World Religions: A Guide to the Essentials by Thomas A. Robinson and Hillary P. Rodrigues is a well-organized, easily accessible journey through the histories and beliefs of the world’s major beliefs both past and present. The inclusion of a discussion on ancient religions provides a welcome context in which to view the more contemporary religious practices of our time. Throughout most of the ancient world, religions were inclusive. That is, instead of the practitioners of various faiths considering their beliefs the One True Way, practitioners took a more holistic view. While we tend, for example, to consider the Egyptian pantheon all one religion, the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt were actually multiple different sects that co-existed and often cooperated for the greater good.
Another difference between ancient religions and contemporary ones is the idea that the world was created by one set of gods, but ruled over by another. In some cases, this was a matter of the younger gods overthrowing the older ones. In others, it was a matter of the older gods simply being disinterested in their creation and leaving it to others to run. This differs from most of the world’s contemporary religions, which tend to believe that their god or gods both created the world and rule it.
This discussion provides an interesting juxtaposition when we move into the more contemporary religions, particularly the Western Religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The authors do a good job of presenting each religion in a neutral manner, focusing on the history behind the various faiths without offering any judgment. In this regard, the book is a useful tool for those who sincerely want to learn more about other religious beliefs without all of the modern baggage imposed by so many biased media sources.
The inclusion of the major Eastern religions makes this book even more valuable. So often in the West, we tend to marginalize Eastern religions when we discuss religion in general. But millions of people follow these belief systems, and the authors again do a great job of explaining the fundamental belief systems and histories of these religions in a way that is both neutral and accessible.
Reviewer Note: I was given a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for a review.