"The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion," Jonathan Z. Smith, general editor, and William Scott Green, associate editor, with the American Academy of Religion (HarperSanFrancisco, 1,154 pp.; $45, hardcover). Reviewed by John Wilson.

Having spent a sizable chunk of my adult life engaged in the making of reference books, I've often wondered how and why (and how much) people use them. Like a presidential commission, after many years of study I have come up with some mostly unsurprising conclusions--for instance, that readers who actually consult reference books (as opposed to merely possessing them) tend to do so frequently. "Looking it up" becomes a habit, and if you've had occasion to pull down your copy of "The Oxford Companion to the Law" today, there is a good chance you'll be reaching for John Clute's "Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia or Fowler's Modern English Usage" tomorrow.

If you are of that tribe, you will want to add "The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion" to your reference library. (It has already won a place in the cramped quarters of ct's office library, where there is a fierce Darwinian struggle for shelf-space.) General editor Jonathan Z. Smith, associate editor William Scott Green, and ten area editors, all appointed by the American Academy of Religion, headed an international team of more than 300 scholars. Together they have produced a volume that consists primarily of concise ready-reference entries, with a generous sprinkling of longer entries and ten full-fledged essays, one for each major subject area: Religions of Antiquity (Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley); Christianity (Lawrence S. Cunningham); Religions of China, Japan, and Korea (Gary L. Ebersole); Buddhism (Malcolm David Eckel); Religions ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.