Faiths explain creeds;Secondary;Reviews;Religious Education;Books

14th May 1999 at 01:00
RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD SERIES: BUDDHISM. By Bradley K Hawkins. CHRISTIANITY. By Brian Wilson. HINDUISM. By Cybelle Shattuck. ISLAM. By Jamal J Elias. JUDAISM. By Dan Cohn-Sherbok. RELIGION IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. By Mary Pat Fisher. Routledge pound;6.99 each paperback

For Buddhism, the present challenge is the Western gospel of consumerism. For Judaism, it is "marrying out" and assimilation into a secular society. For Islam, "it is the bitter fact that not only is no Muslim country ranked among the most developed nations, but many are among the poorest".

It is assessments such as these that give these succinct surveys of the major world faiths their character. Each author provides not only a historical survey of the growth of the religion in question, together with descriptions of the variety of practice and belief within each faith, but emphasises that each religion is a developing code, responding to the needs of its adherents. With this in mind, the final chapter of each book looks ahead to the next century.

This last theme is developed at greater length in one rather different volume. Mary Pat Fisher considers social changes, the growth of "new" religions and the potential conflict between traditionalism and so-called post-modernist religion in which individuals feel free to pick appealing aspects of one or more faiths. She herself grew up as a Methodist Christian, has taken instruction from Hasidic rabbis and Native Americans and now follows a Sikh visionary.

If there is a weakness in this American series, it is an unevenness between the volumes. Brian Wilson writes with admirable objectivity on Christianity; other authors write as adherents of their creeds. Even so, this is a valuable collection which, although aimed at adults, does not assume prior knowledge. It also makes no simplistic attempt to paper over internal dissent within the faiths.

David Self

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