Voted one of Christianity Today's 1998 Books of the Year!
For more than thirty years, The Universe Next Door has set the standard for a clear, readable introduction to worldviews. In this fifth edition James Sire offers additional student-friendly features to his concise, easily understood introductions to theism, deism, naturalism, Marxism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern monism, New Age philosophy and postmodernism. Included in this expanded format are a new chapter on Islam and informative sidebars throughout.
The book continues to build on Sire's refined definition of worldviews from the fourth edition and includes other updates as well, keeping this standard text fresh and useful. In a world of ever-increasing diversity, The Universe Next Door offers a unique resource for understanding the variety of worldviews that compete with Christianity for the allegiance of minds and hearts.
The Universe Next Door has been translated into over a dozen languages and has been used as a text at over one hundred colleges and universities in courses ranging from apologetics and world religions to history and English literature.
Sire's Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept provides a useful companion volume for those desiring a more in-depth discussion of the nature of a worldview.
James W. Sire was a Christian author, speaker, and former editor for InterVarsity Press.
Sire was an officer in the Army, a college professor of English literature, philosophy and theology, the chief editor of InterVarsity Press, a lecturer at over two hundred universities around the world and the author of twenty books on literature, philosophy and the Christian faith. His book The Universe Next Door, published in 1976 has sold over 350,000 copies. He held a B.A. in chemistry and English from the University of Nebraska, an M.A. in English from Washington State and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.
A closed-minded book advertising itself as open-minded.
The author openly admits he is a Theist, discusses Theism. So far, he's doing fine. Then, he lays out several goals for what he feels a good worldview should be. Still doing fine....Until he subjects every world view mentioned to scrutiny EXCEPT Theism.
His goal is not to catalog other worldviews, but to attempt to disprove them. He does this by presenting the work of 2 philosophers within each religion/world-view whose beliefs about the religion's details are juxtaposed. He then says 'you can't have it both ways, so this worldview must be false'. Because of course there are no contradictions between the works of different Christian Theists, right??
Even the wording has a subtle tone of 'otherness' when speaking about non-Theistic world views: using words like "they", whereas he used "we" when discussing Theism. Other worldviews are presented as beliefs, while Theistic beliefs about the world are worded as if they are fact.
PS: Other things he does that pissed me off:
1) Says the New Age movement is fueled entirely by illegal drug use.
2) Claims all scientists are Naturalist, and Naturalists believe in Relativism. Therefore, those who believe in Relativism cannot believe in objective facts. Hence, all science is false.
God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh - Voltaire 28 February 2015
I have read a number of Christian books in my time where the author compares Christianity with the other five major religions however I had not come across a book that examines world views until I was browsing through my local Christian bookshop many years ago and came across this one. Okay, I should mention that Francis Schaeffer wrote a similar book entitled The God Who Is There where he similarly explores the intellectual development of the western world however I must say that I was not incredibly impressed with Schaeffer's offering because of his belief that ever since Thomas Aquinas created a division between the natural and the divine everything pretty much went down hill from there.
I must be honest because while I really enjoyed this work the biggest problem with exploring worldviews is that you are always going to be biased in favour of your own. That is clearly the case with this book because Sire is a Christian and as he explores the worldviews he is always comparing them with his own. That is also the case with me because being a Christian I am always looking a the world through the eyes of a Christian, and despite being what I call a 'left wing socialist post-modern Christian' I am still, at heart, a Christian.
While Sire describes this book as a basic worldview catalogue it is actually more of a tour of the intellectual development of the modern world. He opens his discourse with Theism (he tries to not to use the term Christian, and in his chapter on Theism he quite successfully steers away from using Christian jargon and instead uses terms that would appeal more to students of the humanities – which is one of the major things that attracted me to this particular book). After theism he then moves onto Deism, which is a logical progression from Theism namely because God shifts from being actively involved in the world to sitting apart from the world and allowing it to go on its merry way.
After Deism he then moves onto naturalism, or another term being scientific materialism. This is the view that there, well, is no god and the universe created itself out of nothing and to nothing it will return (unless the Steady State theory holds true meaning that the universe had no beginning and will have no end). This is the worldview of atheists who believe that science has superseded God and that everything in out world can be explained through the scientific method. While I believe that the scientific method is a very useful tool to be able to understand the operation of the universe in which we live, and that science and technology have provided a lot to our lifestyle, I tend to take a very circumspect view with the belief that science can explain everything – probably because not only am I a Christian, but because I enjoy living in a world where there are unexplained mysteries.
Sire then moves on to explore the philosophy of nihilism which he believes is the next step from naturalism. As he suggests (and in many ways I agree) when one accepts the idea that the universe simply exists through scientific principles then the universe in itself becomes absurd. This I can appreciate simply because if there is no purpose to life and all that happens is that we are born, we live, and then we die, then existence is basically absurd, and while I may be a Christian I can still see, and appreciate, the absurdity of existence and how people seem to stumble around clutching at straws.
The straws that they ended up clutching at is existentialism. If the universe has no purpose and if existence is basically absurd, then it is up to us, beings of conscience and intelligence, to create our own purpose. Mind you existentialism is not simply an atheistic philosophy; it is also a Christian philosophy. This arose through the writings of Kierkegaard who became disillusioned with the church in Denmark and broke away from it to explore reality through his own studies. In a way many of us live our lives believing that God has a purpose for us, so we go through our lives believing that God has mapped a plan out for us in every details - but I then ask the question 'what if he hasn't?'. If we are blindly following a non-plan then is that not just as absurd. What Christian existentialism purposes to do is to empower us to understand that God has given us freedom, and with that freedom we create our own purpose and our own destiny.
Sire then seems to suddenly take a side route to the mysterious east and attempts to explore the philosophies of Buddhism and Hinduism. While at first I thought it may have been a short detour from where he was originally heading, on my second reading of the book I realised that maybe he wasn't. As the world became more connected, thanks to the British Empire, many of the philosophies of the east began to filter into the West during the post war period. These ideas entered the mainstream consciousness when pop icons such as the Beatles took on the teachings of the Maharishi. It also explains the movement in the 70s and 80s towards another world view - the New Age.
I remember growing up in the 80s as the New Age spread throughout the popular cultures with public figures such as Shirley McClaine speaking about her new age experiences and her discovery of her past lives. The New Age created a resurgent interest in the supernatural such as ghosts, ouiji boards, and tarot cards (though I believe horoscopes have been around much longer). Another interest that began to develop was an interest in UFOs, a phenomena that came about through our technological development and the rise of science-fiction. In a way UFOs were a scientific take on the supernatural world, and where science had closed off the spiritual realm it was only natural for the spiritual realm to be sent out to the stars. Even ghosts began to take on a scientific meaning.
The thing about the New Age is that it didn't last, or it didn't last from my perspective. As the 90s progressed all of this New Age fad suddenly disappeared and everybody simply went back to doing what they were always doing – going to work, earning money, paying off their debts, and going on holidays. Sure, you still see New Age bookshops, but Sire seems to think that it was replaced with Postmodernism. In a way that is true, but in a way it is not, as I will discuss below. In any event, I have written extensively on Postmodernism elsewhere so I won't repeat myself here, except to say that Sire does raise an interesting point: is the whole term 'postmodern' is a misnomer because if we term something modern as being contemporary, then once we reach the post-modern, or 'beyond the contemporary' then has the post-modern become the new modern?
The reason that I don't believe that the New Age has strictly moved into the post-modern is because it seems that a branch has moved into what I would call 'neopaganism'. Now Christians tend to misuse the term pagan to refer to anything non-Christian, and thus bad. This is something that has come down to us from the ancient times when the Christians referred to anything non-Christian as being pagan, most notably the Greco-Roman deities. However in the modern age, particularly in the early years of the 21st century, paganism has taken on a new definition, being the recognition of the universe, in particular the Earth, as having a life force of its own and recognising that there needs to be a balance. It is not necessarily a religion (though some practice it as such) but rather a realisation that our technological society is moving too far and that the ecological balance is under threat. In a way Neopaganism is probably a step further away from environmentalism in that it recognises a spiritual reality to the world in which we live as opposed to purely scientific reality that is the environmentalist view.
While I did really like this book, and am really glad that I held off commenting on in until I had had the opportunity to read it again, there are a few criticisms that I need to make in regards to his ideas. However, before I jump into that arena, I would like to point out that he did not go down the path of attacking evolution. While I do have problems with evolution, I still believe that it is a valid theory (though some argue that my theory is not actually evolution, but that is beside the point). I have read too many Christian books that have had some very good ideas but have put me off through their vitriolic attacks against evolution. It is almost as if the authors of these books are so fearful that evolution might disprove God that they have to attack it with all the forces they have available. As far as I am concerned, if God is indeed God, then no human theory is going to change that. In any case people have been arguing against the existence of God for centuries and it is not as if some new theory is going make any difference.
As I have suggested earlier, the problem with a Christian writing a book about world views is the same as an Atheist, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or even a New Age guru, writing a book about worldviews - that they are going to inevitably be biased. Unfortunately this comes across a lot in this book because it is clear that Sire believes that Christianity is the best worldview, which means that he is comparing all of the other worldviews against Christianity. Further, when he outlines Christianity he outlines an idealised version of it, so in a sense he is saying 'this is this wonderful and great worldview and everything else pales in comparison'. However what he does not do, yet does for the other worldviews, is explore the problems.
The first problem with Christianity is its objective nature. To the Christian everything is objective meaning that there is no differing interpretations – you are either right or wrong – there is no grey area. We see the flaw especially when it comes to evolution, particularly with those who claim that unless you believe in a literal seven day creation then you are a heathen and are damned to hell (so I guess I better pack some sunscreen). The other thing about objectivity is that it does not take into account that people view the world differently. For instance if a group of us go to a party we will all experience this party differently. One might hate it, one may love it, one might be incredibly board, while another may not remember anything at all due to all of the substances ingested. While I do accept objectively, there are limits and if we fail to accept that there are limits to objectivity then we are likely to create more enemies than necessary.
The other thing that Sire does not explore is that if Christianity provides us with all of the answers then why did people reject it for deism and then naturalism. Well, the stock standard Christian answer is because of 'sin', however while I do accept this to an extent – humanity prefers to make their own choices as opposed to letting others make those choices for them, though that in many cases can also be a misnomer (the fact that Christians spend their lives trying to discern God's will for them, or that people spend their lives pouring over horoscopes suggests otherwise). No, the reason I believe people rejected Christianity for other worldviews is because the proponents of Christianity were not actually selling the merits of the worldview.
For instance, Christianity can be incredibly totalitarian. While many churches encourage you to ask questions, they only want you to ask them simple questions. If you ask them hard questions they either try to worm their way out of giving an answer, or they accuse you of being a heretic and demand your repentance. Secondly, Christianity is conservative, which means that it does not like change. Therefore when change comes about they rail against it claiming that it is evil and is a deceptive lie of Satan. In recent decades we saw these attacks being directed against Roleplayers, and the lie that roleplayers commit suicide because their character dies. Even in Shakespeare's day the conservative church attacked the theatre as being an outlet of licentiousness (and if anybody has taken any notice of what goes on backstage in Hollywood, then they weren't all that far from the truth). However, there are many more examples than these, such as astronomy, rock n roll music, Harry Potter, dancing, computers, and of recent note, vaccinations.
The final thing that I wish to touch upon is the question of morality. Sire suggests that Christianity is the only worldview that offers an objective grounds for human morality, and like most Christians, points to the 10 Commandments. However I would probably argue that inherent in our make up there is a tendancy to treat others properly. Okay, that does not always necessarily happen because in many cases we tend to drift down the path of looking after ourselves, or at least we do in the Western world. However if one goes to other lands, such as Hong Kong, one can see that there is an ingrained sense of morality from a culture that is certainly not Christian. Okay, one might suggest that that is because these cultures work on a concept of Karma, however if the Asians behave in a moral way for fear of Karmic backlash, then is it not also the case that Christians also behave in a moral way for fear of going to hell.
While ideally Christianity is a moral religion, it does not mean that its adherents are moral people. Take for instances the abortion debate. They rail against women who seek to have an abortion, and if they decide not to go ahead with the abortion and have the child, then they rail against them for being single mothers and bludging off welfare. Further, while they might cry out in defence of an unborn baby's right to life, they also cry out in support of the death penality. Okay, I accept that I am singling out a radical extremist arm of Christianity, but is that no what we also do with Islam?
So, I wish to finish of to say that while this is a good book and that Sire does seem to have a good understanding of the many worldviews out there, it still is undermined by its bias. Simply put, this is a Christian book written for Christians, and it is written to help them understand the various worldviews that they are likely to encounter. Okay, a lot of the worldviews you will encounter in society at large, such as the New Age Movement, Naturalism, and also Deism (in fact Deism is a lot more common than Sire seems to admit – it forms the basis of what I refer to as the Civil Religion). However a number of other philosophies you are only likely to encounter in the intellectual world, such as exitentialism and post-modernism. Society at large generally do not think about worldviews, or even give too much thought about what their worldview is. In the end, they are either believe in God or they don't believe in God – it is only a minority that will actually expound upon that belief.
Amazing little (/not so little) book on the main different worldview's out there! I read this for a class (Film and Worldview) and it was so helpful in identifying people's worldview's and movies worldview's! Also, as Sire says, this book will be a great help in identifying or finding your worldview.
[Quick note: worldview is different than religion. So the first chapter which covers theism is not a chapter on Christianity, though that is of course talked about as Christians are theistic/have a theistic worldview. What I am saying is this is not a book on religion, even if that might overlap occasionally.]
Quite extensive on each one too, especially with Sire's "8 Worldview Questions" which he introduces in the introduction and tells us he will be using to define each worldview (if it even can be defined, e.g. nihilism). These our one of my favorite things about the book, cause they make it more organized and understandable for each worldview; even on the worldview's that are, shall we say, confusing to begin with. Like, how do you make nihilism understandable, when it is the denial of any and all worldview's? Sire does it pretty well.
Worldview's covered include: theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism (atheistic and theistic), New Age thought, postmodernism (soft and hard), and Eastern Pantheistic monism. These, Sire says, are the main ones and even if some people could argue there are as many worldview's as there are people, everyone's worldview would fall into these. Postmodernism was probably my favorite chapter (a pretty long chapter!), not because I like postmodernism, but because I think that was the most well written chapter and a very relevant one for today, as postmodernism becomes more common (plus I had to put together a presentation on it and that really helps you understand it more).
Also I think it's worth mentioning, this book is not written as a refutation of all other worldview's other than Christian theism. The author IS a Christian, so his worldview would be Christian theism, but nonetheless he is not writing a confirmation of his worldview alone as the right, nor is he critiqing the others. Sometimes it might be obvious to all that this is an absurd and wrong worldview (nihilism) so his not being a nihilist and being a Christian might show in ways. Not till the end, when he talks about how to choose a view and which one, does he finally say Christian theism is the only one that is (almost) perfectly right and true, and says you must believe in the Lord as your savior, through faith (the religion), before you can really have Christian theism as your view (the worldview).
Typical Christian introduction to philosophy. A lot of generalizations, a lot of misinterpretation, and a lot of hostility. My primary problem with this waste of paper is that Sire doesn't once say that a "worldview system" besides Christian theism has anything positive about it. He even makes Christian existentialists out to be bad guys (and for the record, Barth was not an existentialist). Beyond the normal critiques I have for Christian philosophy, this book spends nearly 50 pages on New Age spirituality (not a philosophy, not even respected in the scholarly world) and a mere 30 pages on postmodernism, the most dominant philosophical system in operation today (although, maybe it's good that he only generalized postmodernism as moral relativism for 30 pages, that's about the most I can handle that common critique anymore).
This book is great if you're a cranky Christian who doesn't actually want to hear about philosophy, but just wants to hear why you're right and everyone else is wrong.
This work is a a pretty good benchmark for understanding the competing worldviews of our times. The fifth edition is a welcome expansion - especially since it includes a chapter on Islam.
Cataloging the worldviews of our times (as the subtitle states), Sire does a good job of writing with an understandable style, a gentle tone, and an articulate logic - all without leaving his firm Christian convictions.
After the first chapter as an introduction he goes one-by-one through the current major worldviews as follows:
2: Christian Theism 3: Deism 4: Naturalism 5: Nihilism 6: Existentialism 7: Eastern Pantheistic Monism 8: The New Age 9: Postmodernism 10: Islamic Theism
He then concludes his book with a short chapter that wraps up everything quite nicely. This is much shorter than another good catalogue of contemporary worldviews (Understanding the Times), but it offers much of the same material presented in an accessible, clear manner.
If you don't understand the differing worldviews out there today, this book is a good place to start.
Summary: A new edition of this foundational work on comparative worldviews, exploring the contours of various worldviews, including a new chapter on Islam, through the use of eight questions.
This book, in its six editions, has framed my adult working life. I first heard about the idea of worldview in lectures drawn from the author’s work while I was still a student. The first edition of The Universe Next Door was published during my first year working with InterVarsity/USA on their field staff. Now, forty-four years later, I still work with InterVarsity in a national role, and was delighted to receive a copy of the sixth edition of this work. During the intervening years, I came to know the author well enough when we collaborated on some student training and when I hosted him for several lecture opportunities. I learned he was working on the sixth edition the month before his passing. I am so glad to see its completion, with the able help of former InterVarsity Press editor Jim Hoover (who also happens to be a fellow Youngstown native!).
While the basic framework of the book hasn’t changed from forty four years ago, there have been a number of changes that reflect both growth in the author’s concept of worldview, as well as newly emerging trends in thought. For one thing, Sire’s understanding of worldview changed from one of ideas to the recognition of how we live and orient our affections and commitments in light of them. To his seven worldview questions around which each chapter was organized, he added an eighth: What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?
Sire was one of the first to recognize the coalescing ideas of new age thought as early as his first edition when he wrote of the “new consciousness.” Later he changed the name of this chapter to “the New Age” and recognized the rise of those who were “spiritual but not religious.” More recently, he added a chapter on post-modernism. With this edition, given the rise of Islam not only in the Middle East, but in Western countries, Winfried Corduan was invited to add a chapter on the Middle East.
I didn’t read editions two through five. What I can say is that in addition to the changes I’ve already noted each chapter shows signs of updating. For example, the chapter on deism includes a section on “moral therapeutic deism,” first described by sociologist Christian Smith. The new age material has been supplemented by discussions of the work of Ken Wilber and Deepak Chopra. In addition, sidebars added posthumously by Jim Hoover further elucidate the work. In addition, discussion questions have been added to each chapter and a chart is included at the end using the eight world view questions offering a brief side-by-side comparison of each of the worldviews.
The idea of worldview has come in for criticism. One critique is the overly intellectualized approach to worldview. Sire has recognized this, as noted above and newer editions recognize the affective and volitional aspects of worldview. Worldview has also been criticized for its polemical use in arguing for “the Christian worldview,” sometimes very narrowly defined. Sire’s Christian theism has a breadth to it lacking in some treatments, but there is no avoiding the fact that this text argues for the Christian faith over other worldviews. Jim Sire spent a good part of his life lecturing as a Christian apologist, and unapologetically so. He did not think contradictory things could all be true and elsewhere argued that one should only believe what one is convinced is true (Why Believe Anything at All?). What one finds here though is someone who loves ideas, even those he would disagree with, tries to understand others on their own terms, and represent them as they would themselves.
This is a work that respects its readers, candid not only about its intentions but its shortcomings. Sire admits his framework doesn’t easily fit Eastern thought. Worldviews are a means of understanding others, not pigeonholing them and dismissing them with a facile apologetic argument. He acknowledges recent challenges and the things he is still grappling with as well as the things of which he is convinced. This is a book that continued to grow through succeeding editions, reflecting an author who also was always learning, always growing. His last email to me was about questions related to new content in this book.
Would that all of us could be like him in this regard! I’m glad InterVarsity Press and Jim Hoover completed and published this work. It is not only a model of engagement but also a tribute to a gifted writer and apologist who did so much to develop the idea of worldview and gave so much encouragement to people who wondered if it was possible to think as well as live Christianly.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
I've seen other reviews bashing the book (I read the fifth edition) for being close minded and coming from a Christian point of view as well as over generalising other worldviews. But the author kind of states in preface and intro that the book was written for Christian students wondering why they felt so out of place in their world, so I'm not going to judge the book for living up to its intended purpose. I find it does give a good starting point for further research on each worldview, and that it reminds us frequently enough that they're generalising based on each worldview's books and common testimonies than anything personal to its adherents. The book made it clear the worldviews in of themselves had "denominations of its own. And I rather appreciate the theistic point of view and the deconstruction of other worldviews from that perspective (we already have enough arguments bashing theism, so I'm glad the book didn't include that)
Overall, I found the book incredibly fascinating as well as easy to read, and I think it did its best (and a pretty good job) in tackling the fundamentals of each worldview rather than the views its adherents held (because then we'd have a very different sort of book). Things are obviously more complicated than that IRL, but this wasn't supposed to be a complex book - it was meant to help theists begin and understand the world outside of their Christian perspectives, and I honestly can appreciate that.
Also, I'm highly biased cause I just liked the read. Though I'll also admit I didnt pay as much attention as I could have to the New Age and Postmodern chapters. Anyway...soooo many thoughts. :))
AMAZING Book! a very nice catalog of worldviews. It is a little biased from the theistic point of view but if you can ignore the bias and just take a good look at the views that really reflect your being its a great book. This book also stresses the importance of knowing and refining your worldview. I highly recommend this book. Its not one of the best books but its a really good one.
This review I don't think will contain spoilers because well it's a nonfiction book about world views. What's really spoiler-y about that? Nothing really, at least in my opinion.
This book and I have had a long history together. It has been taken on road trips, read a loud mostly for comprehension purposes, and will be annotated on a future date. I am glad to be done with this book now before school goes back in session in a couple of weeks so yeah. I would say firstly this book is extremely informative. It goes into much detail about the history about how the different world views came to be and what they are all about. So, as a high school student of a typical nature, I found it to be a bit of a slog. I am sure that I will probably return to this book in the future and appreciate more then but as a person who has little life experience and doesn't find the need to know all of the information now (which I guess is silly of me to think but whatever.), I found it worth the read but at the same time it wasn't pleasurable (not that I expect every book to be but again, it's whatever). If you would like to feel more informed about what people think nowadays and why they kind of think that, then you will like this book. I think that's all from me folks. I shall see you in my next review (which hopefully will be better than this one XP).
A comprehensive look at the intellectual basis for what each of us bases our life upon, this book is difficult in its detail, compelling in its arguments. Before we dismiss God out of hand as just too ridiculous to seriously consider, maybe we need to analyze just why we have come to this point of view.
Sire sets out to provide “an exposition and critique” of various worldview options. He begins with seven questions he puts to each worldview. He then builds general categories of worldviews based on the answers to those questions. The remaining chapters examine the answers of a particular worldview along with an evaluation of the worldview, often citing various authors to represent the thinking of that worldview. He focuses on major features and general tendencies.
The book attempts to address the difficulties of understanding the bewildering variety of beliefs and belief systems by distilling the various particulars into a catalog of general categories. He reduces the chaos of the minutiae and imposes order, cutting through the morass to see things as part of a larger whole that can be addressed more holistically.
He largely succeeds, but at what cost and to what end?
1) The Value of Categories
Sire admits there are as many worldviews as people and each of his subdivisions could be further subdivided. General categories are challenging to maintain while still dealing honestly with the unique individuals. He regularly admits that many of the people he groups within the same worldview do not agree with each other or with his analysis of their position. His categories only tell you what someone might believe at a very high level of abstraction. There’s a real threat these generalizations will run roughshod over the details of someone’s beliefs.
How do generalizations that downplay or ignore particulars help us as apologists? Reducing the various belief systems to a handful of worldviews is likely not as helpful an analytic or apologetic tool as Sire hopes because the apologist still must deal with the particularities of the individual she speaks with.
What is the value of these high-level generalizations if no particular person fits into any one? While knowing that the average family has 2.4 children is an interesting and perhaps useful bit of data in some contexts, I know will never meet a family with 2.4 children. Similarly, I may know Sire’s categories but never meet an individual who actually fits in one – or fits in too many! His categories are not rigid; they are fluid. Nietzsche is claimed by nihilists, existentialists, and postmodernists, and is quoted by Sire in his chapters on the first and last of these. If not all pantheists or postmodernists or existentialists believe the same things, what is the value of grouping them all together? While such analysis might provide some help as conceptual framework for the apologist, I am less sanguine about its use in an apologetic conversation.
Sire’s critique unavoidably comes from within his own worldview, and this inevitably skews his objectivity. The seven questions he begins with are not transcendent questions derived from outside of any worldview. From within his worldview, he proposes questions for which he has good answers, that make his worldview look best. An unbeliever, when confronted with his questions, might justifiably perceive them as tendentious and self-serving. He cannot stand outside his worldview to formulate these questions – no one can.
Would those of other worldviews accept these as proper questions? Would they have their own set of questions that favors their worldview since they are also asking from within their worldview? How can an apologist make the case that these are the questions that everyone should use? Are there questions an apologist and his naturalist (or pantheist or Muslim) interlocutor can agree on?
3) The Christian Worldview?
Not all Christians would agree with his answers to the worldview questions. There are disagreements within Christianity as within every worldview. His examination of Christianity seems to imply some level of uniformity. But not all Christians fit within his definition of Christian theism (e.g., Open Theists do not agree on omniscience). Likewise, some Christian theists find postmodernism congenial to the faith, not a separate, inhospitable worldview.
Is there a single Christian worldview? Is there such a thing as a “mere Christian” worldview? How much difference is allowable between Christians with regard to worldview before it becomes a separate worldview?
4) Choosing a Worldview
Once we have divided all the various belief systems into worldview categories, what are the criteria by which we judge between any two worldviews? How do we determine which is best? What does “best” mean?
In the final chapter, Sire discusses how to decide between the alternatives. He sets forth four characteristics that a prospective worldview should possess: coherence (it should be consistent), comprehensiveness (it should comprehend all the data of reality), explanatory power (it should explain what it claims to explain), and subjective satisfaction. He applies his criteria to the worldviews he investigated and finds them all to have serious flaws, except for Christian theism. (I leave aside the question of whether he actually investigated Christian theism.)
Will this analysis help move someone from one worldview to another? Where do these four criteria come from? What if others don’t agree with these criteria for evaluation? Who says this is the best way to decide between them? Of course, his questions were devised by him from within his worldview. Others will have other criteria devised within their worldview. How do we choose between sets of criteria?
Can we move forward? Is there an independent measure by which to evaluate them? Are there non-arbitrary, non-question-begging criteria by which to measure or evaluate worldviews? Are we all left within our worldview speaking to everyone else in their worldviews, each of us insisting that ours is the most coherent, most complete, most satisfactory?
5) Wish Fulfillment
Finally, I’m concerned his fourth criteria (subjective satisfaction) and question (What happens to a person at death?) lend credence to those who complain that Christianity is just wishful thinking. Feuerbach claimed, “Christianity is a fantasy world inhabited by people who have failed to realize that when they think they are talking about God, they are simply disclosing their own innermost hopes and fears.”
Using Sire’s criteria and questions, it might appear we are saying, “Wouldn’t it be more satisfying if there is life after death and meaning in the universe and a benevolent deity to care for us?” Many unbelievers would respond, “Yes, that would be comforting, but that doesn’t in any way prove the truth of your beliefs.” If we try to move others to our worldview because it is more satisfying or provides happier answers, we seem to be proving Feuerbach’s point.
I see value in Sire’s book for those who are trying to make sense of the bewildering variety of beliefs and philosophies in the world today. Having a conceptual schema is helpful. But I don’t see it as a move forward in the apologetic enterprise. We still must meet the individual where they are, with their own unique beliefs and ideas, and be prepared to answer their questions wherever they might lead.
At first I didn't expect so much from this book. Having in mind the fact that it pretends to adress eight of the major worldviews, I thought I will find a subjective and superficial analysis of each perspective. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a very well documented and rigorous exposition of these worldviews. Just as Sire intended, he managed to: "(1) outline the basic worldviews that underline the way Westerners think about themselves, other people, the natural world, and God or ultimate reality; (2) trace historically how these worldviews have developed from a breakdown in the theistic worldview, moving in turn into deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern mysticism (Patheism), the new consciousness of New Age and Islam, a recent infusion from the Middle East; (3) show how postmodernism puts a twist on these worldviews; (4) encourage us all to think worldviewishly, that is, with a consciousness of not only our own way of thought but also that of other people, so that we can first understand and communicate with others in our pluralistic society."
Douglas Groothius sais that " Sire’s descriptions are nuanced, historically rich, well-written, sometimes humorous, always genial.", and I couldn't say it better.
A good primer on worldview that I'd give to any kid, middle grade and up. I'm only giving this one three stars because I'm not walking away with much after finishing it. Perhaps I've simply read much about worldviews, so as to make this one sound repetitive. Perhaps Sire is simply unoriginal. Or perhaps some of his insights simply passed me by, and I'd catch it better upon re-read. I wasn't disappointed, by any means, but I think perhaps Sire's conversational, more tongue-in-cheek tone and willingness to be inexact struck me as... flippant? Though what Sire lacks in specificity he makes up for in accessibility and engagement. He manages to hold your attention, as he brings a human element to the conversation. This might be the right worldview perspective for the right reader. Just be aware, Sire doesn't hold back his prejudice against naturalism and admiration of theism.
James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door takes the reader through an explanation of the nine most popular and prevalent worldviews of the modern age: Christian theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, eastern pantheistic monism, the New Age movement, postmodernism and Islamic theism. Sire begins his exploration through these nine worldviews by first defining what a worldview truly is. “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions that we hold about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being,” (Sire, 20). James Sire creates eight ‘worldview questions’ in The Universe Next Door to better explore the worldviews he presents. Some of these questions include: what is prime reality, what is a human being and what happens to a person at death. Sire takes these questions and with each introduction of a new worldview, answers the questions through the eyes of someone who holds that worldview. Not every question, however, is answered for every worldview due to the way each is orientated. Also, each question is not answered in a specific order. The questions are answered in relation to the importance the answers have to the people that hold that worldview, if the questions pertain to the worldview at all. Sire does a commendable job trying to make each worldview comprehensible for the reader, explaining the intricacies in such a way that can be understood. However, because each worldview cannot be formatted in the same fashion, it can be difficult to follow and understand the belief systems of each worldview in turn. James Sire identifies himself as a follower of Christian theism within the first chapter of the book. He explains that, no matter how subtle, bias is easily woven into any explanation. He does, though, give an image of each worldview to the reader without showcasing his own worldview. The Universe Next Door is a distinguished source of information for readers who are interested in analyzing other worldviews. Sire presents a thorough explanation of eight common worldviews of the modern time and shows why people follow them and how their belief changes how they perceive the world. The inconsistency in structure, though unavoidable, can make each worldview difficult to grasp because each can be very different from the last. Sire’s scholar’s vocabulary also forces the reader to pay close attention to ensure complete comprehension of his intent.
I picked up a used copy of this book a while back and finally got a chance to read it. I read the 2nd Edition of this book, which was published in 1988. The book was good, Sire sets out to write a “World View Catalog”. In his first chapter he defines what a Worldview is, and provides 7 questions that he uses to help clarify a worldview’s premises.
Sire defines worldview is: “set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world.
Sire tells the reader that he is a Christian theist and much of his writing is naturally colored by this. He sets out to describe and address the underlying premises behind “major worldviews”: - Christian Theism - Deism - Naturalism (brief look at Secular Humanism & Marxism) - Nihilism - Existentialism (Atheistic & Theistic) - Eastern Pantheistic Monism - New Age Spirituality (this was by far the largest chapter of the book, although Sire claimed that it was fledgeling worldview, and not yet fully formed).
In addressing each ‘worldview’ Sire interacts with a few (2-4) different authors, philosophers, etc. This approach seemed helpful to limit the scope of the book, but ultimately meant that his treatment would not be entirely thorough for all the sub-varieties within each “worldview”.
Something that stood out as I was reading this book was that Judaism & Islam (two other forms of Theism) were not addressed, neither was PostModernism or Animism. Although I saw that PostModernism & Islam have been added to newer editions of the book.
In this book, James Sire explains nine different worldviews by having them answer the same eight questions:
1. What is prime reality—the really real? 2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? 3. What is a human being? 4. What happens to a person at death? 5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? 6. How do we know what is right and wrong? 7. What is the meaning of human history? 8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?
Each worldview is given its own chapter and those 8 questions are answered for each to explain its beliefs and practices.
The worldviews covered are: 1) Christian Theism 2) Deism 3) Naturalism 4) Nihilism 5) Existentialism 6) Eastern Pantheistic Monism 7) New Age Spirituality 8) Postmodernism 9) Islamic Theism.
Most chapters were done really well. I thought he perfectly laid out the Christian worldview and gave great insight into others. I found myself understanding Monism and New Age Spirituality for the first time.
This book does not take a neutral stance as the author holds to the Christian worldview. Therefore, problems with other worldviews are compared and contrasted with Christianity.
I thought this book was really helpful. It is a great discipleship tool for Christians to understand their own faith and to have an introduction to other faiths as well. Highly recommended.
I encountered this book first as a student in a college World Religions class. The Universe Next Door is an enlightening read on alternative systems and world views that helps increase awareness, empathy and the ability to think globally. I was the professor's assistant for two more World Religion classes and came to see this book as a teaching tool. It is understandable and relatable. This book is approachable to the average college student. It is not esoteric or written from an ivory tower perspective. It is a magnificently useful book in how it can broaden so many minds because the text is easy to understand and so many are capable of reading it. This helps the reader to think intelligently - to think considering multiple viewpoints and to come to terms with the intercrossing webs of meaning spun through the multitude of different cultures across the world. It is a useful introduction to other ways of thinking and a guide to citizenship in the worldwide think tank created by the ease of connection in the digital age.
I just read this for a second time, and this time I paid a bit more attention. It's a cool idea for a book but when the guy starts bashing New Age movements I get a little annoyed. I did learn a bit, though.
I had a hard time getting out of my western conception of reality and truly understanding eastern monism, but Sire does an admirable job examining the intellectual integrity of a smorgasbord of philosophical frameworks.
When my fifteen-year-old grandson suggested the two of us start a virtual book club to read Sartre, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and others, I immediately suggested we first read James Sire’s The Universe Next Door, sixth edition. All those he listed had been in conversation with many others. The problem in reading them is that we only hear one piece of the exchange. Without some background, we have little idea what the fuss is all about.
Sire’s book gives just that. He offers excellent introductions to the main worldviews found in Western thought over the last two thousand years—theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern pantheistic monism, the new age, postmodernism, and Islamic theism.
When I read the first edition of The Universe Next Door forty-five years ago, I dearly wished I had had it during college. So many things would have been made much more sense in my English, history, art, philosophy, and science classes. The framework was so helpful for understanding the flow of ideas and why they developed.
A key strength of the book is Sire’s emphasis on how different worldviews arose in response to the perceived weakness of those that had gone before. For example, Sire notes that though science arose in the West based on the belief in an orderly God creating an orderly universe, the explanatory power of science (and human reason) became so pronounced that it seemed God was not necessary as part of the discussion. Thus the rise of materialistic naturalism.
Likewise he unfolds how existentialism, Eastern pantheism, the new age, and postmodernism were all responses to the dead end that nihilism presented. It is hard to stay long in ultimate philosophical despair, so these other options surfaced to give more hope for life without simply going backwards toward theism.
One weakness of the book as an introduction is the lack of attention Sire gives to Greek thought which laid the foundation for the Western world. Though much of Plato and Aristotle has been fused into theism in the Western tradition, spelling out how that occurred could have been helpful.
Sire works hard at treating each view fairly and with respect, noting their strengths and weaknesses. Yet he openly admits his own theist perspective even while inviting readers to work through their own worldview questions because the examined life is worth it.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions are my own.
A useful introduction to the common philosophies influential in the world today. Unfortunately, Sire mixes his criticism with his explanation, telling you why the ideas are wrong before he has fully presented them. In some cases, most notably his take on postmodernism, he is more concerned with telling you why it is wrong than what it is. He ends up attacking a strawman, which I find unconvincing and inconsistent with the principles of Christian charity.
Es un libro que me pareció mucho más que interesante, debe ser una referencia para cada cristiano que desea entender lo que pasa en la cabeza de otras personas, pues nos muestra contundentemente las cosmovisiones que más han impactado al mundo, pero que al miso tiempo ninguna de ellas se sostiene por si misma, y por ello podemos deducir que todas se han desviado de la verdad que es en Cristo, de la causa primera que es nuestro Dios soberano.
The subtitle of James W. Sire’s The University Next Door calls the book “a basic worldview catalog.” Chapter 1 defines the term worldview and enumerates eight questions worldviews ask. Chapters 2–10 describe how nine worldviews answer these questions, beginning with Christian theism, which is Sire’s own worldview and the perspective of the book as a whole. Chapter 11 outlines four criteria for choosing an adequate worldview. Finally, chapter 12 identifies issues Christian theists need to address that have arisen since 2009, when the previous edition of the book was published.
Sire’s definition of worldview is lengthy, but he summarizes it under four headings. A worldview is “a commitment” that can be “expressed in a story or a set of presuppositions,” which make certain “assumptions that may be true, conscious, [and] consistent,” and that forms “the foundation on which we live” (8–9). In other words, a worldview is a matter of heart (affection), head (intellection), and hands (action).
The eight questions worldviews ask concern what is “really real”; “the nature of external reality” and of “human being”; “what happens to a person at death”; whether it is “possible to know anything at all,” including “right and wrong”; “the meaning of human history”; and what “personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview” (8–9).
Using this definition and these questions, Sire describes and critiques nine worldviews in successive chapters: Christian theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern pantheistic monism, New Age spirituality without religion, postmodernism, and Islamic theism.
According to Sire, the adequacy of any worldview depends on four considerations (271–273): “inner intellectual coherence,” comprehension of “the data of reality,” and explanatory success—i.e., it should “explain what it claims to explain.” Finally, a worldview should be “subjectively satisfactory,” meeting “our sense of personal need.” These criteria are primarily intellective—logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and explanatory power. Subjective satisfaction is affective. Though Sire’s definition of worldview notes that it is a foundation of action, the livability of a worldview does not here factor into Sire’s account of a worldview’s adequacy. (Interestingly, however, this does arise in his discussion of specific worldviews.)
Sire died in 2018, so the sixth edition of The Universe Next Door is posthumous. The text is largely identical to the fifth, with these exceptions: Sire wrote chapter 12 and an appendix with diagrams prior to his death. Additionally, Jim Hoover, Sire’s longtime editor, updated some references and incorporated new sidebars at various points throughout.
It has been said that one’s greatest strength is also one’s greatest weaknesses, an adage that applies to books as well as people. The strengths of the book are its clarity of expression and simplicity of analysis. Regarding clarity, Sire writes well about complex ideas, using illustrations from both high and popular culture. While thinking through ideas and their consequences is always hard work, the hard work is less hard in this book because of Sire’s manner of expression.
Regarding simplicity of analysis, anyone who attempts a survey of worldviews (or religions) must face the bewildering variety of differences both between and within worldviews (and religions). The trick is to provide an analytically simple description of a worldview that identifies its most salient features without papering over substantive differences among adherents of that worldview. Sire’s eight questions help him accomplish both tasks. The questions themselves interrogate the most salient features of any worldview. And where there are differences among the worldview’s adherents, or counterarguments to criticism, Sire strives to make those plain.
The analytic simplicity of The Universe Next Door is also a weakness, however. This is because, first and foremost, there are different and perhaps better ways to arrange the subject matter. For example, Christian theism, deism, and Islamic theism all have dualistic metaphysics that distinguish sharply between the Creator and creation. By contrast, naturalism, Eastern pantheistic monism, and the New Age are basically monistic, eliding any such metaphysical distinction. The differences between dualism and monism result in certain family resemblances among dualist and monist worldviews, respectively, even as those resemblances embody contradictory tenets in each family member. For example, both Christian and Islamic theism are dualist (Creator-creation distinction) and monotheist (only one ultimately real God). But they interpret that monotheism in fundamentally contradictory ways, Christian monotheism being trinitarian and Islamic theism being unitarian.
Second, several of the worldviews can be understood more appropriately as variations on a larger worldview than as distinct worldviews themselves. Like the previous criticism, this is a problem of taxonomy. The best examples of this taxonomic problem are naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, and some versions of postmodernism. Naturalism is fundamentally a metaphysical commitment. Sire writes, “In naturalism it is the nature of the cosmos that is primary; for now, with an eternal Creator God out of the picture, the cosmos itself becomes eternal—always there, though not necessarily in its present form, in fact certainly in its present form” (57). Nihilism, existentialism, and some versions of postmodernism can be seen as attempts to think through and live out the implications of this naturalism, rather than as separate worldviews.
This taxonomic critique does not negate the truth or helpfulness of Sire’s analysis, though it does remind readers (and would-be writers) that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Finally, critics of earlier editions of The Universe Next Door also pointed out the intellectual, even propositional bias of its author. (I first encountered the book in its second edition, and I own and have read each successive edition.) It is a measure of Sire’s intellectual humility and willingness to learn that he took these critiques to heart and continued to improve both his understanding of worldview generally and his analysis of specific worldviews over the nearly five decades of this book’s existence. It is a shame that there will not be a seventh edition, due to Sire’s passing.
The Universe Next Door has demonstrated its usefulness as a textbook in college classrooms since its first publication in 1976, especially in evangelical schools. It offers fair-minded descriptions of non-Christian worldviews, even as it tacitly provides an apologetic for Christian theism. Outside the classroom, readers interested in worldviews generally or the Christian worldview specifically will find the book to be a congenial and helpful guide.
Book Reviewed Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. 6th ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020.