A Little History of Religion - Richard Holloway

Staff Pick

We go to religion to discover why we are born, why we die, why we suffer—and to find out if there’s anything after. The record of different approaches to these mysteries, from animism to myths to monotheism, is the ongoing quest Richard Holloway traces in his engaging A Little History of Religion (Yale, $25).The seventh in Yale’s series of brief overviews of complex subjects, this was inspired by E.H. Gombrich’s 1935 A Little History of the World and is designed for both adults and younger readers. Holloway’s focus on etymology, for instance, gives a solid introduction to terms like apocalypse, karma, and ecumenical, while also clearing these tenets of accumulated and misleading assumptions. As a former Bishop of Edinburgh who resigned after fourteen years of growing doubts, Holloway is familiar with both the allure and the elusiveness of spiritual fulfillment. “You don’t have to believe or accept any of this,” he says, “but if you want to understand religion, you have to get your mind into its way of thinking.” Religion’s way is artistic and interpretive; grounded in stories, symbols, and ritual, it deals in emotional truths. In Holloway’s even-handed treatment, each different faith is like one of the blind men describing an elephant in the Jain tale: they get at best an accurate, but incomplete picture of the whole. The problem isn’t the partial vision, but a faith’s failure to understand that it is partial, and Holloway laments religion’s tendency to make itself the “strange god” people worship instead of the divinity it claims to represent. But if some sects calcify, fresh ones keep rising, as if religion itself is caught in a cycle of death and rebirth, always hoping finally to get it right and reach Nirvana.

A Little History of Religion (Little Histories) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780300208832
Availability: Out of Print in This Format
Published: Yale University Press - September 27th, 2016

A Little History of Religion (Little Histories) Cover Image
$15.00
ISBN: 9780300228816
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Yale University Press - September 5th, 2017

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