10. Religious Traditions from China
Leslie Dorrough Smith [+]
Steven W Ramey [+]
University of Alabama
Religions of the World provides a critical introduction to the various practices and ideas that people identify with religions around the world, emphasizing the discourse about specific religions and the interests and assumptions of those who contribute to it. Each central chapter focuses on one religion or regional tradition. Collectively, the ten chapters present 6 “religions”, treating each as a distinct entity, and 4 “Regional Traditions” that reflect the problems of applying the distinct religions model universally. Each chapter introduces four different descriptions of a particular religion or regional tradition. Following each representation will be an analysis of what this representation accomplishes for those who promote it and what the representation leaves out. After the analysis of the representation, a more specific case study addresses one movement or issue that illustrates elements related to that particular representation. The text does not attempt to erase the contradictions between the different representations, so that students do not finish the chapter with the idea that one representation is correct or that all four can be stitched together easily to make a full picture. Instead, students take away from each chapter knowledge about some of the details and issues related to a set of practices and conceptions and the complexity that any single representation hides. The objective is to make more transparent the activity of constructing a representation and the interests and contemporary consequences of particular representations, as people use them to legitimize groups and negotiate for social, legal, and economic resources. Thus, throughout the text, students interrogate who determines what represents each religion and the interests informing those decisions. From the Introduction through the Afterword, the text also highlights the various ways that these debates about what is included in each religion have significant legal, social, and political repercussions, among others, for people who engage the religions of the world. The Afterword also discusses ways the skills of analyzing representations that students will develop apply to areas beyond the study of religious discourses.