Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World's Beliefs / Edition 1

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A world-renowned religion scholar explores the world's major religions and comparable secular systems of thought in this unusually wide-ranging and accessible work. Ninian Smart considers Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, as well as Marxist-Leninism, Maoism, nationalism, and Native American, African, and other systems of belief. His goal is to advance our understanding of how we as human beings interact thoughtfully with the cosmos and express the exigencies of our own nature and existence.

Smart demonstrates that diverse systems of belief reflect several recurring themes: the tendency to worship, the contemplative life, story-telling, a view of history, ethical instruction, guidelines on bodily practices, rituals, and visual icons. He examines each of these themes in relation to specific belief systems. He points out that religions and comparable worldviews should be studied at least as much through their practices as through their beliefs.

The result of twenty-five years of research, this comprehensive book is nothing less than an analysis of the entire pattern of human spiritual life, viewed through what Smart calls "the grammar of symbols, the modes and forms in which religion manifests itself."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Smart, one of the grandfathers of the study of the history of religion along with Huston Smith and Mircea Eliade, offers a very interesting treatise on how the human animal has attempted to impose meaning on the paradox of the human condition: we are finite and time-bound, yet we are able to conceive of the eternal and the infinite. Smart walks the reader through a great mass of research, and for that alone we should be grateful. Through a series of chapters devoted to six dimensions of the worldRitual, Mythic, Experiential and Emotional, Ethical and Legal, Social, MaterialSmart delineates characteristics of religious worldviews. Two chapters, one on Doctrine and Philosophy and a final one on the Political Effects of Religion, provide bookends for his discussions. On the whole, Smart provides an extremely useful scheme for understanding the interrelationship among the various worldviews. A kind of anatomy of spirituality, designed to advance understanding of the practical and theoretical aspects of a variety of world religions, Smart's book is important reading for any serious student of religion. Sept.
Library Journal
Smart religion, Univ. of California wisely steps over the traps of previous comparative literature surveys with an extensively written examination of seven dimensions he believes are found in each world religion: ritual, doctrinal, mythic, emotional, ethical/legal, organizational, and artistic. By using these as major themes to delineate sections of his book, he expounds on the differences and similarities of each faith to the others. This is not a textbook and it does not pretend to be comprehensive. Each section has the feel of a university lecture delivered by a well-versed scholar; whenever specific aspects of religions are mentioned, they are made to support a particular point. If a fault can be found, it is that the book is written mainly for those familiar with world religions. Novices will find the book difficult to read. Recommended for academic libraries.-Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
From Barnes & Noble
Explores the ways in which what is spiritual or meaningful to man is expressed around the world, from the underlying features of the world's major faiths to secular beliefs such as Marxist-Leninism & nationalism.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520207776
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/21/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 359
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Ninian Smart is J. F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Among his many books are Buddhism and Christianity: Rivals and Allies (1993), Choosing a Faith (1995), and The Religious Experience (5th edition, 1996).

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