World Religions: a non-traditional approach integrates basic information about the range and diversity of religious behavior around the world with introductory explorations into current theories and methods in the study of religion. This book 'detraditionalizes' traditions. Challenging stereotypes about religions as coherent, uniform 'traditions', chapters explore the contexts in which such stereotypes are constructed. Readers are thus encouraged to question simplistic, ahistorical, decontextualized claims about any religion, developing instead a critical appreciation for the embeddedness of religious rhetoric and practice in the complex arenas of human societies and cultures. Eight so called 'world religions' are treated systematically in a unique triple perspective. This directs attention from the broad but simple, to the specific and complex. First the religion is introduced in overview. This perspective, which features a standard chronology, geography, key doctrines, texts, and ritual vocabularies, we call 'extensive'. Second, in an 'intensive' perspective, local contexts are selected to illustrate the decisive influence of specific sociological, political, or historical situations on the above. Third, in an 'eccentric' perspective, particular marginal groups claiming membership in the religion are given special attention. Taken together, this triple perspective demonstrates how 'traditions' themselves are diverse, internally conflicted 'constructs', products of debate, destabilization, and sometimes, even destruction.
Johannes Wolfart is an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba, Canada. He has also taught at the University of Toronto and at Princeton University. His research interests are centred on early modern European religion, culture and society and he is the author of Religion, Government and Political Culture in Early Modern Germany (Palgrave, 2002). He is also the co-editor of the Journal Method and Theory in the Study of Religion and of the forthcoming four-volume Religion and Violence: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences (Routledge, 2004). Kate Blackstone is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba, Canada. She has also taught at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) and at McMaster University. Her research has centred on early Indian religion, culture, and society, with a particular focus on gender in religious narrative. Recently, she has been exploring representations of religion in popular movies, television, and internet sources. She is the author of Women in the Footsteps of the Buddha: Struggle for Liberation in the Therigatha (Curzon, 1998).