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The World's Religions by Huston Smith
The World's Religions
can best be described by taking note of what it is not. Author Huston Smith
states emphatically that the book is not one of comparative religions. It is as objective a look as
possible at the major religions of the world today for the purpose of enlightening people of different
cultures and beliefs about each other. In this respect, Dr. Smith has achieved his aim.
The World's Religions,
Huston Smith has limited his focus to seven more or less organized world
religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) with one
chapter on Primal Religion. Under these broad headings, where necessary, Dr. Smith examines large
sects within each main category. The book is not written in the standard textbook mode but rather is
geared toward the general reading public, which makes the work extremely readable.
The chapter on Hinduism is the longest in the book, in part because of the various faces of Hinduism,
primarily in India. Insofar as it is possible for a western writer, Smith manages to make it read from
an Indian point of view. He is more successful at that with Hinduism and Buddhism than he is with
other Asian religions. The Hinduism chapter is followed by the one on Buddhism, which first goes
into some depth on the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder. It is almost impossible to separate the
religion from the life of the Buddha, especially so because he did not intend to start a new religion.
The far eastern religions--Confucianism and Taoism--give insight into both the religions themselves
as well as the cultures from which they sprang. As with Siddhartha, Dr. Smith spends a great deal of
time on what is known about the life of Confucius before launching into a detailed study of the
religion he left behind. Principles more than personalities are the focal points of these Asian religious
Islam, Judaism, and Christianity spring from the same well, so to speak, and are looked at more in
terms of their agreements than in terms of their differences. The predominant character studies are of
Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. These three chapters manage to sidestep the areas of greatest
contention among them.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter in the book is the one devoted to the Primal Religions, which are
oral traditions that predate any organized religion in the world today. Smith is able to present the true
values of these religions, which in earlier times were considered heathen. It is, in fact, from these
primal religions that later, more organized religions sprang. The moral and familial codes of these
religions are in many ways more strident than in later written creeds. In all,
The World's Religions
achieves its aim of broadening the view of divergent cultures and their religions.