by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear
We devote the majority of this article to three categories—general religion sites, new religions and cults, and Islam—followed by briefer coverage of about a dozen other religions in alphabetical order.
Some might think that with all the nonreligious and antireligious movements in recent history religions might have become a thing of the past, an artifact of older civilizations. But one look on the Internet and it is clear that religion is very much alive—if not always well— in incredible diversity around the world.
The Web has grown to the point that today there is significant content of value available on religion in general, as well as on a host of specific religions. Searching for “relig*” on AltaVista, for instance, results in over seventeen million hits. These include directories, statistics, commentary, promotional sites, and apologetics, as well as serious academic and theological sites.
As is our habit, we have created a dedicated MisLinks table of links for this edition of Missions on the Web (www.mislinks.org/research/religions.htm). Our article follows the general format of the links page; we devote the majority of the article to three categories—general religion sites, new religions and cults, and Islam—followed by briefer coverage of about a dozen other religions in alphabetical order. As we discuss each category, we mention only a few Web sites within each group; we encourage you to visit MisLinks for additional links.
Please note that the bulk of the religious Web sites included here provide either the perspective of their adherents or the academic study of the religion rather than apologetic approaches. We are not recommending the doctrinal approaches or the religious thoughts expressed at the sites; rather, our purpose is to enable the study of religions from a missions orientation, which includes knowing what the adherents say about themselves, what academics say about them, and what the perspective of the historic Christian faith is towards the religions of the world.
A good starting place to find religious information on the Internet is to browse the major Web directories. Google’s Religion and Spirituality directory (http://directory.google.com/Top/Society/Religion_and_Spirituality/) is one of the most extensive, followed by Yahoo’s directory of Religion and Spirituality (http://dir.yahoo.com/ and click on Religion under the Society & Culture heading) which includes a section dedicated to other Web directories on religion. Alta-Vista’s Religion & Belief Directory (go to http://dir.altavista.com and click on Religion and Belief under the Personal heading) also provides gateways to a good variety of sites.
For sheer numbers, check out Adherents.Com. The site is dedicated to a global coverage of the size and location of faith groups including over 41,000 adherent statistics and religious geography citations covering some 4,200 religions, churches, denominations and religious bodies. Find answers to such questions as “How many Quakers live in Indiana?,” “What are the major religions of Nigeria?,” or “What percentage of the world is Buddhist?”
A more extensive set of numbers—as well as maps and survey reports— on the religious makeup of the USA can be found at the American Religion Data Archive (ARDA). The ARDA collection includes data on churches and church membership, religious professionals, and religious groups (individuals, congregations and denominations).
An introductory survey of world religions can be accessed through Encyclopedia Britannica Online, offering summary articles and multi-media content on the major religions.
One of the richest sites is Virtual Religion Index (developed by the Religion Department of Rutgers University). It is well organized, with excellent depth; one of the best sites for the academic study of religion.
ReligiousResources.org is “a comprehensive, searchable directory of 4,670 religious-related Internet resources, organized into 312 categories” although much of the material is about Christianity.
The Online Books Page is a Web site that facilitates access to books that are freely readable over the Internet. Their Religion section gives links to the full online text of over 1,600 relevant books.
Several sites focus on promoting religious tolerance. The popular Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance (OCRT) site includes some 1,700 online articles and claims millions of hits per week. They focus on (in their words): disseminating accurate religious information; exposing religious fraud, hatred and misinformation; and disseminating information on “hot” religious topics. They “categorize faith groups according to how they themselves view their beliefs” and seek to have people who follow particular beliefs review all related essays before posting them on their Web site; the result, of course, is a site which appears quite sympathetic to all religious beliefs.
Internet Sacred Text Archive promotes religious tolerance and scholarship through its “freely available nonprofit archive of electronic texts about religion, mythology, legends and folklore, and occult and esoteric topics.”
Not surprisingly, Time Magazine’s God.com takes a more popular-culture approach, where “Catholics are keyboard-to-keyboard with Devil-worshippers, Jews are modem-to-modem with Islamic fundamentalists.”
There are numerous explicitly Christian sources of information on the Web about world religions. World Religions Index is dedicated to “equipping Christians to understand other world faiths and religious philosophies.” Their site contains personal testimonies, articles and tables of summary data on major religions.
Watchman Fellowship is a conservative evangelical research and apologetics ministry focusing on new religious movements, cults, the occult and the New Age. Their Watchman Index of Cults and Religions covers some 1,200 religious organizations and beliefs.
Take a look at the World Religions topic (one of 1,270 topics) on the Network for Strategic Missions where you will find articles listed under twenty-two subtopics, from African Traditional Religions to Zoroastrians.
Insightful essays on popular world religions from an evangelical missions perspective are available online from SIM’s Special Report on World Religions.
NEW RELIGIONS, CULTS AND SECTS
A good place to start, for a broadly secular introduction to new religions, is the online Encyclopedia Britannica page on new religious movements. Here you will find articles, photographs, videos, books, reviews and annotated web links.
The Web site of CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions includes a searchable bibliography of over 16,000 books, a huge collection of online documents and a book review section. CESNUR is “an international network of associations of scholars working in the field of new religious movements.” Centered in Italy, it was established in 1988 by mostly Roman Catholic scholars. CESNUR U.S.A. is located at the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California; their Web site CULTWATCH looks at cults in America.
The Religious Movements homepage hosted by the University of Virginia (Charlottesville) does not limit its concern to “new” religions, but rather focuses on the “movement” of religion. “Religions and human cultures are constantly being renewed and invigorated. This Religious Movements site provides a foundation for understanding how religious groups emerge, grow, stagnate, reinvigorate themselves, and sometimes die.” The highlight of this site is the profiles of over two hundred religious groups, including Web links and print bibliography for each group. There are also helpful sections on religious freedom and religious broadcasting.
The Nurel Web site, based at the University of Calgary, presents an academic approach to the study of cults and religion and includes a good bit of material by evangelicals.
There are some good evangelical resources available on the Web on the topic of new religions and cults, with an emphasis on apologetics. Apologetics Index is an impressive collection—largely a one-man operation—with over four thousand pages of research resources on cults and sects from an evangelical perspective. It includes information on thousands of topics and people, arranged alphabetically in a helpful index.
Dialogue Center International, based in Denmark, is “a Christian information center for dialog, research, and counseling on classical religions, new religions, new religious movements, trends, and cults.” Its purpose is “to communicate the Christian faith to people of other beliefs and convictions in a dialog. In relation to the neo-religiosity, our intention is to realize a dialog in confrontation.” The site includes online essays and an online magazine, a “newsportal and debate forum on new religious subjects,” and links to other relevant sites.
At the Apologia Report site, you can view sample content from past issues of the (printed) Apologia Report. The Southern Baptist’s Interfaith Evangelism site contains some excellent material, especially in their “Belief Bulletins”—a series of profiles of various cults and religions, summarizing their beliefs accompanied by biblical responses.
Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) is an evangelical professional membership association for individuals and ministries addressing cults of Christianity, new religious movements and world religions. Their Web site (www.emnr.org) offers research papers and audio tapes from their annual conferences and links to other apologetics sites.
The Watchman Index, referred to above, specializes in information on cults and new religions.
Don’t overlook the major search engine directories; for instance, AltaVista’s Christian Apologetics Directory".
Several Web sites are valuable in understanding Islam from the modern Muslim’s perspective. About Islam and Muslims is a collection of brief essays, written in a very readable style, discussing Islamic beliefs and practices and addressing current issues Muslims face. IslamiCity is another rich and diverse Muslim Web site; of particular interest is their extensive “News & Analysis” section. The multimedia Islamic Gallery has digital photographs, artwork, audio files, video files, the full text of books and articles, and a “Kids Korner,” all accessible via a subject index.
There are also quality academic or secular sites. The Fordham Internet Islamic History Sourcebook site provides online a substantial and valuable collection of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts. Islamic Studies, “the academic Web site of Dr. Alan Godlas, professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Georgia, provides a scholarly overview of Islam, Arabic, Western religions, and related subjects.” This is an incredible gateway to information on Islam; at the core of the site in an extensive set of categorized and annotated links to Islam accompanied by short introductory essays. The Islam section of the Virtual Religion Index mentioned above is another valuable academic site. Also see the OCRT page on Islam.
There are excellent Christian responses to Islam on the Web; we will mention only a few here. One of the best is Answering Islam: A Christian-Muslim Dialog provided by anonymous but clearly evangelical Christians. This is a serious effort to provide extensive factual material without being offensive. It includes much high quality content in English, as well as Arabic, French, German, Indonesian, Malay, Turkish and Russian languages.
Into the Light Thought provoking Muslim-Christian Dialogue: centers on a selection of “Discussion Topics” and has a good section about the many references to Jesus in the Qur’an and other Islamic literature. We liked the online apologetic mini-book Why Follow Jesus?— “Answers to who Jesus is and to why follow him are given into a down-to-earth perspective to make it suitable and readable for those to whom English may be a second language.”
The Islamic-Christian Controversy site is an online “Trainers Textbook” by Gerhard Nehls and Walter Eric (Life Challenge Africa; SIM, Nairobi, Kenya). “It supplies the Muslim Evangelism trainer with comprehensive, yet basic information.”
Middle East Resources Pages is the Internet ministry of Rev. Bassam Madany (who for many years has provided an Arabic language broadcast ministry in association with the Christian Reformed Church in North America). It includes position papers, articles, book reviews, a bibliography, and the full text of the Bible and Islam, “a study guide for anyone wanting to know more about bringing the gospel to a Muslim.”
The University of Adelaide (Australia) provides a guide to their library’s extensive print and electronic reference resources on Aboriginal Studies. In association with Amazon.com, the Aboriginal Religion page offers a list of related books available for sale.
AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS
The African Traditional Religion site has essays on a variety of topics —including over a dozen on the relationship between African traditional religions and Christianity, extensive sets of Web links, and a bibliography.
The Britannica.com page on Bahai is a good place to start. OCRT, mentioned above, has a Bahai page that includes an overview of the faith and practice along with links to other Web sites and book reviews. Galaxy.com provides another gateway to Bahai Web sites.
The About.com site on Buddhism has links organized within two dozen subject categories, from Art and Audio to Vajrayana and The Buddhist Studies section of the WWW Virtual Library is a good gateway to related Web sites.
Digital Buddhist Library and Museum has a large collection of pages on information and news, bibliography and full-text books and journals, Buddhist scriptures, courses and other resources. The Buddhist Studies section of the Virtual Religion Index and OCRT contain numerous links to additional research resources.
OrishaNet promotes Santeria through online articles and selling books, art, music and videos.
Hindu Universe Resource Center is a sort of Yahoo for Hinduism, offering a host of services promoting Hinduism, including a directory of links to over eighteen-thousand related sites.
The extensive About.com Hinduism site has pages of links organized within twenty-nine subject areas; perhaps the most popular is their “Hinduism for Beginners” section.
Also see the Virtual Religion Index pages on Hindu Studies.
See Britannica.com’s Judaism links as a starting place.
Andrew Tannenbaum’s Judaism and Jewish Resources is an extensive gateway to research resources on the Web. Zipple.com (www.zipple. com) lives up to its slogan “the Jewish Supersite” with news, services, shops and information channels. Also see the Virtual Religion Index pages on Jewish Studies and the OCRT page on Judaism.
The Virtual Religion Index gateway to Web sites covering American Religions is one of the best places to start.
The Christianity and Aboriginal Cultures page is “dedicated to the exploration of all aspects of the interaction between Christianity and indigenous cultures, particularly in the Americas.” The OCRT page on Native American Spirituality has a variety of descriptive information with reference links to other sites.
The Internet Sacred Text Archive has an online collection of original texts and other documents on Wicca and Neopaganism.
The online version of the dictionary Basic Terms of Shinto provides a brief exposition of hundreds of selected Shinto words that do not translate simply into English.
The Sikhism home page promotes their faith via essays on the origin and development, philosophy and scriptures, and way of life of Sikhism, along with a resources section. History of the Sikhs has articles and links regarding their history. The OCRT Sikhism page discusses their history, beliefs and practices.
TAOISM (a.k.a. DAOISM)
The OCRT Taoism page discusses the history, beliefs, and practices of Taoism, along with a set of annotated Web links.
The Taoism Information Page, part of the WWW Virtual Library, provides a wide variety of “English-language scholarly and philosophical information.”
OCRT has a Zoroastrianism page as well. The Avesta-Zoroastrian Archives site is rich in research resources, including the complete text of the Avesta, the most ancient scriptures of Zoroastrianism, as well as many Pahlavi scriptures, other documents, and links to many other sites.
These are only a few of the rapidly growing number of interesting and often valuable Web sites on the world’s religions—the Internet is an intensely religious place. We welcome your suggestions for additional sites to add to the MisLinks table; mislinks.org provides contact information for sending e-mail to the authors.
A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and chair of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill.). His email address is A.S.Moreau@wheaton.edu and the Wheaton Missions Department web address is www.wheaton.edu/intr
Mike O’Rear is the president of Global Mapping International (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which is dedicated to providing access to information for church and mission leaders, especially in the Majority World. He also serves as Lausanne senior associate for information technology. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and the GMI web address is www.gmi.org
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