Book: The Illustrated World Religions A Guide To Our Wisdom Traditions by Huston SmithThis book has deep respect for the wisdom traditions and Huston Smith has lived this. A practicing Methodist, Smith had discussions with the Vendanta Society, does Hatha Yoga, and prays five times a day like the Muslims. His perspective is not one looking for divisions within a religion, but as an outsider wanting to understand the experiences. For example, in discussing Islam, he talks about the Sufis, but not about the division between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
In lucid and captivating prose, Smith, the dean of world religionists, conducts readers on a whirlwind tour of the beliefs, practices and experiences of the world's religious traditions. Smith explores the major features of these religions by combining his own worlds with passages from the sacred texts of each. In addition, beautifully arresting images of icons, religious Practitioners, sacred texts and sacred art accompany Smith's lyrical writing. The words and images of this book continually remind us that the world's faiths are not stagnant pools of decaying values but dynamic and vibrant waters from which their practitioners daily drink. The book also brings within range of our American hearing the voices of a wide variety of people for whom religion is the central fact of social and cultural life. If one buys only one of the number of recent introductions to World Religions, this should be it.
This book is less about details, facts, and religious holidays, and more about the underlying meaning and unique insight of each religion. E.g., in discussing Hinduism he looks at "What people really want", about a wearing out of the material world. In the chapter of Judaism he discusses meaning in history and justice.
The illustrations complement the text with a symbolic sense of the culture and beliefs. Looking at a sculpture of a very sensual Shiva with consorts helps one realize that the Hindu view of pleasure may be different than your own. The Buddhist and Taoism paintings project a sense of peace. The photographs of the worshippers are very respectful.
Huston has obviously done a great deal of research in the area of World religions. This work is an interesting and informative guide to Understanding why people believe what they believe. In each section he gives a brief discussion of the history of each system of belief (for instance, he talks about Siddhartha's life in the section about Bhuddism). He then continues to discuss the main points, or fundamental beliefs, of each religion. In these discussions, Huston is concise and incredibly informative. Again, it's very obvious that he's done his homework. I found all of these sections very illuminating.
All of the major branches of religion are repressented here (both oriental and occidental thought). That doesn't necesarilly mean that all of the offshoots of any particular religion are repressented --that would probably lead to a much larger, more cumbersome work. With this in mind, Huston's book is an excellent source of information on the various world religions. I would recomend the book to anybody with an interest in religion. It is an excellent tool to help you understand the world, and is well worth the read.
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