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on 12 October 2011
'Everyone has an opinion about religion.' is the very first sentence of Peter Stanford's introduction to this book, and so it probably is. Just looking at some of the major conflicts in the world today it even seems to matter very much to a lot of people! I, however, came to this book not as a 'believer' but largely out of curiosity. Part of my motivation was actually literary: as an eager student of English literature but having been raised myself as a Catholic, it irked me not to know more about High and Low Anglicanism, Methodism, Presbyterians, the Kirk, etc. etc. because I found these play a central role in many of the novels I read (just think of the Barsetshire-novels by Anthony Trollope).

So I was eager to find a simple, objective and comprehensive overview of the world's (major) religions. And that is precisely what I got. True to his word, Stanford summarizes this vast topic leaving his 'own feelings and denominational attachment to one side so as to present as rounded a picture as possible'.

He does so grouping together the 50 separate ideas into 7 chapters:
- Common ground
- Christianity
- The Reformed Tradition
- Judaism
- Islam
- Eastern Traditions
- Modern Dilemmas

If you're an amateur (which seems a strange word to apply to religion) like me, this short book in just over 200 pages will provide you with a very easy-to-follow overview and leave you with a good grasp of the similarities and differences between the world's major religions. The information given is basic of course, and I'm sure one can, as some do, devote a lifetime to the study of just one of these religions, and experts will perhaps find fault with the lack of detail. But that is not what this book sets out to do, so according to me besides the point.

So whether you do or do not feel 'a god-shaped hole' in your innermost being, and whether or not that hole has been filled, I can only heartily recommend this book to all. I'm sure that it'll help me personally appreciate English literature all the more, and has even inspired me to finally start reading A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years because, to use a religious concept: I was becoming nothing short of guilt-ridden seeing this book sit unopened on my shelves.
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on 3 November 2011
I bought this book as part of a wider interest in anthropology and religious practices in particular. It provides the reader with a simple format, coverage of the major elements of most of the world's major belief-systems and a broad-brush, fundamental exposure to the diverse religious beliefs in the world. I'd recommend it particularly for those who want an easily-read introduction into the whole topic of religion and religious practice.

Follow the path of Descartes, when he advises "if you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things". Baruch Spinoza eloquently condemns the people who claim to know who or what God is when he tells us; "Those who wish to seek out the cause of miracles, and to understand the things of nature as philosophers, and not to stare at them in astonishment like fools, are soon considered heretical and impious, and proclaimed as such by those whom the mob adores as the interpreters of nature and the Gods. For these men know that once ignorance is put aside, that wonderment would be taken away which is the only means by which their authority is preserved".
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 November 2010
There is no doubt that this book is superficial. It has to be to have discussed 50 religious ideas of the major religions in 205 pages. One can write almost 700 pages just on the birth of Jesus alone (Raymond Brown, "Birth of the Messiah"). One is therefore likely to find descriptions or comments that needs explanation and elaboration, but bearing in mind that the intention of the editors and the author was clearly to provide a sampling of some of the major ideas of and about the main religions this is a very helpful and enjoyable book to read. Some, such as Mormons, Christian Scientists, and Quakers may object to their religion classified as a "sect or cult" - but on reading the actual description, the author was not at all offensive. I set out the passage on "Quakers" as an illustration: "George Fox (1624-91), an apprentice shoemaker from Leicestershire, founded the society of friends (better known as the Quakers) in 1652, after he despaired of finding God in any existing denomination. His new movement was an association rather than a church, and was dedicated to revealing an inner truth or light. The society has no ministers and no sacraments. Meetings are conducted largely in prayerful silence, with participants 'waitng upon God' and speaking only when prompted by the Holy Spirit. Quakers are notable for their work for social justice, especially in prisons. There are 300,000 members of the movement worldwide." page 81.

The reader, be he an atheist, a Christian, a Hindu or a Muslim, if he is open-minded, will find something of some religions about which he might hitherto have been ignorant. Hence, this is not the book for the comparative religious scholar, but to the lay person it is a very informative book.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2012
This is a very useful and readable comparative guide to all the major and most of the minor religions in the world. It looks at their basic tenets and characteristics, their holy texts and their outline development, and different trends and factions within them. What really emerges is that most religions have very similar basic core messages rejecting materialism and, at heart, the expressed desire to treat one's fellow man decently. This is well worth a read for anyone, whatever their personal views, who is interested in the ways in which different societies, cultures and sub cultures see the world and see each other. 5/5
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on 28 July 2013
This book, as with many '50 Ideas' titles, is jam-packed with highly readable and succinct content matter that proves a joy to read. Its a useful, albeit basic, reference piece in which the core tenets of major world religions are outlined. Quotations from various figures add value and context. Historical significance of belief systems are imparted by way of the ol' "50 ideas" timeline along the bottom of each page. The three great monotheisms are particularly well served.

I do, however, take issue with the way in which atheism is so negatively and wrongly portrayed in this book. It shouldn't even be mentioned. Atheism is not a religion nor is it faith in any real sense. One "condensed idea" proposes that "Atheism is a faith". || Edited for clarity: No atheist will tell you they are **certain** or have *faith* that gods don't exist. "Atheist" is a label that often runs parallel with "agnostic".|| Perhaps the content on atheism comes from a blip in the author's objectivity, or a failure to completely leave to one side his "denominational attachment." It is evident in his stance on 'The God Delusion', which, in his words, "feeds and embolden[s] anti-religious prejudice."

Prejudice (Noun):
Preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience.

I wish the author could elaborate on how Dawkins' opinions fail in either reason or experience. (obvious bias!)
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on 27 December 2012
As someone interested in the subject matter I find this book interesting but Iam puzzled by some of the leaps between faith groups and time lines. As a 'non-technical' guide to many religions it seems to me to be well directed as a 'primer' and has suggested to me some areas I might be able to follow up to discover more about particular areas of world religions.
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on 7 June 2014
I thought that this would be good for a thoughtful teen reader. It isn't much better than an Usborne/DK book in the written text, and of course there are no pictures. I would expect a book that consists only of text to be a less bitty. It just jumped around all over the place, and lacked focus/clarity as a result.
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on 4 November 2013
It's often difficult to get handle on some of the ideas theology graduates take for granted, without doing a theology degree of your own. This little work goes a long way towards that, explaining clearly and simply some fundamental concepts you can hang your own ideas around religion on.
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on 26 January 2014
As a christian believer I think the balance or coverage within Christianity was not the best. That on Buddhism left me unclear. Islam's and Judaism could be improved. More on the golden rule? More on modern thinking about modern cosmology & fundamental physics and religious beliefs.
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on 4 January 2012
Excepting in mathematical affairs where 2+2=4, possibly there are no other absolute certain facts for the human mind. These are the only ideas truly universal for mankind. Perhaps also in medicine, when a treatment works well, all physicians use the same method.
But religion is paradoxical, because is effectively important for many people and perhaps most persons, good or bad, that's another question. The fact however is every person believes in one different religion so, the temptation to think all religious beliefs are false or only partially true is strong and a subjective creation or hallucination of human mind. But there's the undeniable fact people continues believing in religions. And not only that, but people kills and dies in the name of his religion, not in the name of Pitagoras theorem. This book explains briefly the similarities and differences of main religions, and certainly, some contains most high level of abstraction while other seems more childish, but the core mystery remains and there's no book capable to explain that.
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