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Gates to heavens

World Religions: an Illustrated Encyclopedia on CD-Rom.

As a way of introducing seven to 13-year-olds to the richness and diversity of human religiousness, this CD-Rom offers many excellent possibilities.

The six religions covered - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism - are usually referred to as the "major world religions", but given that this CD-Rom is presented as an encyclopedia, one might also have hoped for some mention of Taoism, Confucianism and Shinto (even if they are not included in thecurriculum), plus an indication that there are also many smaller religions.

Some comment on how religion might be defined, its existence in prehistoric times and in vanished cultures, and its importance in human affairs throughout history, would also have been welcome. The lack of any general introduction leaves the user instantly immersed in the specifics of the different topics covered without any pause for comment or qualification.

One might also have wished for a more consistently phenomenological tone, so that we are not told, for example, that Jesus rose from the dead, or that Muhammad received the revealed word of God. These are statements of faith, not of fact.

It would also have been good to have had an indication of the difficulties implicit in translation. Representing "dukkha" just as suffering, without further explanation, for example, can render massive disservice to an understanding of Buddhism.

These shortcomings notwithstanding, anyone looking for a first stage guide likely to hook the interest of those coming new to these religions will not be disappointed.

Chris Arthur is a senior lecturer in religious studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter

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