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The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions (Cambridge Illustrated Histories) Hardcover – 10 Jan 2002
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'As a broad brushstroke approach to the history of religions this collection of articles covers the ground comprehensively and well … There is a pleasing and judicious use of inserts and boxes to break up the impact of solid text. The photographic illustrations are a stunning success, with striking images that help to raise the text into life. The chronological time-lines are also a useful feature … It is pleasing that the entries are by writers of acknowledged quality in their fields.' Alan Race, Church Times
'This volume presents a large amount of information in an engaging way, offering much scholarly insight for the lay reader … Useful for students, teachers, and general readers as an introduction to religious history, this work is recommended for public and college libraries.' Library Journal
'Some of the best and most reliable scholars have been enlisted to write about the traditions in which they have specialised, and they do so in a very accessible and deceptively simple way … an attractive book that can be firmly recommended for library use and for personal pleasure.' The Times Higher Education Supplement
' … a beautifully produced book '. Reviews in Religion and Theology
'… a scholarly work but written accessibly … will inform the unspecialised reader of much information. it also raises a number of questions about how we write historically about religion in the context of culture, nationalism and politics.' Journal of Beliefs and Values
The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions provides a comprehensive survey of world religions from pre-history to the present day. Each religion is treated in depth, with text written by an academic expert supported by lavish illustration. There are special box features and spreads, a bibliography, and chronologies.See all Product description
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In the introduction, Bowker writes, 'There is no known society in which religion has not played a part, and frequently a controlling and creative part. This seems to have been true of the earliest societies, but in their case the history of religions is not easy to write.' Bowker traces the reconstruction and speculation of prehistoric societies, with illustrations of cave paintings, totem poles, Mayan pyramid structures, Native American costumes, and maps of South America and Oceania to help illustrate the diversity of ways beyond the printed word that different peoples have kept alive the religious traditions handed down to them.
'The attempt to write history according to laws governing human behaviour had an immensely important influence during much of the twentieth century, because it created those disciplines which called themselves "the social science".' This is not, however, the only possible way to explore religion, and Bowker and his fellow authors do stretch their reporting and analysis beyond this framework. Some tap into the common core of ideas that seems to permeate the different religions, and some do anthropological studies that look for echoes of the present in the past.
This book is useful both as a reference and as a narrative history, designed for reading. The religions are described both in terms of beliefs and in terms of practices, with side-bar commentary that helps to elucidate key points throughout the text. There are also occasional essays, spread across one or two pages, that might highlight in more detail some of the scriptures, cultural issues, historical events, or other key pieces that lend understanding to the religion. For example, in the section on Buddhism, there are special essays on the Buddha's First Sermon, Women in Japanese Buddhism, and Chinese Suppression; in the section on Islam, there are special essays on The Quran, Islam in Pakistan, and Mosques.
The main sections and principle subsections are as follows:
Indian Religions and the Hindu Tradition
Þ India and Southeast Asia
Zarathustra and the Parsis
Þ Classical Greek and Roman Religion
Þ Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia
Þ Norse Religion
The concluding section, on new religions, discusses various practices and communities that still hearken back to older traditions. Pagans, for example, tend to dismiss use of the term neo-Pagan, as they maintain that their religion taps into ancient ideas rather than exists as a new creation. Similarly, followers of Wicca see themselves as descendents of older European practices -- some followers of both see their origins in the Druid communities. In Japan, the shinko shukyo, or newer religions, exist in addition to several ancient traditions that continue to be practiced. Post-colonial Africa has seen a resurgence beginning in the recovery of non-Western religious practices alongside continuing growth in both Christian and Islamic communities. The Bahai faith is an example of a new religion growing out of Islamic (and thus the Judeo-Christian-Islamic) tradition; twentieth century groups such as Scientologists and the Unification Church continue to generate controversy, both in terms of belief and practice.
'With so many risks, why do new religions continue to flourish, especially among the young? Many answers have been offered, but fundamental to them all is the fact that the capacity for religious belief and behaviour is deeply embedded in the human brain and body. It is inevitable, therefore, that people will be religious in some sense. ... The human genius for religion leads to the constant development of new religions that seem to their adherents to meet their needs and fulfill their hopes. It leads also to a continuing history of existing religions for exactly the same reason.'
The book includes a chronology presented both in column text and in two-page graphic format as a timeline. There is also a great index, and a useful bibliography. The text is written assuming no particular background in religion, theology or history, but rather a basic beginning college reading level. Advanced students from secondary schools may also find this useful, and the illustrated format makes it an interesting book for almost any reader.