or schools of thought. At other times they operate from the outside, as with the influence exerted by Western powers on foreign colonies and spheres of influence or through the expansion of a tradition into a new cultural milieu. A religion’s history also functions to unite the individual with others in a shared memory of the past that helps to explain the present.
Way of Life. By way of life we mean practices—the things people do in making practical application of their beliefs, such as engaging in prayer, meditation, communal worship, or various other forms of ritual. Closely related to practices are modes of experience, the ways in which a religion’s adherents actually experience the consequences of applying its teachings. These might include a sense of inner peace, a more acute sense of community with others, a greater awareness of the divine, or a state of profound enlightenment.
Our survey begins in Chapter 1 with an introductory essay on the academic study of religions. After considering what religion is, the chapter identifies some of the other important questions scholars ask: What do religions do? What issues of universal concern do they address? What do scholars mean when they speak of mystical experience or of transcendence? What are the constituent parts of religious traditions? How are religions today being affected by the forces of modernization, urbanization, globalization, and science? Finally, the chapter explains why a multidisciplinary approach is necessary in any serious attempt to understand the world’s religions.
Chapter 1 is followed by two chapters on indigenous traditions. The book concludes with a chapter on new religions. The ten chapters in the middle are organized according to geographical and (roughly) chronological order, as follows: first, the religions of South Asian origin (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism); next, those of East Asian origin (Chinese religions, Japanese religions); and, finally, those of West Asian (or Middle Eastern) origin (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam). By studying the indigenous traditions first, students will gain an appreciation not only for the many living traditions that continue to thrive but also for certain ways of being religious (such as emphasis on oral transference of myths and other sacred lore) that at one time were predominant in most of today’s major world religions. By studying new religions last, students will likewise gain an appreciation for living traditions, along with glimpsing the sorts of innovations that occur within the old traditions, too, as religions respond to the cultural, technological, social, and cultural changes and challenges of the world around them
NEW TO THE THIRD EDITION
• Global Snapshot boxes We’ve created a new illustrated feature (called “Global Snapshot”) highlighting how religions are reflected in a globalized world or as they are lived in diasporic communities. Examples include the rich and surprising relationship between Shinto and anime; the use of social media by indigenous Pacific Islanders to support Sioux peoples protesting at Standing Rock; Jain involvement in contemporary environmentalist movements in the United States; and the marvelously diverse Jewish communities of India.
• Enhanced coverage of religion and conflict In response to reviewer suggestions, the third edition features clear and balanced explorations of the ways in which religion has sometimes been used to justify oppression and conflict. For example, the intertwining of religion and increased nationalism in contemporary politics across the globe is explored in contexts as diverse as Shinto, Buddhism, and Judaism.
• Vibrant, diverse new “Voices” Several new interviews in the popular “Voices” feature provide further evidence of the diversity of contemporary religious practices. For example, in Chapter 13, “Islam,” two young Muslim women discuss their faith, their families, and their ambitions. And in Chapter 2, “Indigenous Religions of North America,” a young man of Northern-Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone
descent movingly describes his participation in “cry ceremonies” and how Indians of his generation are restoring traditional beliefs and practices.
• A more uniform writing style We have worked throughout to streamline and clarify the text, particularly in response to many helpful reviewer suggestions.
The use of italics as well as the spelling of non-English terms has been regularized, and information in the “Notes” that may be of immediate interest to students has been incorporated into the main text.
• A more inviting look The overall design of this third edition has been refreshed for readability as well as beauty. In addition, abundant new photographs were selected to emphasize the diversity of how religions are lived today.
Along with the general features described above, chapter-specific revisions of particular note include:
• Chapter 1, “An Invitation to the Study of World Religions,” features more extensive consideration of contemporary trends in religious studies scholarship; expanded coverage of atheism, agnosticism, and the growing prevalence of religious “nones”; and a new section on the “downside” of religion, including violence and terrorism perpetrated in its name.
• Chapter 2, “Indigenous Religions of North America,” includes a new “Voices” interview with supporting coverage of the Southern Paiute. A new section on the 2016–2017 protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock Indian Reservation demonstrates the alignment of political, cultural, and spiritual interests among indigenous peoples in North America and globally.
• Chapter 4, “Hinduism,” features a new opening vignette set during the annual festival Ganesh Chaturthi; an improved organizational scheme that situates Yoga along with the major philosophical systems as significant components of Jnana Marga; enhanced treatment of gurus and saints; and expanded coverage of the role of British colonialism in shaping and challenging the practice of Hinduism.
• Chapter 10, “Zoroastrianism,” includes a new opening vignette set in Mumbai, the city with the largest Zoroastrian population, as well as a revised “Teachings” section that represents Zoroastrianism as a lived religion in today’s world.
• Chapter 14, “New Religious Movements,” features a new section on Falun Gong.