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Living Religions - Eastern Traditionsby Mary Pat Fisher
Religion is not a museum piece. As the twenty-first century unfolds, religion is a vibrant force in the lives of many people around the world, and many religions are presently experiencing a renaissance.
Living Religions: Eastern Traditions is a sympathetic approach to what is living and significant in the world's major religious traditions and new religious movements that have originated in the East. This book provides a clear and straightforward account of the development, doctrines, and practices of these faiths. It ends with conclusions about trends that are now being seen in all religions. The emphasis throughout is on the personal consciousness of believers and on their own accounts of their religion and its relevance in contemporary life.
One of the unique features of this text is personal interviews with followers of each faith. This material provides interesting and informative first-person accounts of each religion as perceived from within the tradition. This volume includes special boxes featuring interviews with a Hindu grandmother, a Jain "semi-nun," a Thai Buddhist trying to incorporate meditation into worldly life, a Chinese scholar living abroad and witnessing social changes as they affect the religious values of her parents, and a Shinto practitioner trying to restore faith in his ancient religion. In addition, first-person accounts have been interwoven throughout the text.
Living Religions: Eastern Traditions also includes feature boxes on "Religion in Public Life." These portray the spiritual roots of Dr. Karan Singh and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, followers of Eastern religions who are making significant contributions to modern society. In their stories, one recognizes that deep religiosity can go hand-in-hand with deep social commitment.
There are also feature boxes on "Religion in Practice," such as the Swadhyaya Movement and Life in a Western Zen Monastery, and "Teaching Stories", such as "The Monkeys Take Care of the Trees", which can serve as take-off points for discussions about core values imbedded in each faith.
Violence perpetrated in the name of religion is often in the news these days. Living Religions: Eastern Traditions includes probing discussions of this disturbing factor. Distinctions are made between the basic teachings of religions, none of which condones wanton violence, and the ways in which religions have been politicized. There is extensive coverage of the socio-political context of the contemporary practice of religions, particularly with reference to emergent Hindu nationalism. The final chapter examines the current tensions between the hardening of inter-religious boundaries and efforts to bring harmony among religions.
Throughout the book, women's contributions and women's issues are carefully considered. Women's voices, including those of female religious leaders and scholars, are woven into the discussions.
The opening chapter, "The Religious Response," brings critical scholarship to bear on underlying issues in the study of religion. Throughout the book the latest scholarship has been applied. The text incorporates extensive quotations from primary sources to give a direct perception of the thinking and flavor of each tradition. Particularly memorable brief quotations are set off in boxes.
One of the most engaging features of Living Religions: Eastern Traditions is its illustrations. I have been glad to have the chance to use 114 illustrations, 61 of them in color, to help bring religions to life. Narrative captions accompanying the illustrations offer additional insights into the characteristics and orientation of each tradition and the people who practice it.
I have tried to present each tradition clearly and without the clutter of less important names and dates. Key terms, defined and highlighted in boldface when they first appear, are included in an extensive glossary. Because students are often unfamiliar with terms from other cultures, useful guides to pronunciation of words that may be unfamiliar are included in the glossary.
Maps are used throughout the text to give a sense of geographical reality to the historical discussions, as well as to illustrate the present distribution of the religions. Timelines are used to recapitulate the historical development of each of the major religions, up to the present.
I assume that readers will want to delve further into the literature. At the end of each chapter, therefore, I offer an annotated list of books that might be particularly interesting and useful in deeper study of that religion.
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