Now in its sixth edition, World Religions by Warren Matthews is an extremely useful textbook and reference book detailing the history, beliefs, and practices of the world's faith systems. This overview will give the prospective student an idea of what to expect from this text.
World Religions is broken into 5 sections, each dealing with a different "family" of religions. Religions of tribes and city states (religions of the Americas and Africa), religions arising in India (covering Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism), religions of China and Japan, ancient religions of Iraq and Iran, and religions of the family of Abraham (covering Judaism, Christianity, Islam, new forms of older religions, and globalization and world religions). The structure of the book is suitable for both linear and non-linear study.
Warren sets the stage for the book by first covering the idea of the sacred -- looking at such things as sacred writings and texts to rituals and dance. He aims to show the most common similarities amongst religions so as to define religion in general. The author's approach when it comes to the differences among religions (at least for the sake of this textbook) is allow them to be explored without concern for their competing truth claims. Warren leaves it to the reader to judge whether or not each religion's claims are true in any particular aspect. What the reader gets is a fair look at each featured religion without too much interference from the author's own personal judgements. Appreciating diversity is the goal.
For each religion, the author explores the essential areas: historical development, worldview, and rituals and practices. When it comes to worldview, this means a detailing of how one sees the world based upon a number of key points. These include one's view of the absolute, views about the world, humans, man's problem/solution, ethics, interpretation of history, life, death, and relationship to other religions. These elements in turn contribute to shape cultural norms and practices.
The textbook itself is surprisingly approachable and easy to read. Not only is it well structured, but all along the way terms are defined, colour photos and maps provided, the goals of each chapter are outlined, timelines are illustrated, and review questions are provided at the end of each section. For this reviewer, what looked like a massive, boring tome, turned out to be a fascinating and enlightening read. World Religions by Warren Matthews can be highly recommended for students looking for a textbook or reference book on world religions.