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I use Molloy's book for the college course I teach on world religions (along with Van Voorst, Anthology of World Scriptures, Wadsworth: 2011). He begins with an insightful chapter on various approaches to the study of religion, then explores indigenous religions. The rest of the book walks students through the origins, beliefs, and practices of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, Daoism and Confucianism, Shinto, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Alternative Paths (e.g. contemporary Paganism, Baha'i), and The Modern Search (including women's issues, environmentalism, and spirituality). Each chapter is between 25 and 80 pages long (average is about 50 pages), and is loaded with attractive pictures and interesting sidebars. Personally, I think it's one of the best books out there for those wanting a solid overview of key world religions. It treats each religion appreciatively and fairly and is written in a reader/student friendly fashion. The "Personal Experience" section at the end of each chapter is either "corny" or "interesting," depending on which student you ask. My suggestion: Take students to various places of worship and have guest lectures from those who practice the various religions. This will allow them to have a bit of first-hand "experience" as they read this textbook and passages from the various scriptures.
Most "reviews" so far remark briefly on its delivery, condition, or the student's course. A couple criticized doctrinal points, and a few praised its tone and scope. I've been assigned (note the verb--we don't always have a choice!) this text to teach a Comparative Religions course, so I've prepared by studying it cover to cover.
"Understanding Religions" opens, then indigenous varieties, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism & Sikhism, Daoism & Confucianism, and Shintoism. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam follow. Alternative religions and "The Modern Search" wrap it up.
Michael Molloy's updated this all for its fifth edition. He takes his task seriously, but he adds insight and verve. That is, he integrates personal encounters into the beginning of his chapters as well as within them, keeping the pace snappier than a chronological structure (each religious tradition's evolution) and geographical one (first ancients everywhere, then Asian, then Middle Eastern, then Western, New Age, earth-based, alternative, and "new religious movements") might portend. His own Hawaiian orientation allows him to use this logical East-West portal as a place for contemplating the island's indigenous and syncretic faiths and outlooks, and his Californian upbringing enriches this with another fitting place from which to scan the varieties of belief and ritual and outlook.
I kept an eye out for how contemporary scholarship, often not matching the mindset of many believers in the pew or temple, entered his treatment of issues.Read more ›
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"Experiencing the World's Religions" is a fairly comprehensive introductory text describing the major religions of the world. It is well-written and easy to read. However, at times Malloy's presuppositions stand in the way of an objective presentation of the data. For example, on the inside front cover, on Judaism's timeline, Abraham is called "legendary." Certainly from the perspective of the skeptic, Abraham is a legendary figure. But not from the perspective of those who believe the account in Genesis is historically accurate. Yet, Abraham's legendary nature is assumed as an established fact. On p. 358 a chart notes the dates of the writing of the books of the Christian New Testament. Malloy assumes the dates that the most skeptical of scholars assigned to them. Even many scholars who reject the divine inspiration of the Bible have come to the conclusion that the books were written at a much earlier date than some have assumed. Nevertheless, Malloy simply assigns these late dates to the New Testament books as though these dates were an established fact. On the other hand, in the same chart he lists "Hebrews" as one of the Pauline Epistles, even though almost every scholar (whether conservative or liberal) rejects the Pauline authorship of the book. This is simply sloppy scholarship.
These are just two of the instances of bias or sloppy scholarship I have found in Malloy's discussion of Judaism and Christianity, the two religions with which I am most familiar. It makes me wonder about the accuracy of his analysis of the other religions he considers. (There is a lengthy but very helpful review in this collection of reviews that discusses Malloy's inaccurate and misleading statements about Islam.)
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I have been reading the 4th edition and found some comments that were disingenuous at best. On page 391 the author states: "Looking back on the events, we see the Crusades as a form of early colonialism, stemming from a questionable notion that European Christians had a right to control Israel." The fact of the matter is that much of that area was Christian and Jewish long before it was Muslim. The Crusades were a belated attempt to reclaim land that had been taken over by imperialistic Muslims. Furthermore, at that time Christians were still trying to reclaim Spain from imperialistic, colonizing, Arabic invaders. Note: Muslims didn't consider themselves as being imperialistic and colonizers only because they thought they were bringing the true faith to the people that they conquered.
In addition, while Muslims were sometimes more tolerant than Christians that wasn't always the case. Under Islamic law Christians and Jews had to pay a tax that could be very onerous as well as being treated as third class citizens with few rights. Many people converted just so they wouldn't have to pay the tax.
Slavery was permissible and practiced regularly under Islamic Law. As a matter of fact Muslims were very helpful to those who wished to introduce slavery to the Americas.
While the author does mention Spain, he does not say anything about the Muslim Ottoman Turks who invaded the Baltic states and twice got as far as Vienna in their attempt to conquer and colonize more areas in Europe. The Ottomans treated the Christians in these areas so well that they would demand that the sons of Christians be turned over to them. These children were then converted to Islam and trained as soldiers for the Ottoman Empire.Read more ›