by Dr. Ninian Smart,
It is obvious that as we move into a world civilization, in which so many cultures and spiritual traditions will impinge on one another, it is vital for us all to have an understanding of one another. This does not necessarily mean agreement--how could it given the diversity of human values evident in the world? But it can mean some growing convergence and complementarity between the faiths, large and small, of our shrinking planet. It is therefore good to have sources of comparison between traditions: and one obvious place to look is in the scriptures and sacred writings of the various cultures.
Dr. Andrew Wilson supplies us here with an admirable assemblage of quotations from the holy texts of the world. He approaches his systematic task from a broadly theistic angle. As he says in his introduction, others (say, Buddhists) might prefer a different articulation of the material. As he rightly points out, they should create their own books of world scripture. Our world is surely hospitable to a variety of approaches. This way of treating the great traditions could be paralleled by others. But I think that the consequence of his systematic arrangement of themes and texts is that a logical and orderly way of looking at the wide range of material comes through. Dr. Wilson therefore has put together a collection which is illuminating.
It is the kind of anthology which will be of interest in various areas. First there are those people whose genuine concern for religion and spirituality will be further stimulated by having easy access to so many scriptural traditions. Second there are many students of the comparative study of religions or history of religions who may be able to use this book in the classroom and beyond. Third there are many religious professionals, whether Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever, who will find this a good reference book.
After all, every tradition has in today's world to take account of the other traditions. What does the Buddhist say about Christian theism? What does the Muslim say about Chinese traditions? What does the theist say about non-theistic religions? These are vital questions, if men and women in the world are to take both their own traditions and those of others seriously. This anthology will help to guide their path and to spark questions. It is compiled in the spirit of reverence for all spiritual paths. This is a needed spirit if we are to live at peace with one another. That is not always easy: I would not underestimate the tensions which in actual society can occur between sisters and brothers of apparently rival faiths. But gradually we shall overcome such tensions, and learn to converse and argue gently with one another. An anthology such as this will help such conversations.
I am therefore very glad that Dr. Wilson has taken so much trouble in bringing this book to publication. We can all learn from one another.
Ninian Smart J.F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religions University of California Santa Barbara