Book Review: The World’s Religions

BookThe World’s Religions by Huston Smith, Harper SanFrancisco c:1958

Rating: *****
Good For: Everyone
Reading Level: Moderate

This was the book that started it all for me.  Back in 1997 when it first caught my eye in a Canterbury bookstore, it was called The Religions of Man.  Although I think Professor Smith was trying to strike an anthropological tone with that title, I can understand why it may have been out of touch with modern sensibilities and in need of an update.  The World’s Religions is a book to be savored and, honestly, is the first book I give to people who are interested in the Spiritual Path.  The book is structured nicely to allow jumping around and I have come back to various chapters in this book at various points in my path.  It’s not that I think reading this book leads to enlightenment – but more that it offers an introduction to the various religious traditions that’s very approachable and can spur the reader on to explore a tradition that’s new and different to them. (Often such a thing can be helpful for pointing us in a particular direction on the Spiritual Path.  We are often more ready to seek wisdom outside of our natal religion and there’s nothing wrong with that tendency.  Much value can be found in the source documents of all the various traditions.)  Furthermore, Prof. Smith focuses on the root value of each tradition and often these root values are qualities we are seeking for ourselves and thus it becomes much easier to find resonance with a tradition that, on the outside, looks alien and unapproachable.

On the cautionary side, the way many of these religions are practiced is vastly different from the way they are presented in this book so I wouldn’t advise reading a particular chapter and then rushing out to join-up.  Also, the intellectual student of Religion will find much to be dissatisfied with here.  The book is light on history and other types of information that are usually the focus of a college course in a particular religion.  This presents no problem for me, however, whose primary interest is not academic in nature.  For those who are interested in walking the Spiritual Path or those already walking it who haven’t yet stumbled across this book I strongly recommend it.  Read whichever chapter you’re drawn to first and see where it leads. 🙂

Rating Key:

***** – Should be at the top of your reading list
**** – Should be somewhere on your reading list
*** – Good for a very particular audience or it’s a toss-up whether this is worth reading or not
** – I have too much time on my hands
* – If you see a one-start post, consider it my idea of a public service to warn you away

Reading Level:

Easy – Anyone at a 12th grade reading level should have no problem with this
Moderate – May require a bit more determination to work through
Difficult – May require background knowledge in a particular field or need to be read in conjunction with other texts in order to optimally parse meaning
Extremely Difficult – This one I’ll reserve for something like Sankara, where it may take you twenty minutes just to get through a sentence or two.

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