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Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions Hardcover – January 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Merriam-Webster has put together a marvelous one-volume, easy-to-lift-with-one-hand, desktop encyclopedia on world religions. As with many Webster's publications (e.g., The Encyclopedia of Literature and The Biographical Dictionary) the editors here have emphasized comprehensiveness (over 3500 articles) and clarity of writing--and added to these a dispassionate, nonjudgmental, and nonproselytizing reporting of religious concepts, movements, figures, divinities, and sacred sites. Edited and written by eminent scholars, this is a portable, authoritative source. Heavily cross referenced, it also includes a handy pronunciation guide, useful for pronouncing non-English words. But editorial restrictions and space limitations have led to some absurdly abbreviated entries, creating uneven or inadequate coverage. The late Reverend Jim Jones has a bigger write-up than Cain; Aum Shinrikyo is discussed more completely than the Essenes; the Tibetan Book of the Dead is explained in two sentences. In the battle between space and content, space has scored many victories; a little of everything wins out over more of fewer things. But for immediate access to authoritative definitions, this book is impeccable. Recommended for all libraries.
-Glenn Norio Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

The Merriam brothers desired a continuity of editorship that would link Noah Webster's efforts with their own editions, so they selected Chauncey A. Goodrich, Webster's son-in-law and literary heir, who had been trained in lexicography by Webster himself, to be their editor in chief. Webster's son William also served as an editor of that first Merriam-Webster dictionary, which was published on September 24, 1847.

Although Webster's work was honored, his big dictionaries had never sold well. The 1828 edition was priced at a whopping $20; in 13 years its 2,500 copies had not sold out. Similarly, the 1841 edition, only slightly more affordable at $15, moved slowly. Assuming that a lower price would increase sales, the Merriams introduced the 1847 edition at $6, and although Webster's heirs initially questioned this move, extraordinary sales that brought them $250,000 in royalties over the ensuing 25 years convinced them that the Merriams' decision had been abundantly sound.

The first Merriam-Webster dictionary was greeted with wide acclaim. President James K. Polk, General Zachary Taylor (hero of the Mexican War and later president himself), 31 U.S. senators, and other prominent people hailed it unreservedly. In 1850 its acceptance as a resource for students began when Massachusetts ordered a copy for every school and New York placed a similar order for 10,000 copies to be used in schools throughout the state. Eventually school use would spread throughout the country. In becoming America's most trusted authority on the English language, Merriam-Webster dictionaries had taken on a role of public responsibility demanded of few other publishing companies. 


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1248 pages
  • Publisher: Merriam-Webster (January 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0877790442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0877790440
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 8.5 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A fine volume featuring extensive articles on many religious practices, artifacts, art, beliefs, and theologians. Notable are the extended articles for major religions ranging from African religions to Taoism. The text is richly illustrated.
It makes, however, the mistake of defining religions by their official doctrine only. Though there are numerous photos of people worshipping, some of the articles take only the work of theologians seriously. Living institutions are often treated as mere relics of the past rather than as contemporary expressions of belief.
I was also disappointed by the section on Mythology, which only treats dead religions and these not very well, preferring to discuss the way Myth is studied rather than providing specific details and cross-references. Where it covers these old traditions in depth, (and only the ones which are prominent in Western intellectual thought, alas!) it fails to flesh out the tales of the gods and goddesses or to provide a handy reference to different pantheons.
It often fails on the side of "neutrality" by failing to present skeptical perspectives on religion. (There isn't even an article on Skepticism, which is, in this century, as important a movement as Iconoclasm was in the 8th and 9th centuries). Secular humanism also receives short shrift.
The owner of this volume who bears these failures in mind will nonetheless find it useful. There's a fascinating section on New Religions, an extensive bibliography, and many fine, brief articles on the many facets of religion. It is worth having this among your general reference books.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sanjay Agarwal on October 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I bought this encyclopedia several years ago, and have used it fairly frequently. I have invariably found it to lead me deeper and deeper into the book, as the entries are also interlinked very nicely.

The entries are arranged in alphabetical order. Major entries are structured like chapters and are often devoted to a major faith. The book is very well illustrated, and has been printed on excellent paper. The cloth-spine binding itself is superb, and I have not had any problems with it over the last five years.

The entries are not very lengthy, but do give sufficient details for someone who is starting to get interested in understanding about other faiths. The book doesn't have an index, but is well-cross-referenced. There is a table of contents listing the major faiths.

A word about the background of the contributors: Ms.Wendy Doniger, the Consulting Editor, is a scholar who is highly influential and respected in US for her understanding of Hinduism. She is also embroiled in a controversy with Hindus in America over the way she and her school interpret Hinduism. Mr. Jeffrey Kripal is another such scholar - one of his books (Kali's Child) was withdrawn from circulation by the Indian publisher after objections arose in US and India. All the other contributors are from the West, except two from Columbia University, who appear to be of Indian origin.

This naturally gives rise to a charge of bias or lack of understanding on of part of scholars. I also noticed this in some places while reading about Hinduism. However, this does not seem to be deliberate slant, but may be due to the background and cultural differences of the scholars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MVP on December 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was looking for a book that contains a decent overview of many religions, possibly in dictionary form. My husband and I routinely run across religions we don't know much about, and want to learn more about their origins, history and general beliefs. I was pleasantly surprised to find this awesome textbook. Unlike many that I found during my search, it does more than gloss over lesser-known religions, and it's more in-depth than the several thin but colorfully illustrated books that are widely available. I was pleased to find this gently used, hardcover copy - couldn't find any new. It contains tons of information in a dictionary format, which makes it easy to quickly find what you're looking for. I know it'll be on our shelf for years to come.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Articles pack this important encyclopedia which includes illustrations, maps, and color art. All religions, cultures and regions are included in a reference which will prove essential to both specialty libraries and general public library collections.
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3 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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