by Charles E. Farhadian
Baker Academic, 2015.
—Reviewed by Jonathan P. Case, professor of theology, Houghton College.
As someone who teaches several courses in world religions and new religious movements, I wondered in approaching this book if we really needed one more general overview. But Professor Charles Farhadian (Westmont) has written a text that is informative, fair-minded, and Christian in its orientation, without allowing a predictable apologetics perspective to intrude.
The subtitle of the book is A Christian Engagement, but the Christian denotes a Christian ethos embedded in the author’s approach, which reminds us that when we study ‘other religions,’ we ineluctably deal with people with real human aspirations and needs. In that respect, the book is deeply incarnational.
The book’s structure is conventional, beginning with a chapter on methodology and various historical approaches to the study of religions. Substantive chapters follow on Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The final chapter on New Religious Movements concludes with a discussion of religious pluralism and the familiar exclusivist-inclusivist-pluralist typology for a theology of religions, without the author attempting to settle the matter.
At various points in these chapters, Farhadian includes ‘Christian Reflections’ (set apart in blocked sections on the page) in which he invites readers to think about theological and practical questions from a Christian perspective. Each chapter ends with a list of key terms and books for further reading, and the book includes a nearly 50-page glossary.
Pointing out what an author did not do is perhaps the cheapest form of criticism, but nevertheless I will point out a few gaps and questionable choices. In his chapter on methodology, Farhadian doesn’t mention the jarring impact that the linguistic turn in contemporary philosophy has made on the study of religions, standing many of our established notions about the relationship between language and religious experience on their heads.
In terms of his material treatment of the religions, I wish that he had included a chapter on Baha’i, and had attempted to distinguish orthodox Islam from Nation of Islam (which has had notable impact in the African-American community). Overall, the chapter on New Religious Movements is perhaps the weakest.
But these are relatively minor criticisms. Farhadian’s tone throughout is refreshing: measured, respectful, and irenic. He concludes by reminding us that “by understanding other religions, Christians might gain confidence to engage others as world citizens, recognizing the ‘other’ first as a fellow human being rather than as a religious adversary.” Yes, we need a text like this.
Check these titles:
Lindbeck, George A. 2009. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. Louisville, Ken.: Westminster John Knox Press.
Partridge, Christopher, Linda Woodhead, and Hiroko Kawanami, eds.2009. Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations 2nd edition. Florence, Ken.: Routledge.