Faith and place

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
KEYSTONES SERIES

CHRISTIAN CHURCH. By Alan Brown and Alison Seaman

HINDU MANDIR. By Anita Ganeri

JEWISH SYNAGOGUE. By Laurie Rosenberg

MUSLIM MOSQUE. By Umar Heged

A amp; C Black #163;8.99 each

How do you explain and illustrate Christian worship that ranges from High Mass complete with smells, bells and full vestments to the informality of happy-clappy house churches in one 32-page book for key stages 2 and 3? Similar problems also face the authors of the other three books in this new series. Orthodox and Reform synagogues vary considerably; Regent's Park mosque doesn't look much like the converted houses in which many British Muslims meet on Fridays; nor is north London's spectacular Neasden Mandir typical of the average Hindu place of worship in the West.

So, it is a measure of the excellence of these Keystones that they all satisfactorily embrace such diversity and, far from being simple guides to "holy buildings", provide admirably comprehensive but succinct introductions to the origins, beliefs and practices of each faith. Never do they seek to reduce complexity to order: "Hinduism is a very flexible religion . . . it is left to each person to decide what is best for him or her." And "Christians do not always agree with each other."

Each book uses the loose framework of a visit to the respective place of worship to illustrate the art and artefacts of the religion in question, to describe the holy books, festivals and family life. So, for example, the Muslim volume stresses Islam's requirement for social action and reverence of creation as well as daily prayer and annual fasting.

In each book, the "end matter" includes a useful (if somewhat drab-looking) time-line, notes for any teacher contemplating a visit to the place of worship in question, a glossary as well as a practical index. Full marks especially to the picture researcher and to the publisher, who has, I suspect, specially commissioned many of the appealing and instructive photographs included in each book.

David Self is author of '50 Stories for Assembly' published by Heinemann

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