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Living Religions : a Brief Introduction, Brief Edition (02 - Old Edition)by Mary Pat Fisher
Religion is not a museum piece. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, it is a vibrant force in the lives of many people around the world, and many religions are presently experiencing a renaissance.
Living Religions: A Brief Introduction, which is a brief edition of Living Religions, fourth edition, remains a sympathetic approach to what is living and significant in the world's major religious traditions and in various new movements that are arising. This book provides a clear and straightforward account of the development, doctrines, and practices of the major faiths followed today. The emphasis throughout is on the personal consciousness of believers and their own accounts of their religion and its relevance in contemporary life.
The seven feature boxes on "Religion in Public Life" portray the Spiritual roots of people who are making significant contributions to society. They include indigenous environmental activist Winona LaDuke, Hindu statesman and interfaith leader Dr. Karan Singly His Holiness the Dalai Lama whose political efforts on behalf of Tibet are undergirded by Buddhist principles, social activist Dr. Janice Penman whose Jewish roots have developed her compassion for marginalized people, Dr. Desmond Tutu and Dr. Farid Esack, who as a faithful Christian and a faithful Muslim, respectively, have played significant roles in South Africa's freedom movement and subsequent rebuilding, and His Holiness Baba Virsa Singly who draws on the universal themes in Sikh tradition to encourage open-mindedness and altruism among Indian public figures.
The socio-political context of the contemporary practice of religions includes an exploration of Hindu nationalism, Buddhist social activism, Confucianism in today's China, Judaism in today's Israel, Islam and the development of nation-states, and Sikh politics. There is significant coverage of women in religion.
Personal interviews with followers of each faith provide first-person accounts of each religion as perceived from within the tradition. These are presented at length in boxes and also in excerpts woven throughout the text.
The book 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.
Three chapters in this book are quite unique. One is the first chapter, "The Religious Response," which explores perspectives on religion in general. These include skeptical materialistic views and psychological perspectives, as well as the point of view that religions are responses to a sacred Reality which cannot be physically perceived but which can perhaps be experienced inwardly. The chapter also includes an exploration of the role of myth and varying types of religious understanding, including contemporary tensions between absolutist and liberal interpretations.
The second chapter portrays the little-understood indigenous religions. I have tried to bypass misleading accounts of indigenous traditions written by outsiders, and to get at the heart of how real people experience their close-to-nature spiritual ways. As we face the possibility of ecological collapse and urban residents feel increasingly alienated from the natural world, it is especially important that these surviving followers of the ancient ways be heard correctly. The chapter includes contemporary efforts to revive the traditional knowledge and practices.
Chapter 11 explores the global religious scene at the turn of the twentieth century. It discusses some types of new religious movements of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries and issues which have arisen with their development, such as opposition from previously established religions.
This chapter also surveys global trends found in all religions, including both an increase in "fundamentalist" rigidities and a softening of historical boundaries between people of different faiths. Included is a discussion of whether religions are basically similar or irreconcilably different in their claims to truth. There is also an examination of the evolving relationship between religion and materialism, the engagement of religions with social issues of our times, and the potential of religion for improving the future of humanity.
For the purpose of Living Religions: A Brief Introduction, I reluctantly took the decision to drop the chapter on Jainism rather than make further cuts to existing chapters. However, students can refer to Living Religions, fourth edition, for full coverage of this important religion.
The learning aids from Living Religions, fourth edition, have been retained. I have tried to present each tradition clearly and without a clutter of less important names and dates. Key terms, highlighted in bold or italics, are defined when they first appear and also in an extensive glossary. Because students are often unfamiliar with terms from other cultures, pronunciation guides for many of these terms appear in the glossary entries.
The history of the major religions is recapitulated in a time-line in the relevant chapter. The simultaneous development of all religions can be compared in the overall time-line on the end pages.
I assume that readers will want to delve further into the literature. At the end of each chapter, I offer an annotated list of books that might be particularly interesting and useful in deeper study of that religion.
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