World Religions: the Spirit Searching
Jody Ondich, Lake Superior College
Copyright Year: 2021
Publisher: Jody Ondich
Conditions of Use
As others have noted, the omission of Shinto is notable in a text that otherwise covers all the traditions you would expect to find in a World Religions intro class. However, the material included would certainly be enough for a semester. The... read more
As others have noted, the omission of Shinto is notable in a text that otherwise covers all the traditions you would expect to find in a World Religions intro class. However, the material included would certainly be enough for a semester. The section on Tribal Traditions is particularly appreciated for its in-depth look at four specific traditions while acknowledging the diversity of indigenous traditions.
I found no obvious errors or inaccuracies.
Relevance and longevity are well balanced, with some timely examples but none that will soon fall into obsolescence. Some of the more recent updates (including material on the Covid-19 pandemic) are available in the online edition but have not yet been included in the PDF version.
Clearly and accessibly written, with helpful glossaries in most chapters.
While not wildly inconsistent, the text could use a bit more consistency of approach across the different chapters. Since the author draws on open-access materials from a number of different sources, the material included for each religion is not always comparable even when it perhaps should be – for example, Jewish holidays are listed, but no Muslim holidays are discussed.
Individual chapters, or even larger subsections, could easily be extracted and used for class sessions on specific religions.
The organization of this text is one of its biggest strengths. It begins with a subsection on different approaches to religion, and proceeds through religious traditions with origins in East Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and the Middle East, ending with shorter subsections on indigenous religious traditions, European nature traditions, and syncretic traditions. The chapter on each specific religion is followed by a useful list of online resources to explore more about that tradition.
A pleasant experience, with illustrations, links, and text boxes well integrated into the main text.
In a few instances, some floating quotation marks leave a lack of clarity about the extent of quotations in the text. It seems that some chapters quote open-access materials quite extensively, but these should be clearly marked. Additionally, in a couple of instances, noticeable errors are made in the naming of outside links (a PBS video titled “Core Tenets of Hinduism” is named in the text as “Core Tenants of Hinduism”; the blog Patheos is referred to as Pantheos).
Different religious traditions are discussed with nuance and cultural sensitivity. The discussion of missionary activity in the Christianity chapter pulls its punches, and could have given more emphasis to the intertwinement of economic and religious motivations as well as more unequivocal condemnation of the horrors of colonialism.
Overall, this is a solid introductory text to world religions. Its primary weaknesses are its slight inconsistency of approach and its failure to clearly mark the extent of quotations from outside open-access sources. Its primary strengths are its clarity of organization and prose and its generous incorporation of multimedia links and additional resources.
The book is sufficiently broad, covering the not only those traditions usually included in the "world religions" paradigm, but also what it calls "tribal traditions", non-Christian European traditions, and what it calls "Syncretic Traditions". ... read more
The book is sufficiently broad, covering the not only those traditions usually included in the "world religions" paradigm, but also what it calls "tribal traditions", non-Christian European traditions, and what it calls "Syncretic Traditions". This is welcome.
The book is fairly accurate in a broad sense. Unfortunately, it does not always provide accurate citations for its sources, however. For example, in the section on sacred texts, it provides (questionable) quotes from the Bhagavad Gita and Kongzi with citation information. The versions of those texts given in the bibliography at the end of the chapter, moreover, do not contain the quotes as given in the chapter above.
The text's inclusion of traditions outside of the "big five" usually referenced with the term "world religions" (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism) is important and most welcome. The way the text is organized-- that is, by tradition-- will allow for the information to be updated as the traditions evolve.
The text is extremely easy to read, relying heavily as it does on material provided by other websites that are aimed at communicating religious messages and religions' histories to a popular audience.
The text maintains a consistent format and level of information throughout.
The text is extremely modular, lending itself to be easily broken up into sections to assign for units on different traditions. Its extensive use of materials available elsewhere on the web-- PBS documentaries, educational resources on university websites, etc-- are clear and easy to access, and can easily be used on their own by instructors who do not use this textbook itself.
The organization of the text is extremely clear, beginning broad and brief explorations of themes and terms such as "sacred", "text", etc, and then moving into tradition-specific explorations.
I encountered no interface issues; all links and videos explored worked properly.
I encountered no grammatical errors in the text.
I encountered no culturally insensitive or offensive information. I would recommend that the author update sections on Asian religions to rely less heavily on white male interpreters of those traditions and their ideas, and instead to look for indigenous representations of the ideas, philosophies, and practices.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching provides a comprehensive analysis of the major religions throughout the world. The book covers the traditional belief systems (Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity,... read more
World Religions: The Spirit Searching provides a comprehensive analysis of the major religions throughout the world. The book covers the traditional belief systems (Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Indigenous beliefs) with an emphasis on religious philosophy, and varying examinations of ritual and tradition. The book could be strengthened in the following ways: 1. Consistent application of both religious philosophy and ritual/tradition (this combination is achieved with particular success in section V on Tribal traditions - especially the analysis of legends and narratives); 2. Inclusion of Shinto; Shinto captures important themes found in other religions (legend, ritual, tradition) while also emphasizing our connection to the natural world. I have found covering Shinto in my World Religions class is an excellent bridge to discussions on climate change and our moral responsibility to the environment. Overall, World Religions: The Spirit Searching is an excellent book - thoroughly researched and well written. I would recommend using this text for an introductory level World Religions class.
The content includes an array of material from experts with specific expertise, is error-free and inclusive. In particular, the inclusion of Australian Indigenous beliefs is wonderful - most World Religions texts I've used do not cover this belief system.
The book is up-to-date (coverage of not only long-standing traditional religions but also emerging religions like Paganism and Wicca) and will not require significant modifcations in the upcoming years. The book includes excellent links to articles and films, and these links could be revised over time with little difficulty. The arrangement of the book along geographical lines (Asia, Indian Subcontinent, Middle East, etc.) is straight-forward and provides students with a useful way to approach these different belief systems. A minor recommendation would be to move Buddhism from the section on Asian Origins to the section on Indian Subcontinent belief systems.
The book is well written and accessible to college students. The language used in World Religions: Spirit Searching is clear and does not require previous academic experience with religious ideas. Lastly, the author provides helpful chapter summaries with key terms and references.
Overall, the the text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and overall framework. The book could be strengthened in the following ways: 1. Minor editoral corrections regarding varying font sizes; 2. Consistent spelling of terms (for example: Daoist and Taoist). When I cover Daoism and Confucianism, I have found it useful to explain transliteration and the two competing systems (Wade-Giles and Pinyin). Various spellings are confusing to students, and including a brief explanation of transliteration and maintaining consistent spelling would alleviate this problem.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching can easily be broken up in to smaller reading sections, and can also be significantly rearranged to suit individual instructor preferences. As stated previously, the arrangement of the book along geographical lines (rather than thematic lines) allows for greater instructional discretion regarding how the material can be presented.
The topics are presented in logical order (again, based on geographical origin) and navigation is easy. The text could be strengthend by moving Buddhism to the section on Indian Subcontinent origins.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching includes an excellent amount of images, articles, movies, and maps. Navigation of the text is easy and does not create any confusion or distractions for the reader.
Overall the text is grammatically accurate, but there are a few errors (misspelled words, variations on terms like Daoism/Taoism) that should be corrected.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching is highly inclusive with its coverage of both traditional belief systems (Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, etc.) and often neglected traditions (Wicca, Indigenous beliefs). Furthermore, the text does an excellent job of analyzing syncretic traditions to highlight the cultural, ideological and historical interaction of various faiths.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching is a great OER resource (either to be used as a primary text or supplemental text). The number of OER texts available for World Religions classes is limited, and this book fills a need for instructors looking for OER material that is well-written, accurate and accessible. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to incorporate OER materials in their classroom.
The book covers many, but not all of the main religions and provides introductions for the religions in an matter that is easily understood. read more
The book covers many, but not all of the main religions and provides introductions for the religions in an matter that is easily understood.
Many exterior sources used throughout the text
The text examines the course of history of the religions discussed and the qualities that are still maintained through these traditions.
Many of the key terms for the chapters are not discussed in the chapters. This can be confusing for students and should be clarified by any instructor using the text.
The terminology and framework of the chapters are consistent. There are some issues with page numbers aligning with the pdf files, but otherwise the differences are minimal.
This book is fantastic for divided reading sections. It would be very simple for instructors to move around in the book without the student struggling with the text.
Organization is very common in comparison with many other textbooks of the same topic.
Some issues with page numbering and font changes but otherwise a fairly good display.
Grammar issues that should be resolved through the publisher or even the author prior to publication. Trying to instill proper grammar and writing in courses is difficult when the text has errors.
great job of cultural discussion within the topics.
This text would be good for a basic World religion course if the instructor is willing to delve into the text and grammar errors so that students are not mislead.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching covers the usual religious traditions of an introductory textbook, though there is one noticeable omission: Shinto. It seems odd not include a section on this religion. Shinto is an important religion in its... read more
World Religions: The Spirit Searching covers the usual religious traditions of an introductory textbook, though there is one noticeable omission: Shinto. It seems odd not include a section on this religion. Shinto is an important religion in its own right, but the tradition also contains themes that are essential in the study of religion as a whole: relationship with the natural world, notions of purity and pollution, and the role of politics in shaping a religion’s cultural character.
There is also more of an emphasis on philosophy and the teachings of the different religions than there is on ritual expressions and religious activities. Rituals and festivals are mentioned in some of the chapters—the ones on indigenous traditions, for example—but missing in others: the chapters on Daoism and Confucianism. Religions do have rich philosophical traditions, but just as important are the opportunities they provide for people to gather with others to celebrate the high points in life and mourn the low points as well. Religions give followers access to the wonder and awe that are not always explained through doctrine and dogmatic principles.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching consists of large chunks of material from other sources. The sources are works from scholars and specialists in the field. The content is thus accurate and unbiased.
Much of the content material in World Religions: The Spirit Searching focuses on the characteristic qualities of the various religious traditions that have defined the religions over time. These qualities are thus less likely to change significantly over short periods of time.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching incorporates large sections of material from a variety of sources. As a result, the source of the content or the origin of the sources are not always clear. For example, the following sentence appears in the section discussing the religious traditions of the Yoruba people: “From terracotta sculptures to stones and bronze sculptures that can still be found in the museum,…” What museum? There is no mention of a museum displaying the sculptures before the above sentence. A google search of the sentence turned up an article in The Guardian newspaper that covers the art and culture of the Yoruba people. The newspaper article invites readers to visit the Natural History Museum of Nigeria, where “From terracotta sculptures to stones and bronze sculptures that can still be found in the museum,…” (https://guardian.ng/features/ile-ife-the-city-of-culture/)
There are other examples of material being properly cited or attributed in one place; but not clearly cited or attributed in others. For example, in the opening section to the Indian Sub-Continent Origins chapter is this paragraph:
"Hinduism developed out of the beliefs brought to India by Aryan invaders from Central Asia in the 2nd millennium BCE. The earliest written formulation of these beliefs and religious practices is found in the Vedas, collections of hymns and rules for the performance of rituals. Hinduism later absorbed many different philosophies and practices. The three main deities, called the Trimurti, are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. They represent the universal concepts of creation, destruction and preservation. Hindus believe in dharma, a universal law that defines the right conduct in life, and karma, the power of actions to determine the form of one’s future rebirth. The ultimate goal in life is to break the endless cycle of incarnations (saṃsāra) and achieve mokṣa, union with the Divine."
The above is embedded between other paragraphs and if one did not know any better, one might assume that this is the author’s own words. There are similar examples in the other chapters.
There are other oddities too, that may make things confusing for students. For example, some chapters have a list of Key Terms for students to understand. However, some of the “key terms” don’t appear in the chapter. Monotheism, Polytheism, Pantheism are not discussed in the book’s opening chapter even though they are listed as Key Terms.
Perhaps one of the challenges facing OER textbooks is ensuring that there is consistency among the various sources used. This may explain why scattered throughout the book, different fonts and font sizes appear in the same section, which makes reading awkward. Moreover, there are different spellings of the same term, sometimes on the same page. Daoist and Taoist both appear on page 48 (or page 65 in ebook format). Likewise Karmas (upper case) and karmas (lower case) appear in the same paragraph in the section on Jainism. And both Theravāda and Theravada; as well as Mahāyāna and Mahayana are used in the Buddhism chapter.
Consistency is also lacking between the different reading formats. Material found on a particular page in the pdf file, for example, will be on a completely different page in the ebook format. This will make reading assignments cumbersome for instructors and confusing for students.
The various chapters of World Religions: The Spirit Searching can easily be rearranged to suit the needs of different instructors. The sections are not limited to a particular perspective or academic approach and can therefore be shifted around without losing a connecting theme running from the first chapter to the last.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching is organized in a manner that is customary for many other world religions textbooks. Religions are grouped according to their geographic origins or thematically if they share common traits. There is one odd exception, though. Buddhism is not included among the religions in the Indian Sub-Continent Origins chapter. Instead, Buddhism is listed along with Daoism and Confucianism in the Asian Origins chapter. Perhaps a change should be considered as students may find this misleading.
As mentioned above, there are different sized fonts that appear within the same paragraph in several places. The sections on Jainism, Judaism, and Tribal Religions are a few examples. This can be distracting to the reader.
There are a few grammatical errors, though they can be easily fixed. Examples include:
“This type of communion might be experienced when people are pray or meditate.” (Page 7 or 15)
“When a reader starts to approach a Sacred Text, is is important that they do a little research.” (Page 36 or 45)
Confucious misspelled! (page 41 or 56)
610CE, 632CE; but 622 CE and 632 CE elsewhere
The text does a good job being culturally inclusive, highlighting different religious traditions of different people from different cultures.
World Religions: The Spirit Searching highlights some of the challenges of putting together an OER book. It also provides examples of what a potentially useful resource for students such a text could be. This book would be much stronger if there was more clarity regarding the citation or attribution of sources. The sources used throughout the book are solid. Clearly acknowledging when and where they are used in the text would help ease some of the awkward inconsistencies between the different sections. It would also allow students to see how the works of different scholars can be stitched together to form a more complete understanding of the searching spirit.
This text provides both a comprehensive survey as well as in-depth resources with modern references for today's world religions learners. I was very impressed by the breadth of traditions that were included that even some of the current religious... read more
This text provides both a comprehensive survey as well as in-depth resources with modern references for today's world religions learners. I was very impressed by the breadth of traditions that were included that even some of the current religious studies textbooks don't even include, which makes it all the more appealing for use for both in-person and online class settings.
The content is engaging, accurate, and encompasses the study of religion as an ever-evolving journey interested in comparative truth processes as they are experienced and practiced around the world. As the author states, the materials focus more specifically on the last 4,000 years of human religious practice, and the information about these geographically specific histories of origin, belief, and structure are free from error.
One of the aspects that makes this textbook most appealing to me as an educator is the wealth of relevant resource content that is included, and intended to be used, as part of the digital experience. This is very relevant for modern learning and discussion since it offers additional opportunities for activities, information and assignments that are useful in engaging ways that are also easy to implement into class times.
The clarity of the text is approachable, refreshingly accessible and is designed to introduce the study of world religions in such a way that the reader's interest is engaged. The use of multimedia (i.e. video links, web links, images) is very helpful as well, and each section includes very helpful definitions of terms and key points for clarifying content.
Terminology is well introduced, accessible and internally consistent throughout the text. Additionally, the framework for definitions, key points, and summary of terms is consistent throughout.
One of the great things about this textbook is the ways in which each section (and sub-sections) can be assigned or broken down to be used at different points within a course. Additionally, this makes it very appealing for use in courses where material focuses specifically on West/East traditions, or comparatively. The uniformity of the modularity of the text is very helpful for teaching and for student use.
The organization of the text is presented in a very clear, easy to navigate and logical fashion. The author has organized the content, in part, geographically. Chapters were organized consistently by specific faiths, and with each geographic section containing, as well, a whole set of links to interesting outside resources.
All content is extremely intuitive and easy to interface with. The links are accurate, the images are easy to view and enhance the reading experience in each section.
The text is grammatically accurate, and free from error. I also appreciated that the grammar and style of the prose was written in a very accessible and not stodgy or overly "dry" academic way. This makes it all the more easy to read and engage with adult student learners from diverse backgrounds.
The content of the textbook is highly culturally sensitive, and makes use of multiple examples of inclusivity shown amongst diverse races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Additionally, the author acknowledges that there are still traditions that one text simply cannot cover in full. Additionally, material is presented in a way that takes into account the global context of world religions, cultures and practices by highlighting the universal human search for meaning.
I'm so excited to adopt this text in my future course offerings for Intro to Western Religion, Intro to Eastern and/or Comparative Religions. Thank you so much for all the work that has gone into this fabulous resource!
Table of Contents
- I. About Religion
- II. Asian Origins
- III. Indian Sub-Continent Origins
- IV. Middle Eastern Origins
- V. Tribal Traditions: Africa, Australia and the Americas
- VI. European Origins: Paganism, Nordic, Wicca
- VII. Syncretic traditions
About the Book
Humans across the globe and throughout millennia have searched for answers to questions like, "why are we here?" or "what am I supposed to do with my life?" And the answers people have found, or created, or chosen, have varied as widely as the cultures and people themselves. Some people focus on rules. Some focus on afterlives. Some look to become whole. Some seek adventure and learning. So this text, while full of various ways that people have searched and discovered and created, is only touching a few of the bigger traditions in our world. Hopefully each chapter will introduce the reader to some ideas from that specific tradition that enlighten them as to how a specific group of people think, believe, and live. This text is set up to be an ebook. The various videos, links and resources will only really work if the user keeps to the digital format. Read this book on a device--it will be a much more rewarding experience!
About the Contributors
Jody Ondich, Lake Superior College, Duluth, Minnesota