Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World

By Molleur, Joseph | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World


Molleur, Joseph, Anglican Theological Review


Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World. Edited by Christopher Partridge. Leicester, UK and Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002. x + 390 pp. $25.00 (cloth).

This reference work contains an introduction by the editor, one hundred articles (averaging three to four pages in length), and three indices: names, subjects, and article titles. The articles are divided into two parts; those in part 1 explore "key themes, patterns and issues" in a "general and introductory" fashion, while those in part 2 focus on "specific religions and spiritualities," both "major world faiths" and "small but significant alternative forms of spirituality" (p. 4).

Noting that contemporary Western Christians sometiines approach the adherents of other religions "on the basis of offensive misinformation" and with "a lack of empathetic understanding," Partridge explains that the dictionary's aim "is to provide a ready and accessible reference tool" that will assist its users to gain "a basic grasp of the faiths, beliefs and issues that contribute to their religiously and culturally plural milieu" (p. 3). He maintains that the sixtyone contributors (all of whom "are practicing Christians") have gone to great lengths to be "as fair as possible" and to take "seriously the self-understanding and self-presentation of the various religions discussed," attempting to be "descriptive" in their discussions of their topics, and making "determined effort[s] to avoid value judgments and . . . misrepresentation." Therefore, users of the dictionary should find neither "criticisms" of non-Christian religions nor "explicit confessional bias" in the articles (pp. 4-5).

Unfortunately, not all of the articles succeed in being descriptive, unbiased, and free of value judgments. But the vast majority of the articles are successful in this regard. Especially excellent are the articles on the various branches of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, as well as those on Paganism, religion and feminism, religion and the environment, the study of religion, and atheism. Although the article on Roman Catholicism contains overt evangelical bias, those dealing with the other branches of Christianity are solid. In the article on Roman Catholicism, we read that "Evangelicals . . . have often envied the doctrinal discipline Rome has been able to exercise over radical theologians. …

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