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Chapter I, Point of Departure, Summary and AnalysisThe first chapter of The World's Religionsconsists of notes by the author explaining his intentions in writing about the world's religions. These notes are essential in order to comprehend the subsequent chapters, each given to a specific description of a world religion. In the notes, Huston states that the purpose of the book is not to evaluate the various religions, but rather to describe "well-defined
themes" (p. 2) in each of the religions discussed. He categorically states that the work is not intended to be a history of religion. The focus is on ideasthat are the base of the various religious systems examined. A further important point he makes in the notes is that an arbitrary limit has been placed on the number of divisions within each religion under consideration. Economically, he decided on three points of view for each religion "lest trees obscure the woods" (p. 3). In deciding whichviews to represent, his criterion was simply that he selected those that would have the greatest relevance to the intended readers. His purpose extended to the universality of themes in the various religions that speak to all men everywhere.Smith warns emphatically that the book does not represent a "balanced account" of its subjects (p. 4). His examinations are about values, which he likens to a course in music appreciation where only the best of music is presented during the instruction. His thesis is that "the theological and metaphysical truths of the world's religions are inspired" but that "religious institutions" are another story (p. 5). In other words, Smith is interested only in the deposits of wisdom within each religion studied rather than with the complexities of the institutions that have preserved them. The book is by no means an analysis of comparative religions; there is no effort made in regard to the value of one religion over another.After explaining what his book is not, Smith continues in the notes to delve into what it is. First, he seeks to embrace the world, recognizing that such an approach must eventually fall short. He therefore limits himself to writing in English for the Western mind. Because we live in a shrinking world, he insists, it necessarily follows that mankind must come together "and take each other seriously" (p. 7). In that coming together, there must of necessity be a resulting wider range of vision that ultimately leads to a greater understanding of the various world religions. Religion in this book is taken seriously, avoiding patronizing points of view. It looks at the challenges to the soul of man as an epic journey toward confronting reality. In the final note, Smith indicates that one of his main goals is communication and bridge building, delineating those truths that have the greatest relevance to the world today.