Many of the books on world religions that are being published in the United States are blatantly inaccurate or deceptively superficial. They continue to convey impressions of such non-existent entities as the “Eastern Mind” or the “Indian Mind” or the “Buddhist Mind.” Writers on the various religions of the world also tend to portray “Hinduism” or “Buddhism,” for example, as monolithic entities that happen to agree with the author’s own outlook, which often may be included under twentieth-century scientism or mysticism. The uninformed reader then may take the author’s religious stance as true of all “Hindus” or all “Buddhists.” In this survey I will give my choices—i.e., those of one historian of Asian religions—of works that ought to be read by those who want reasonably accurate portrayals of non-Christian religions.
There are two large texts that I consider the best one-volume introductions to the religions of the world. The first is by one author, John B. Noss: Man’s Religions (Macmillan, 1974). Now in its fifth edition, it is still going strong. The second has the advantage of being written by various experts who handle their specialties: Religion and Man, edited by W. Richard Comstock (Harper & Row, 1971). Both are reliable beginnings in the field.
A recent well-publicized book is an aesthetically pleasing (more than 250 photographs) work by Walter Kaufmann entitled Religions in Four Dimensions: Existential, Aesthetic, Historical, Comparative (Reader’s Digest, distributed by Crowell, 1976). Historical elements are often astutely interpreted, but with the author’s explicit emphasis on the “existential,” “aesthetic,” and “comparative,” one finds a subtle critique of the religions on the basis of a twentieth-century, Western, ...1
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