The source texts of the world's five major faith traditions — Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism — can be relatively easy to find, but the fundamental documents of niche religions that make up the remainder of the spiritual landscape can be difficult to locate in definitive form. This landmark work brings together a carefully curated collection of the most authentic source texts for a broad range of the world's religious traditions.
The earliest entries date from the ancient Egyptians, Mediterranean and pre-Columbian civilizations, but documents in two of three volumes come after the common era. The essential documents of Rastafari, Christian science, Theosophy, Spiritualism, and even witchcraft are shared and described in a thoroughly intellectual vein. The primary sources range from Emma Goldman's “The Philosophy of Atheism” to Saint Francis of Assisi's “Canticle of the Creature.” Robust explication accompanies many of the documents, such as the Vatican II decisions and those related to the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
While most documents described are doctrinal, some are hymns of praise or other text used in religious practice. The Mohawk address would make an interesting counterpoint to traditional Thanksgiving projects, and Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses would support Reformation curriculum in social studies, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead and other documents would appeal to the aspiring Buddhists in many schools.
Perhaps the most insensitive portion of the work is the preface, which describes religion as a marginal element of modern life, saying “irreligion has become increasingly common among educated elites in secularized industrialized countries” (xiii). The tone of the rest of the work is more appropriate when dealing with documents that form the basis of many people's most heartfelt beliefs.
Each article comprises an overview, a historical framework, a timeline where dates are often approximated, and an author biography, which is often made up of scholarly speculation about the source. Explanation and analysis is provided by stanza, tablet, verse, or chapter as appropriate, and the impact is described both in terms of contemporary influence and in persistence in the modern day. For further reading, books, journals and websites make up a bibliography, but the meatiest portion of the entry is last, that of the document text. An excellent glossary just below provides definition at the point of need.
Though the volumes are text-heavy, the layout is visually appealing. Images are well-chosen, and include delights like Marcus Garvey affecting military uniform as Provision President of Africa in 1922. The volumes would make for interesting browsing; despite an editorial caveat readers are likely to seek out the documents related to a single faith tradition. Since documents within the text are ordered chronologically, the index to documents based on tradition is important, as is the index, which provides alternative names for many texts. This wonderfully inclusive volume presents an entire range of modern and ancient religion and belief, using the original source text so that, as Luther advocated, readers can make sense for themselves. Highly recommended for school and public libraries.