Texts in context

5th March 2004 at 00:00
Sacred Texts series. The Guru Granth Sahib and Sikhism. The Qur'an and Islam. The Ramayana and Hinduism. The Tipitaka and Buddhism. By Anita Ganeri. The Bible and Christianity. By Alan Brown. The Torah and Judaism. By Vivienne Cato. Evans pound;10.99 each

When publishers create a series of short introductions to the world faiths, they often focus on one particular aspect in each case. So there are numerous series on the festivals, holy places and leaders of the great religions.

But this attempt to narrow down unwieldy subjects is frequently defeated by the need to explain the faith's origins, teachings and practices in order to make sense of the selected area.

Sacred texts is a topic not frequently chosen by publishers, perhaps because it requires more imagination than some to make it visually appealing. No problems here on that count, however. These 32-page books are handsomely designed with informative photographs, even if (as so often is the case) those in the volume on Christianity look the most contrived.

For the most part, the text is well within the grasp of key stage 2 users but will not insult younger KS3 readers. Besides explaining key issues, the authors provide interesting little-known facts. We learn that the Jewish coming-of-age celebration for girls, Bat Mitzvah, originated in Baghdad; the Sikh holy book is always printed so that the same text appears on a given page number, whatever the format; and Muslim men (but not women) are forbidden to wear gold.

Anita Ganeri's texts are well researched and well written, even if the volumes on Hinduism and Buddhism are somewhat disparate, ranging over those faiths' many holy books. For example, there are only actually two pages devoted to the Ramayana. Yes, the Vedas, Upanishads and Mahabharata are important, but the result is somewhat superficial coverage of a vast field.

Many teachers might have preferred a more manageable focus on the story of Rama. It is, after all, an exciting and accessible legend and a good starting point for an introduction to the Hindu faith.

Despite such minor caveats, this series is to be welcomed. It demonstrates the importance of sacred texts to believers, makes clear how they are used in private and public worship, and will engender respect for those texts.

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