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The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions Hardcover – May 8, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Bowker (divinity, Gresham Coll., London) has produced two very different books, though both are focused on world religion. The Oxford Dictionary, whose entries often lack information on etymology and pronunciation, is actually a one-volume desktop encyclopedia for ready reference. Combining brevity of exposition with a massive number of entries in an attempt to be dictionary-like, the work suffers from trying to be comprehensive in breadth of coverage instead of depth. The psychology of religion is discussed in a half-page, for instance, and the Church Fathers get only two sentences. In addition, the entries are uneven in quality; one has the feeling that the 80 contributors are each writing according to his or her own personal interests and styles. Despite these idiosyncracies, the work is a solid reference source for people who want to know only the barest of facts about any religious topic. In World Religions, on the other hand, one has the feeling that Bowker, now the author, is finally freed to range over what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. This book is a bold attempt to meld religious information with expressive art and to use the art as a tool for pedagogy. Each religion is represented by a few brilliantly illustrated icons, paintings, or sculptures, which the author painstakingly annotates to illuminate their theologies and deepen one's insight. Whether he is using Michelangelo's Final Judgment to explain Christian eschatology or a handscroll of Chou Ch'en to explain Taoist concepts of immortality, the emphasis upon the visual makes these religions vibrant and intriguing. There are surprising discrepancies between the two works. World Religions has generous discussions of the ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Norse, and Celtic religions, topics not even included in the Oxford Dictionary. There are also variations of names. Ultimately, World Religions is the more commendable publication, though both books are recommended for most libraries.?Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Learning about the world's many spiritual traditions can be a challenge. This title, designed "to provide initial bearings," is an excellent place to start. With an introductory essay on the meaning of religion by editor Bowker, a professor of religion, and more than 8,200 alphabetical entries on a wide range of subjects, it offers an overview of concepts from world religions as well as movements, sects, and cults. There are no illustrations, but Bowker recently completed World Religions (DK, 1997), a profusely illustrated volume that is a good companion to this work.

The entries include broad topics such as prayer and cosmology; specific religions; historical events such as the Reformation and the Crusades; sacred texts; individuals; doctrines; sacred sites; customs; and ethics. Asterisks designate cross-references to terms with their own entries. See and see also references refer users to related material. Many entries have bibliographic citations to books on the subject for further research. Terms in language with non-Roman alphabets are transliterated. There is a special index of Chinese headwords with a Wade-Giles/Pinyin conversion table. A topic index directs readers to entry headings on broad subject areas so that someone interested in dietary laws and customs could look under Food and find entries for Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Taoist, and Zen regimens.

A comparable source is The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion [RBB Ap 15 96], which has 3,200 articles. This is far fewer than the Oxford work, but HarperCollins devotes significant space to comprehensive feature articles on major religions--32 pages on Buddhism, for example. It also covers extinct religions, such as those of ancient Greece and Rome, which are not included in the Oxford dictionary. In general, the HarperCollins dictionary has more coverage of religions, while the Oxford dictionary provides more coverage of concepts, people, events, and so on. For example, HarperCollins has several pages on Afro-Brazilian religions, while Oxford has a single paragraph. HarperCollins has six pages on Native American religions, which is not an entry in the Oxford dictionary. On the other hand, Oxford has nearly four pages on the Reformation, compared to one page in HarperCollins; over a column on John Calvin, compared to six lines in HarperCollins; a column on evil, compared to three lines in HarperCollins. The HarperCollins dictionary has no bibliographies, although sources are cited within the text. It does, however, have some illustrations, as well as maps, tables, and timelines.

Whether one is searching for the text of the Shema (the Jewish confession of faith) or information about Rastafarians, Oxford Dictionary of World Religions is a useful source. Although naturally less complete than Mircea Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion [RBB O 1 87], it does provide a reasonably priced, very good introduction to a diverse subject area. Recommended for high-school, public, and academic libraries, especially those that do not already own the HarperCollins dictionary.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Printing edition (May 8, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192139657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192139658
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 2.1 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "elizathegoddess" on April 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is probably one of the most comprehensive guides I've seen on the subject of the world's religions. It includes incredibly fascinating details on past and present religions. However, it may be too detailed for some.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The dictionary does its job in explaining religious terms in an up-to-date, clear, and concise manner. The majority of the terms have at the end of the definition a list of books whereby the reader can persue the idea further. All of the broad terms (e.g., death, angels, sin) are broken down into sections for each of the major religions; the major religions themselves are broken down historically. There are a few terms, however, that I would have liked expanded, or were missing, but then again, this is just a general dictionary of religion.
A great reference source if you are interested in studying religion.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The 'Oxford Dictionary of World Religions' is a concise and comprehensive single-volume reference to the religions, faith systems, and spiritual practises of the world. This dictionary has one of the broadest ranges for any multi-religious guide around. The book contains nearly 13,000 entries, broadly categorised as follows:
- Religions
- Movements, sects, cults
- Scriptural and philosophical text synopses and analyses
- Biographies of individuals
- Sacred sites
- Customs and practises
- Ethics and moral systems
- Themes on general topics
Edited by John Bowker, the text is introduced by an essay which pulls together philosophical, sociological and historical information tying together the concepts of religion. 'A strange thing about religion is that we all know what it is until someone ask us to tell them. As Augustine said of time, "What, then, is time? If no one asks me I know; but if I have to say what it is to one who asks, I know not." That has not stopped people trying to define religion, but their definitions are clearly different.'
Bowker, who has published several books including award winning books on the relationship of God and science, and the meaning of death in religious frameworks, has pulled together a team of over 80 contributors, some of the brightest names in the study of religion. Thus, articles and entries are contributed by experts in their respective fields, edited and cross-referenced by Bowker and his team of eight consultant editors who hold academic posts on three continents.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Severin Olson on May 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Most reviews have described the Oxford Dictionary as comprehensive, as it indeed is. Almost everything connected to religion in any way seems to be in here, including topics of amazingly recent importance. It is most unlikely that anyone looking through this volume will fail to find what he's looking for. The book deserves several stars for this alone.

But the book is also a little strange, even weird, in other ways. For one thing, the editor has an obsession with genetics that shows up in most of the entries he has worked on. He sees us as beings whose moral behavior is guided entirely by our genetic code. The article on adultery for instance, ignored the matter of how different religions have viewed the issue, and instead explained it away as a system of genetic enhancement! The same can be said of many other entries. His beliefs may be correct, but does this belong in the dictionary?

I was also a bit troubled by the left-liberal bias that permeated the book. Authors choose to ignore conservative and even mainstream belief, and thus give misleading and incomplete information on their topics. We are not even told, for instance, about homosexual sin in Sodom and Gomorah. The author merely says the town was destroyed because of inhospitality! Explanations like this may be popular in some quarters, but fail to do justice to the subject.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By cvairag VINE VOICE on November 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
With a field of over 80 leading religion scholars working on and contributing 13,000 entries, generated from Oxford University Press and edited at the University of Pennsylvania, it's got to be pretty good. While every dictionary is going to have interesting flaws and idiosyncrasies - what do you need in a work of this kind? 1) comprehensiveness 2) precision 3) ease of use. On all these counts, the Oxford meets or exceeds the criteria. For instance, there is an excellent, concise Topic Index, useful for double-checking whether the topic is covered - and the vast majority are. Best of all, it's pretty affordable. I teach religion, and it's been a great quick reference for me. For depth, however, one must go to the source. If you need a personal bookshelf general reference of religion, it doesn't get any better. Before buying, however, I would definitely heed the editorial reviews of the book. They point to a serious omissions - such as a complete lack of references regarding Native American and other indigenous religions. The Wade-Giles/Pin Yin Index with which the text ends seems an awkward bit of organization. Why not simply include the alternative transliteration in parenthesis with each entry? Further, there are a number of less expensive, more svelte, "concise" dictionaries of religion available. In fact, Oxford has produced a concise version of this one to compete in that market. Again, the most popular alternative, the Harper-Collins is a better exploratory browse. Still, the Oxford has packed an overwhelming amount of critical, and most commonly referenced material into a mere 1,111 pages.
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