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HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion / Edition 1

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Overview

Led by general editor Jonathan Z. Smith, a team drawn from the American Academy of Religion has collected more than 3,200 entries written by 327 leading experts from around the world and across the theological and religious spectrum. The exceptional editorial team includes associate editor William Scott Green and area editors Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, Lawrence S. Cunningham, Gary L. Ebersole, Malcom David Eckel, Sam D. Gill, Alfred Hiltebeitel, Richard C. Martin, Carole A. Myscofski, Jacob Neusner, and Hans H. Penner.

Designed for the general reader, this highly accessible resource addresses everything from the great living traditions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism to the very latest new religions. Diverse topics — from the experience of women in Islam to the troublesome realities of religion and violence — are covered with compelling facts and figures, eloquent prose, and riveting accuracy.

Have You Ever Wondered
  • What draws a person to alternative religious traditions? And what exactly is a "cult"?
  • What are the branches on the Jewish Chanukah menorah symbolize? And why bitter herbs are eaten at Passover?
  • Why children color eggs at Easter time? What a tree has to do with Christmas?
  • Why is there such a debate over the ordination of women in the Catholic Church?
  • If organized religion is necessary for a fulfilled humankind? How it all began, anyway?

All these questions and much, much more are answered in this essential and powerful new tool: The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion — the definitive guide to understanding religion today.

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Editorial Reviews

Huston Smith
As a guide to comprehending religion's institutions, texts, and doctrines as they inform and animate history, this is the state-of-the-art one-volume resource.
Bill Moyers
This one goes right on my desk of working references I use everyday. In a world exploding with religious news, it's manna for journalists!
Library Journal
This dictionary has behind it the authority of American Academy of Religion, under whose auspices it was compiled. The 3200-plus articles are written by a team of 327 religion scholars, experts in their respective fields. Although in the introduction this team is called "international," only 32 members are from outside the United States, and over half of those are from Western Europe, the United Kingdom, and Canada. In addition to the standard alphabetically arranged articles on persons, holy days, rituals, deities, scriptures, etc., there are ten major articles dealing with ancient and modern religious traditions and one on the study of religion. Each of the standard articles begins with a clear, concise definition. Extensive cross references tie related articles together, though of the major articles, only "Religions of Antiquity," "New Religions," and "Religions of Traditional Peoples" provide lists of cross references. Though this is generally a thorough and well-written work, it has its shortcomings. The article "Goddess religion" speaks of "womanchurch" congregations but doesn't refer the reader to the article "Woman-church." The Sacred Name doctrine is mentioned without explanation in "Identity Christianity," and there is no article defining the term. Abortion is treated in a half-page article, but homosexuality (an equally controversial subject) is relegated to two brief paragraphs. Nonetheless, the HarperCollins dictionary compares well with other current one-volume dictionaries. Next to A New Dictionary of Religions (LJ 11/15/95), it lacks a bibliography, but it includes guides to pronunciation, a feature absent from the former as well as from Continuum Dictionary of Religion (Continuum, 1994) and Larousse Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions (LJ 11/1/94). Consequently, it is recommended by itself or as a complement to other dictionaries of religion.-Craig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.
Zom Zoms
With the collaboration of the American Academy of Religion, an international team of scholars contributed more than 3,200 articles to this book. While entries are not signed, the forematter lists more than 300 contributed articles as well as the area editors who comprise the editorial board. The preface notes that the dictionary "seeks to expand public understanding of religion by going beyond the usual concentration on major world religions" ; thus the scope includes all geographic areas from the Paleolithic era to present times While the basic organization is that of a dictionary with concise entries on specific topics such as names, rituals, places, and festivals and more extensive entries for such topics as "Mysticism" or "Japanese Folk Religion", there are also 11 long feature articles about major world religions, broad categories of religion such as the religions of antiquity, and an essay on the academic study of religion. Maps and time lines are included where appropriate. The broad essays on historical religious traditions are complemented by entries on such central topics as art and architecture, authoritative texts, the festal cycle, etc. Thus the broad essay on Islam is related to such articles as "Islam (ethics)" and "Islam (life cycle)" The preface notes that the dictionary devotes significant attention to religions of traditional peoples, extinct religions, and new religious movements. While not as extensive as "America's Alternative Religions" (SUNY Press, 1995) for North America, there is indeed fairly comprehensive coverage of new religious movements throughout the world. While mainstream Christianity is well represented in the dictionary, it seems to be assumed that information on this faith is readily available in other resources. For example, two lines are given to the concept "Guardian Angel" while "Guardian Spirit" in Native American traditions is 38 lines. Articles that compare concepts in religions are useful, but once again emphasis is often on non-Christian religions. Under "Death," for example, the concept is discussed only in terms of Islam and Japanese Buddhism The dictionary tries to overcome the fragmentation inherent in such a format with a cross-referencing system that is only partially effective. There are no internal cross-references indicating that names or concepts mentioned in articles also have separate entries. Under "Pope" there is only a terse three-line definition and no cross-reference to longer treatment under "Papacy". There are no bibliographies, but there is a wealth of information about scholarly sources and major authors within the entries This is a mass of information for the price. For large libraries it is no substitute for the 16-volume "Encyclopedia of Religion" (Macmillan, 1987), but the one-volume format is handy for reference work, and college students will find it a resource for information about religions not familiar in the West. The pronunciation indications provided are helpful. The level of writing is scholarly and occasionally not accessible to even the educated lay reader. Public and academic libraries will definitely want to purchase; high-school libraries will not find it as useful.
From Barnes & Noble
The consummate dictionary covering all major religions of the world, this one-volume reference compiled by a team of 250 leading authorities presents concise discussions on everything from the centuries-old traditions of Buddhism to the troubling realities of Satanism. Embellishing more than 3,200 entries with compelling facts and figures, the dictionary addresses such diverse topics as the experiences of women in Islam and the alarming number of violent acts performed in the name of religion. Features 11 feature articles on the major religions of the world; maps and charts depicting the expansion of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam; timelines; and much more. Brings to readers the people, places, concepts, practices, and writings of the entire religious world. Black- and-white photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060675158
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1900
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 1200
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 2.17 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction



With the publication of The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, the publishers and the American Academy of Religion provide an accessible guide to religion and the breathtaking scope of the world's religions. This single-volume dictionary makes more widely available to the general public both the results of the best of contemporary scholarship on the world's religions and an account of the most significant issues and categories that inform present-day practices within the academic study of religion.

The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion is the result of an unusual collaborative effort between a major learned society, the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and a major publishing house, HarperCollins, to ensure that the work will be authoritative, attractive, and usable for the general reader.

Under the corporate leadership of a general editor, an associate editor, and ten area editors, each appointed by the AAR, an international team of 327 scholars was commissioned to prepare more than thirty-two hundred articles on the major and lesser-known religious traditions as well as articles on interpretative categories employed in the study of religion. Each author is an acknowledged expert, bringing to his or her individual contributions years of study and publication as well as a balanced sense of judgment regarding the most current scholarship of other specialists. Each was chosen not only for learning but also for abilities in communicating knowledge to scholars and nonscholars alike. The result is a dictionary remarkable for its authority, as well as for itsscope and format.

Scope

This dictionary treats representative and significant religious formations of humankind from every geographical area and from the Paleolithic era to the present day. Given this range, it cannot be complete; it is necessarily selective. The choice of items for inclusion, a process that extended over several years, engaged every scholarly resource available to the editors. Each item included was chosen because (1) it represents a significant religious tradition or is essential for the understanding of a significant religious tradition; (2) it is representative of a wider set of religious phenomena or of issues recurrent in the study of religion; or (3) it is a term that occurs in public discourse about religion and might, therefore, be encountered by our readers.

Within these necessary limitations, The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion seeks to expand public understanding of religion by going beyond the usual concentration on major world religions. In addition to this, significant attention has been devoted to religions of traditional peoples, to extinct religions of antiquity, and to new religious movements (the last-named being the second largest set of entries). Because this work is in dictionary format, the diversity of the religious expressions and experiences of humankind is largely represented through defining native religious terms, that is, a particular group's words for itself and for central elements in its traditions.

The Dictionary seeks to expand public understanding of religion in a second way: by presenting, in addition to native vocabulary, terms in common use by scholars for describing and understanding religions, often from outside the tradition under discussion. This relatively new field, the academic study of religion, constitutes one of the most exciting endeavors within the human sciences over the last one hundred years.

On occasion, the reader will be invited to join the scholars in critical reflections on their enterprise. One issue will be persistent: the degree to which "our" language, whether our native Western religious language or our generic academic terminology, distorts "their" language.

To some degree, distortion is inevitable. Our language is, at best, a translation of theirs, and translations can never be complete or exact. The larger problem, however, is not at the level of a word itself, the particular translation term, but rather with all the associations our word evokes or fails to evoke. For example, when a term such as scripture is used by one of our authors, it carries for many of our readers the connotation of (1) a fixed collection of (2) revealed or inspired books, two senses rarely appropriate when speaking of the sacred literature of the majority of literate religions of humankind. (For this reason, the Dictionary largely employs the term authoritative books in place of scripture.) On the other hand, when authors use the translation term priest to describe a professional ritualist, they are also usually describing a hereditary office. This connotation is largely lacking in the English use of the term.

Sometimes the degree to which we have imposed alien understandings on others is so massive, so unrelenting, that it appears to us to be quite natural. Perhaps the most ubiquitous example of this in the Dictionary is the chronological designation B.C., which the editors have quite self-consciously decided to retain to remind the reader that we in American and European culture routinely organize the dating of all religions' histories by a Christian schema. The difficulty with B.C. is not at the level of nomenclature and is, therefore, not solved by changing B.C. ("before Christ") to B.C.E. ("before the common era" -- a commonality that only includes Christians and Jews). The problem is in the numeration. Here, all other traditions are being required to abandon their native decisions concerning important events: Judaism, which begins the year one with creation; Islam, with the Hijra in 622; Buddhism, with the Buddha attaining nirvana in 544 B.C.; or Japan, which begins the year one with the accession of each new emperor.

Concealed within this previous example is another instance of an imposed understanding that seems quite natural to us, the names by which we designate the various religions. For example, when we name a religion "Hinduism," we are employing an Arabic geographical term, first used by India's Muslim Mughal conquerors, denoting people who live near the Indus River. When we hear this tradition name itself in Sanskrit, sanatana dharma ("imperishable truth"), we are hearing what it most values about itself-in this case, that it has no temporal founder. While many...

HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion. Copyright © by Academy Of Reli American. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Posted June 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very good!

    I highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in learning about specific religious group. This book provides a brief and direct approach into many religious groups.

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