Understanding the Religions of the World

An Introduction

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Will Deming
  • West Sussex, UK: 
    , June
     520 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This textbook, Understanding the Religions of the World, claims to be student orientated with a new approach. The text covers the main five religions that every text covers: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It also includes a chapter each on Chinese religion, Japanese religion, African religions, and Religions of Oceania, along with a final chapter on change in religions and new religions. A specialist in the tradition authors each chapter. Reading the various chapters the explanations and examples used makes it clear that the authors of the chapters are also professors who are preemptively answering commonly raised questions. The chapters vary in length from barely thirty pages to over sixty pages.

The publisher’s description of Understanding the Religions of the World claims that it integrates the original theory that each religion operates according to its own logic and order. Each religion does not cover the same topics or develop in the same manner. Despite this, each chapter does have the same basic structure. Each begins with an overview, continues on to the history of the religion’s development, presents the religion’s contemporary beliefs and practices, and then concludes. The conclusion gives a brief summary, as one would expect, but also presents review questions, as well as deeper discussion questions. There is a glossary for each chapter, and a bibliography that presents one particular book that would serve as a good first book to read about that religion, followed by other books that will broaden one’s understanding of the religion.

Understanding the Religions of the World is accompanied by a companion website that offers further resources. There are teaching resource questions, and a multiple-choice and fill in the blank quiz for the chapter. There is a pdf printable glossary that is the same as the glossary at the end of the chapter. There is also a set of multiple choice questions and answers to the quizzes that can only be accessed by providing a password, which one is given after entering one’s name, university and course details. There do not seem to be any images, maps, lists of useful websites, or additional materials. There are a few charts and maps in the text, although not many. It would have been helpful to have more. Understanding the space constraint of the text, one might have expected that they would be in the additional resources on the website. Unfortunately, as mentioned, there is none there.

As with any introductory text, Understanding the Religions of the World cannot cover everything. For instance, there is not explanation of why the Kingdom of Israel split into two or the role of the prophets during that period of Judaism.  At times there are statements of beliefs or practices without an adequate explanation as to what those entail. For example, there was no mention of the various Islamic schools of law, which greatly affect how Sharia law is lived.  There are instances where, in this reviewer’s opinion, the text is not as nuanced as it should be. But, then again, there is limited space. The text certainly serves as a good introduction to the various religions, and presents them in a way that should be clear to a student who has no previous knowledge of these religions. Like any introductory textbook, a professor will need to offer clarifications and explanations. On the whole, however, Understanding the Religions of the World is a well-crafted textbook that I would use with my students.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Marie Nuar is an Adjunct Professor at St. John's University, Rome campus.

Date of Review: 
December 28, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Will Deming is a Professor in the Department of Theology at the University of Portland. He specializes in Pauline Studies and his primary academic interests are in New Testament, early Christian literature, Second Temple Judaism, and Greco-Roman culture.  His major publications include Rethinking Religion (2005) and Paul on Marriage and Celibacy, 2nd edition (2004).


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