Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions by James A. Beverley

Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions

Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions
by James A. Beverley

Trade Paperback: 850 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2009

Author Website
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Source: review copy from publisher

Back Cover Description:
Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions is a detailed, up-to-date reference work from Professor James A. Beverley. This volume offers both description and evaluation of the hundreds of religions in today's spiritual marketplace. In addition to basic information, the reader has access to critical analysis of the controversies that arise in the debate about various religious groups and leaders.

The book covers Baha'i, Branch Davidians, Buddhism, Cristian Science, Christian Sectarian Groups, Hinduism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, Mormonism, the New Age, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Satanism, Scientology, Sikhism, Unification Church, and Wicca/Neo-Paganism.

The book covers:
-Historical information on each major religion with detailed timelines.
-Profiles of each group's primary leaders.
-Key principles and beliefs of each religion.
-An analysis and critique of religions from a Christian perspective.
-Opinion and commentary on the controversial issues related to specific religious groups.
-Recommended resources for more information about each religion (both books and websites).

This book is a good introduction to modern religions, but I was disappointed by how much critical information was left out in favor of less important information (in my opinion). Also, the organization wasn't consistently handled as to which religions were covered in which section and what information was focused on for each. However, the book was still very usable and useful.

While the history of each religion was briefly covered, the focus was usually on when the important leaders lived and various controversies occurred rather than the historical beliefs of the religion.

The book generally focused on the shared beliefs of all the subgroups in each religion. However, sometimes beliefs unique to the largest subgroup were given as the beliefs of the majority of the religion. This may be technically true, but I felt it could be misleading when the book failed to note when a belief was only held by one subgroup.

That said, the information given was generally fair and balanced, though definitely from a Protestant Christian viewpoint. (The Protestant section mainly covered how the various denominations came about, their defining beliefs, and any controversies surrounding them.) The author clearly did a lot of research and tries to portray what the believers of the religion say about their own religion rather than what other religions say about it. The information given correlates with what practitioners have told me about their religions.

However, there were some sections, like that on Satanism, that were very disappointing. The Satanism entry focused mostly in debunking books written by people claiming to have been Satanists. When the author covered Satanic beliefs, he described four subgroups and then focused on the beliefs of the one subgroup (though probably the largest) that doesn't actually believe in Satan. Likewise, the witchcraft section really only described the beliefs of neo-pagans and Wiccans. It described historical witchcraft primarily in terms of contrast with modern Wicca and neo-pagan beliefs.

The illustrations were nicely done, but not necessary. They were of religious leaders, religious buildings, book covers, etc.

Overall, I felt the book was a good, fair introduction to the various modern religions in the world for those who know very little about them. However, if you've already done a lot of research into the various religions, books that focus in-depth on a single religion might be more useful to you.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Chapter One

The Baha'i faith, now considered a distinct world religion, cannot be understood apart from its connections to a sect of Shi'ite Islam known as the Babi movement. Shi'a Islam has a core doctrinal position that the world awaits the return of a madhi, or Messiah figure, at the end of time. In 1844 a Muslim by the name of Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad (1819-50), building on this apocalyptic notion, proclaimed that he was the "Bab" or gate to God.

After the Bab's execution in 1850, orthodox Shi'a leaders continued to persecute his followers. In 1852 many Babis were arrested, including Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri. Husayn 'Ali, born in Persia in 1817, founded the Baha'i faith. He is now known in history as Baha'u'llah, which means "the glory of God." He was exiled to Baghdad in 1853. Ten years later he proclaimed himself to be the madhi promised by Bab and by all religions.

1 comment:

The Penguin Press said...


We are interested in sending you a book for review. The title is "Defenders of the Faith" by James Reston Jr. If you are interested, please email us back at elizabeth.yeh@us.penguingroup.com and we will send you a copy.

Thank You,
Elizabeth Yeh