Very readable, with a helpful glossary and bibliography at the end. No in-text citations or footnotes, which makes me a little sad (I love footnotes!)...moreVery readable, with a helpful glossary and bibliography at the end. No in-text citations or footnotes, which makes me a little sad (I love footnotes!), but I think this is intended as a textbook so I can let it pass.
There are a lot of names and dates, which was a little tedious to read straight-through, but once I stopped trying to memorize everything it all went a lot faster. (Very helpful for a textbook, not so helpful for casual reading.)
I particularly enjoyed how the author was able to present the different philosophies and practices in way that provided context and comparative information, showing how the different paths of Buddhism relate to each other. She also found common elements with Christianity, schisms divided on principles of faith vs. works. I also appreciated how frank she was in pointing out the misogyny in certain texts and practices, acknowledging the cultural reasons for it without taking on the mantle of apologist.
One thing that I thought was a bit odd is that the author used Wade-Giles rather than PinYin transliteration when talking about Chinese traditions of Buddhism, which made it kind of difficult for me to follow some of the terminology (but I've talked with people who much prefer Wade-Giles to Pinyin so maybe I'll just chalk that up to personal preference. *shrug*)
Overall, I'm happy I read it and would be willing to read more by this author. This does seem to be a textbook aimed at North American, culturally Christian readers, though. If you're a practicing Buddhist (or want to be), Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught is a better place to start.(less)
On the plus side, the pervasive misogyny reminded me why I'm a feminist and the pervasive violence reminded me why I'm not a fan of troglodyte politic...moreOn the plus side, the pervasive misogyny reminded me why I'm a feminist and the pervasive violence reminded me why I'm not a fan of troglodyte politics. Also, the explanatory footnotes were really helpful in understanding the culture, even though the translation was a bit awkward at times (which may have been due to the source material, but I was hoping for something a bit more lyrically written).
On the negative side, I really hated reading it. None of the characters were particularly sympathetic. Siegfried was an ass and I wanted him dead even before he raped Brunhild. Kriemhild had potential, but I never understood her selfish/selfless devotion to Siegfried (because he was an ass). At first, Brunhild was kind of awesome in a Xena Warrior Princess sort of way, but after she was tricked/forced into marriage with Gunther she became surprisingly malicious. I still found her to be an interesting protagonist, but then she completely disappeared in the second half. I actually kind of liked Hagen in the first part, probably because he was conspiring against Siegfried (who was an ass), but in the second part where we're supposed to recognize Hagen's heroic qualities, he seemed like a completely horrible person.
Which all probably just goes to show how much the idea of heroism and morality has changed over the past millennium, so I'm glad I read this in the sense that I learned a lot. However, I can't ever see myself reading it again or recommending to anyone (unless they're really into gender studies or medieval history). (less)
The only chapter I read in this was chapter 15 ("Religious demographics and the new diversity") and I was so disgusted with the blatant-but-not-explic...moreThe only chapter I read in this was chapter 15 ("Religious demographics and the new diversity") and I was so disgusted with the blatant-but-not-explicated biases of the author, the lack of any indication that this article was intended to focus solely on Christianity (and only Christianity of the type the author ascribes to, if I'm reading the article correctly), the poor citations and the flat-out errors that I'm just going to return this book to the library and pick up something else. If the editorial control is this poor, I don't trust anything else in this book -- which is kind of scary, since it's from Oxford University Press, not Internet Wackjob Press.(less)
Very readable overview of the history of human mythological development. Of particular interest to me was the final chapter, which talks about the mod...moreVery readable overview of the history of human mythological development. Of particular interest to me was the final chapter, which talks about the modern era and the death of mythology in the industrialized/industrializing world. I don't know that I agree with all her conclusions 100%, but they're certainly ideas worth thinking about. I do wish there had been footnotes though, simple citations are much less satisfying.
Some quotes from the last chapter that I particularly enjoyed:
"Because most Western people did not use myth, many would lose all sense of what it was." (I had a conversation about this very thing with a co-worker just a few weeks ago)
"As early as the sixteenth century, we see more evidence of a numbing despair, a creeping mental paralysis, and a sense of impotence and rage as the old mythological way of thought crumbled and nothing new appeared to take its place."
On the witch hunts: "Without a powerful mythology to explain people's unconscious fears, they tried to rationalize those fears into 'fact'. Fearful and destructive un-reason has always been part of the human experience"
"This was the scientific age, and people wanted to believe that their traditions were in line with the new era, but this was impossible if you thought that these myths should be understood literally."
On demythologized Western society: "Other societies saw death as a transition to other modes of being. They did not nurture simplistic and vulgar ideas of an afterlife, but devised rites and myths that helped people face the unspeakable."
"the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the traditional apprehension of mythology. ... It projects [readers] into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives."(less)
Like other reviewers, I started reading this expecting information about the importance of learning about religion and religions (which was provided)...moreLike other reviewers, I started reading this expecting information about the importance of learning about religion and religions (which was provided) and information about prominent US religions (other than Christianity, not so much). Despite my expectations not being fully met, I did learn about how the US developed its current religious identity. I do wish the historical narrative had been better contextualized, though -- it demonstrates the same Anglo-American biases that drove me nuts in all my K-12 US history classes. (less)
As it is a very brief introduction, it doesn't go into much detail, but it does provide a nice overview of Hinduism in terms of philosophy, ritual, ge...moreAs it is a very brief introduction, it doesn't go into much detail, but it does provide a nice overview of Hinduism in terms of philosophy, ritual, gender and caste, literature, politics, history and geography. It doesn't have the most compelling narrative I've ever read, but it also doesn't make your brain feel like it's melting. For more information about the philosophical aspects, see A Very Short Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Sue Hamilton.(less)
A very readable overview of the eight religious beliefs/practices with the most influence on the modern world: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucia...moreA very readable overview of the eight religious beliefs/practices with the most influence on the modern world: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Yoruba, Judaism, and Daoism. Includes common beliefs and practices, as well as the social manifestations / implications of those beliefs. Overall, the tone is very open, respectful and engaged. Even while I found some areas in which I didn't necessarily agree with the author's conclusions, I could (usually) understand why he came to them. Of course, with a scope this broad, it can't get into much depth; fortunately, the author provides plentiful endnotes.
The only area where I found the book lacking was it's presentation of Christianity and the form of atheism related to it. The screed at the end against what the author calls New Atheism or angry atheism was an unfortunate coda for an otherwise thoughtful book; he seems unable to see the broader context in which this movement exists, and his blatant antipathy to Christian-reactive atheism almost completely undercut the whole "respect through understanding divergent beliefs" point of the book. (Interestingly, he's quite sanguine about atheism within the context of other religions. Also interesting, to me, was the complete lack of mention of questions about the historicity of Jesus, when he does mention similar debates within several other religions.)
Those problems aside, I do think this is a great introduction to world religions for people with an honest desire to understand them on their own terms. (less)
Overall, I found this an engaging and enjoyable read. There are obviously some areas that are a bit out of date and the author has some definite biase...moreOverall, I found this an engaging and enjoyable read. There are obviously some areas that are a bit out of date and the author has some definite biases -- he doesn't like the Chinese traditions and he does seem to highlight the most titillating aspects of various mythologies whenever possible -- but his approach is generally pretty open-minded. I'm looking forward to reading more in this sequence. (And if you're looking for an overview of Chinese religious traditions that focus less on brutality and more on the positive aspects, try Prothero's God is Not One.(less)