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World Religions Today

Sixth Edition

John L. Esposito, Darrell J. Fasching, and Todd T. Lewis

Publication Date - 27 September 2017

ISBN: 9780190644192

600 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

The only world religions text that offers a unique focus on religion in the modern world, illustrating the tension between tradition and modernity


Revealing the significance of religion in contemporary life, World Religions Today, Sixth Edition, explores major religious traditions--Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, South Asian religions, East Asian religions, indigenous religions, and new religions--as dynamic, ongoing forces in the lives of individuals and in the collective experience of modern societies. This unique volume accomplishes two goals: it connects today's religions to their classical beliefs and practices and focuses on how these religions have both radically changed the modern world and been changed by it. The book is enhanced by numerous pedagogical aids--text boxes, timelines, maps, illustrations, discussion questions, a comprehensive glossary of key terms, and suggestions for further reading--and more than 200 photographs.

World Religions Today, Sixth Edition, is also available as two separate volumes:

Religions of Asia Today, Fourth Edition: 978-0-19-064242-6

Religions of the West Today, Fourth Edition: 978-0-19-064241-9

New to this Edition

  • Streamlines content throughout for a more concise presentation and greater accessibility
  • Covers recent world events, including rising social and political tensions in Europe over Muslim immigration in light of the rise of right-wing populism and increased terrorist attacks
  • Updated timelines reflect such current events as the return of the Hindu fundamentalists (BJP Party) to power in India
  • Updated maps


  • Connects today's religions to their classical beliefs and practices and highlights the tensions between historical religious traditions and their modern manifestations
  • Offers an up-to-date view of how religions have responded to and been transformed by the modern world and how they impact and are impacted by globalization and international relations
  • Highlights some of the most colorful, lively, and striking aspects of religion today through a wide variety of thematic and special-topic boxes that explore particular ideas or practices in some depth:
  • * "Rituals and Rites" boxes examine rituals that have changed in practice or meaning over time
  • * "Gender Focus" boxes highlight gender-specific customs within each faith
  • * "Teachings of Religious Wisdom" boxes expose students to primary sources from various traditions
  • * "Contrasting Religious Visions" boxes compare the beliefs of two significant adherents of a faith who each see the demands of their religion calling believers in very different directions in the modern age
  • * "Tales of Spiritual Transformation" offer descriptions of religious experiences in the believers' own words
  • Incorporates helpful pedagogical aids, including timelines, maps, illustrations, discussion questions, a comprehensive glossary, suggestions for further reading, and more than 200 photographs

About the Author(s)

John L. Esposito is University Professor of Religion and International Affairs, and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

The late Darrell J. Fasching was Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of South Florida.

Todd T. Lewis is Professor of World Religions at the College of the Holy Cross.


"World Religions Today is lively, clear, and very insightful; students will learn so much from every single page. One marvelous feat of this book is the way in which it relates contemporary developments to the history of a particular tradition without overlooking important new developments or innovations. The language does not oversimplify content and keeps the theoretical richness intact, and the concepts and traditions are covered in the best possible light."--Bassam Romaya, University of Massachusetts Lowell

"This might be the best world religions textbook that I have encountered. It is erudite, very well written, and quite compelling."--Jonathan Ebel, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"World Religions Today is unique in its consistent and thorough analysis of the relationship between modernity and modern religious movements. Its attention to the theoretical and cultural interventions introduced in the last fifty years really makes it an important and unique text."--Joseph Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

"The pedagogical devices are superb. Students read, and enjoy, the text boxes."--Alice L. Wood, Bethune-Cookman University

"The writing style is engaging and clear. The material is not presented in a manner that is overly dry or clinical, and is written at a level that students can understand without feeling spoken down to."--Samuel Hopkins, Northern Arizona University

Table of Contents

    Chapters 2-9 open with an Overview. All chapters end with a Conclusion.
    Understanding World Religions in Global Perspective
    Why Study World Religions?
    Our Task
    Understanding Religious Experience and Its Formative Elements
    The Sacred
    Myth, Scripture, and Beliefs
    Community and Morality
    Religious Leaders/Experts
    The Great Religious Stories of the World
    Myths of Nature
    China and the Myths of Harmony
    India and the Myths of Liberation
    The Middle East and the Myths of History
    Religious Diversity and Historical Change: The Structure of this Book
    Historical Overview: From Premodern to Postmodern
    The Modern/Postmodern Transition: Colonialism, Socialism, and the End of Modernity
    Postmodern Trends in a Postcolonial World
    Conclusion: We Are All Heretics in the Postmodern Situation
    Origins of Homo religiosus: Prehistory
    Religion's Origins Among Hunter-Gatherers
    Fertility, Childbirth, and Survival
    Religion in Prehistory: The Secret of Early Cave Rituals
    Indigenous Religious Traditions: Soul Belief and Afterlife
    Totemism: Australian Aboriginal Religion
    Shamans: "Technicians of the Sacred"
    * Case Studies in Indigenous Religious Practices Today
    Bear Sacrifice: A Widespread Arctic and Pacific Rim Tradition
    Shamans Who Repair the World
    Indigenous Religions Today
    The Cataclysms of Colonialism
    Shamanism in Modern Asia: Division of Labor Within the World Religions
    Global Neo-Shamanism: Expropriation by "White Shamans"
    Encounter with Modernity: Modern Judaisms and the Challenge of Ultra-Orthodoxy
    The Conflict over Public Life: Religion and Politics in the State of Israel
    Premodern Judaism: The Formative Era (2000 BCE-500 CE)
    The Biblical Roots of Judaism
    The Historical Roots of Diversity
    Exodus and Exile: Story, History, and Modernity
    From Torah to Talmud
    Premodern Judaism: The Classical Era (500 CE-1729 CE)
    The Premodern Rabbinic World: God, Torah, and Israel
    The Medieval Journey of Judaism
    Two Great Medieval Scholars: Rashi and Maimonides
    Kabbalah--Jewish Mysticism
    Judaism and Modernity (1729-1967 CE)
    The Emergence of Modern Religious Forms of Judaism
    The Emergence of Secular Forms of Judaism
    Judaism and Postmodern Trends in a Postcolonial World (1967-)
    Challenges to Jewish Faith After the Holocaust
    Challenges to Jewish Existence After the Holocaust
    Overview: The Beliefs of Christians
    Encounter with Modernity: The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy (1859-)
    The Protestant Confrontation with Modernity
    The Catholic Confrontation with Modernity
    Premodern Christianity: The Formative Era (31-451 CE)
    The New Testament and the Life of Jesus
    Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation
    Christianity's Emergence from Judaism
    The Fall of the Temple
    The Origins of Christian Anti-Jewish Sentiment
    Jesus as Son of God
    Constantinianism: The Marriage of Christianity and Empire
    Augustine, Architect of Western Christianity
    * The Eastern Orthodox Churches
    Premodern Christianity: The Classical Era (451-1517 CE)
    The Medieval Worldview: Sacraments and Festivals
    The Two Cities Revisited
    The Promise and Threat of Christian Mysticism
    Christianity, Judaism, Islam: Crusades and Inquisition
    Christianity and Modernity (1517-1962)
    The Early Roots of Modernity
    Millennialism: History as Progress
    The Via Moderna and Devotio Moderna
    Devotio Moderna and the Protestant Reformation
    Calvin and the Protestant Ethic
    Other Reform Movements
    Religious Diversity: Church and State in War and Peace
    Enlightenment Rationalism and Christian Pietism
    Nineteenth-Century Romanticism and Existentialism
    From the Holocaust to Hiroshima: The Global Collapse of the Modern Myth of History as Progress
    Christianity and Postmodern Trends in a Postcolonial World (1962-)
    From Colonial to Postcolonial Christianity
    Conclusion: The Challenge of Religious Pluralism
    Encounter with Modernity: The Challenge of Western Colonialism
    The Islamic Resurgence
    Islam in the West
    Premodern Islam: The Formative Era
    Muhammad's Early Life
    After the Hijra
    The Message of the Quran
    A Golden Age of Expansion, Conquest, and Creativity
    Diversity, Diversion, and Dissent
    The Origins of the Sunni-Shiah Split
    Premodern Islam: The Classical Era
    Law and Mysticism: The Exterior and Interior Paths to God
    The Five Pillars of Islam
    Women and Muslim Family Law
    The Interior Path of Love: Islamic Mysticism
    Islam and the State
    Islam and the West (Christendom): The Crusades
    Premodern Revivalist Movements
    Islam and Modernity
    Islamic Modernism
    Modern Islamic Revivalist Movements
    Radical Islam
    Islam and Postmodern Trends in a Postcolonial World
    The Impact of the Islamic Resurgence
    Islam in Modern State and Society
    The Failure of Modernity and the Islamic Revival
    The Religious Worldview of Contemporary Islamic Activism
    From the Periphery to Mainstream Politics and Society
    The Road to 9/11
    Globalization and Hijacking of Jihad
    Jihad as Armed Struggle
    Suicide Bombing: War of the Fatwas
    Post 9/11: Impact and Response
    * European Muslims
    * A Common Word Between Us and You
    Islam and the Arab Awakening: Between Authoritarianism and Pluralism
    Questions for Postmodern Times: Issues of Authority and Interpretation
    Islam in the West
    Islam: Postmodern Challenges
    Islamization of the Law
    Women and Minorities
    Islamic Reform
    Defining Hinduism: Unity, Diversity, Localities
    Encounter with Modernity: Hindu Challenges to India as a Secular State
    Premodern Hinduism: The Formative Era
    The Aryans and Religion in the Vedic Era
    Vedic Religion
    Karma, Yoga, and the Quest for Liberation
    Premodern Hinduism: The Classical Era (180 BCE-900 CE)
    Early Heterodox Indic Religions: Jainism and Buddhism
    Jainism: The Tradition of Spiritual Conquerors
    The Reality of Karma and Caste
    The Four Stages and Four Aims of Life
    Epics and the Development of Classical Hinduism
    Mainstream Hinduism and the Rise of Devotion to the Great Deities
    Premodern Hinduism: The Postclassical Era (900 CE-1500 CE)
    The Formation of Major Hindu Schools of Thought
    The Early Islamic Era: Delhi Sultanate (1192-1525)
    Religion in the Mughal Era (1526-1707)
    * The Rise of Sikhism
    Hinduism and Modernity
    Hinduism Under British Colonialism
    Challenges and Responses to Colonialism
    The Work of Gandhi: Hindu Elements in Indian Nationalism
    Hinduism and Postmodern Trends in a Postcolonial World
    The Persistence of Traditional Religious Understandings
    Contemporary Hindu Practices
    Hindu and Sikh Festival Practice
    Pilgrimage Festivals
    Sikh Festivals
    The Religious Institutions of Contemporary Hinduism
    Changes and Continuities: Examples of Postcolonial Hinduism
    The Connection of Religion with Philanthropy and Social Reform
    Religious Nationalism: Secular India and its Discontents
    A Growing Global Tradition
    Encounter with Modernity: Socially "Engaged Buddhism"
    Premodern Buddhism: The Formative Era (600 BCE-100 CE)
    The Buddha: Context and Biography
    Buddhism as the Path to Nirvana
    The First Community and Its Development
    How Buddhism Became a World Religion
    Sangha and Monastery: The Institutional Vehicles of Buddhism's Expansion
    Premodern Buddhism: The Classical Era (100-800 CE)
    The Pan-Asian Expansion of Buddhism
    The Core Doctrines
    The Classical Ideal: Buddhist Civilization
    The Mahayana: Philosophies and East Asian Monastic Schools
    Premodern Buddhism: Buddhist Expansion (400-1500 CE)
    South Asia
    Southeast Asia
    The Himalayan Region
    Buddhism and Modernity
    Early Modern Buddhist Polities: Monastics, Householders, Kings
    Buddhist Monasticism
    Buddhism Under Colonialism (1500-1960)
    Challenges from Colonialism, Communism, and Modern Critics (1800-Present)
    The Buddhist Twentieth-Century Revival Gains Strength
    Buddhism and Postmodern Trends in a Postcolonial World
    South Asia
    Theravada Buddhism Today in Southeast Asia
    Tooth Relics and Anti-Muslim Riots in Myanmar
    Three Contemporary Faces of Thai Buddhism
    East Asia
    Buddhism Today in Diaspora and in Asia
    Buddhism's Affinity for Modernization
    The Sangha: Adaptive Reformism?
    State Buddhism and the Poison of Ethnic Passion
    Encounter with Modernity: The Fall and Return of Confucianism
    The Postcolonial Challenge of Confucianism
    East Asian Religions in the Formative Era (1500 BCE-617 CE)
    Earliest History: Shang (1766-1122 BCE)
    Development of the Multiple Traditions in Post-Han China
    Religion Under the Early Japanese Imperial State: Buddhism and Shinto
    East Asian Religions in the Classical Era (645-1800 CE)
    Classical Imperial China (645-1271 CE)
    The Development of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism in Korea and Japan
    East Asian Religions in the Late Classical Era (1400-1800)
    East Asian Religions in the Early Modern Era
    Disruptive European Intrusions
    Traumatic Transitions of the Modern Era
    The Appearance of New Religious Movements and Religions
    East Asian Religions and Postmodern Trends in a Postcolonial World
    Continuities and Transformations in the East Asian Religions
    The Religious Institutions: Monasteries, Temples, Shrines
    The Return of Religion to China: Case Studies
    Japan's Creative Diversity: Old Traditions and New
    Korea's Strong Confucian Tradition Accommodates Diversity
    Conclusion: Have We Entered a Third Confucian Age?
    Encounter with Modernity: The Challenge of Global Diversity to the "Purity" of Tradition
    New Religions
    Old Religions and New Religions in the History of Religions
    The New Age and New Age Religions
    Postmodernism and the New Age
    Theosophy, Christian Science, and the Unity School of Christianity
    The Baha'i Global Religious Vision
    Conclusion: The Postmodern Challenge--Can There Be a Global Ethic in a World of Religious Diversity?
    Beyond Atheism: The Challenge of Postmodern Secular Relativism
    "Passing Over": A Postmodern Spiritual Adventure That Responds to the Challenge of Globalization
    Tolstoy, Jesus, and "Saint Buddha": An Ancient Tale with a Thousand Faces
    The Children of Gandhi: An Experiment in Postmodern Global Ethics
    The Future of Religion in an Age of Globalization
    Art Credits

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