Jason from the Wild Hunt offers a review of a scholarly book on the different approaches of several “Great Religions” of the world, and how those different approaches often belie the convenient newage tendency to lump all religious practices and beliefs together into one vague pile — an impulse that the author actually classifies as dangerous, since it blinds adherents to the differences that can cause religious conflict.
So if god is not one, how many gods are there? Prothero’s polytheism doesn’t go that route. He instead explores eight different “great” world religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Yoruba, Confucianism, and Hindusim), their conceptions of god, what they see as the primary problem with the world, and how they approach solving that problem (for example, in Buddhism the problem is suffering and the solution is awakening). It’s an interesting way of approaching the subject, and I look forward to seeing how Prothero presents it.
Despite modern Pagans not getting a mention, I think this could be a very important book for our community. Primarily as a vehicle for talking about how our conceptions of the divine differ from the other world religions, but also as a way of enriching our own understandings of the faiths that shape the world around us. I’ll definitely be picking this one up, one way or another, and depending on how things go, maybe I’ll attempt to see if I can get an interview with Stephen Prothero to talk about our religious non-unity.
Read the whole post here. It’s also worth noting that Jason refers (and links) to a few other reviews of the book that are much more in depth, and worth checking out.
Some of the commenters were criticizing the author’s basis for selecting the religions in the study, and for excluding paganism. That’s a natural response when your group is left out, I suppose. As a fellow scholar of religion, however, and especially as one who hasn’t read the book yet and fully analyzed the methods and approach, I sympathize with the author here. It is nearly impossible to define “paganism” in academic terms, and the movement is so diverse that it is difficult to argue that it is even a unified religion, let alone one with enough of an influence on the world stage to count as a “great” religion.
I am interested in the apparent thesis and argument here, however. I have often felt that efforts even by Wiccans to reduce all deities to a Great God and Great Goddess does a tremendous disservice to the multitude of gods out there, let alone the diverse religions that very obviously do not worship the same or similar gods.
*Update 03 May 2010*
Satyr Magos at Journey through the Obsidian Dream also has some observations on on the all-is-one argument that seems to permeate the pagan community, and which Prothero seems to be addressing.
Jason at the Wild Hunt revisits Prothero’s analysis and the pop-culture phenomenon of “megareligion” – the belief that all religions are in essence the same. Scholars of religion in India will recognize this tendency among neo-Adviata groups that claim that all religions are branches of Hinduism, and all gods and prophets are merely avatars of Vishnu. Everone else will recognize this tendency in the fluffy newage thought that is becoming more prevalent in the US, and which probably has the same origins and parallel development to the aforementioned neo-Advaita, thanks to the obsession the Theosophists had with Indian thought.