by Christopher Partridge, editor
In one hundred articles, written by sixty-one gifted contributors (eighteen of whom are from North America) the reader is informed of the staggering breadth, growing profusion and zealous tenacity of religion in modern human culture.
InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, 2002, 390 pages, $24.99.
—Reviewed by James F. Lewis, professor of world religions, Wheaton College and Graduate School, Wheaton, Ill.
When Samuel Clemens heard that a journalist had reported his passing, he quipped: “Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In a similar vein, the Dictionary serves to lay to rest the antiquated but oft-believed claim of secular elites concerning the imminent demise of religion. In one hundred articles, written by sixty-one gifted contributors (eighteen of whom are from North America) the reader is informed of the staggering breadth, growing profusion and zealous tenacity of religion in modern human culture and its ability to ever morph into new and creative expressions. The authors are committed to the Christian tradition but demonstrate a respectful attitude toward religious others and employ a descriptive method in covering the diverse range of contemporary religious life.
The Dictionary is divided into two parts, the first of which is to “provide readers with the necessary background information for a broad understanding of contemporary religion and culture in the West.” In this section, fifteen of the thirty-four essays treat subjects such as Religion and . . . Globalism, Human Rights, Philosophy, Media, Psychology, Science, Sociology, Technology. It is curious that topics of obvious merit such as Religion and Theology and Religion and Conversion, are not included.
Articles cover, with forgivable spareness, some of the historic manifestations of the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish traditions. But these are supplemented by articles on “new religious movements” that these historic religions have mothered when mated with modern life. The strength of part two is that it covers not just these historic traditions that themselves are new on Western turf but also spiritualities such as “UFO Religion,” “Psychedelic Spirituality,” and a category-defying reality called “Celebrity-Centric Religion.”
For readers engaged in the practice of evangelism and mission in the West, there is immense benefit in the breadth, erudition and insight these articles contain. The book would be a natural adoption for a course on “New Religious Movements” or “Religion in America Today.” Furthermore, articles treating the nature, definition and meaning of religion could provide stimulus for reflection on how religion should be understood in order to grasp the direction of contemporary spirituality. One of the most important implications of the work is that conservative Christians will need to take more seriously than heretofore the frontal challenge religion is presenting to our theology. The book is a good addition to the shelf of those who desire to evangelize the culture of modernity.
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