Although the arts, music, and literature of the world add to the overall aesthetic quilt that is human culture, religions are often in conflict. This book represents an effort to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect. An introductory chapter, “Understanding Religion,” though incomplete in its references to only a few philosophers and psychologists, is a useful guide for those who wish to learn about religions from broad perspectives. Written by specialists, the chapters cover every major religion and many less-known ones too. One chapter discusses the 19th-century notion of the Near East as the “cradle of civilization.” The personal stories of some practitioners are interesting, but the book’s goal would have been better served if scholars from various religious traditions had been asked to contribute instead. The book presents Hinduism from its purely Sanskritic perspective, with not a word on its rich, meaningful, and influential Tamil components. There is no mention of Tirumúlar or Saiva Siddhanta, even in the glossary. Despite this shortcoming, the presentations are informative and nonjudgmental, the pictures colorful and interesting, and the language readable and concise. The book is encyclopedic without being overwhelming, and it will certainly serve a very important need in today’s world.
October 25, 2013