Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Norton Anthology of World Religions



The Norton Anthology of World Religions 

The Norton Anthology of World Religions by Editor Jack Miles is a massive work of six religions, viz., Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  It introduces the reader to art, play, and the comparative study of religion.  Words from poet Todd Boss set the stage on entering Templar halls and museums, chambers of churches to admire the beauty, remembering the graveness, understanding the liturgy, feeling holy in the gallery, and reminiscing is enough to come just so far.

Next the question is asked, “can religion be defined?’  It was realized that this couldn’t be done to everyone’s satisfaction.  But the six contributors to this anthology examined the primary texts for framing and contextualizing this question.  There was therefore no attempt to impose a general theory.  Then there was the question of “believers” and “unbelievers” concerning where they will fit in this discussion.  Religion was therefore approached as a practice, that isn’t identical to each faith.  So the text is presented showing how these religions developed.  This process has its complexity and there’s some overlap of the various faiths.  So religion was engaged more as a practice rather than a belief, with each tradition having multiple versions over time.

An explanation followed concerning how Christian Europe learned to compare religions.  The process was euro-centric.  Every discovery was viewed from a European perspective.  Much of this perception was determined by missionaries that the colonists they encountered in non-Western societies.  There were basic strands that became apparent, viz., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and secular humanism (Paganism).  This was the four-cornered medieval map of religion that they happened knew.  But the Renaissance ushered in different thoughts about religion.    There was a revival of classical Greek and Latin.  This all led to comparative Christianity during the Protestant Reformation.  Theologians like Martin Luther, Calvin, and Erasmus became famous, and they brought about unprecedented religious change in Europe.

A new map of comparative study of world religions began to dawn with the Peace of Westphalia.  In the 17th century an epochal reference guide was born.  It was entitled, Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World by Jean Frederic Bernard and Bernard Picart.  This was the precursor of the Norton Anthology of World Religions, and included all the religions of the world that covered far-flung places that were explored and evangelized by Europeans.  The 17th, 18th and 19th century saw the broadening of the scope of religions with peoples of the Artic and Oceania, Japan, India, China, Russia, North and South America.  Missionaries mastered Chinese, Sanskrit studies were launched in the West, the “Semitic languages and religions” became known; Charles Darwin arose on the horizon along with the Age of Enlightenment and the scientific revolution.  The first world’s parliament of religions was held at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

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