Cut-and-dried comparisons of the world's great religions. Despite her misleading title, Eck (Comparative Religion/Harvard; Banaras, 1982) gives an account that's far more academic than personal. As a student of religion at Smith in the mid-60's, Eck jumped on the bandwagon and headed East—in every possible sense. Eventually she found herself in Banaras, one of the great shrines of India, where she spent several years studying the sacred texts and rituals of Hinduism. There, Eck suffered the usual confusions that beset Western Christians upon their first exposure to a coherent polytheistic culture, and—in an attempt to displace the ``true/false'' dichotomy that had been erected in her mind as much by Christian claims of universality as by Western ideas of rationalism—she seized upon the ecumenical movement then underway: ``The ecumenical movement became a new Pentecostal movement, gathering from a hundred countries, speaking dozens of languages, and miraculously experiencing the uniting energy of the Holy Spirit.'' Here, in that spirit of ecumenism, Eck gives us a little bit of everything—Hindu, Muslim, Christian, etc.—and tells us not so much what each religion is as what it resembles. But this approach can succeed only if guided by an originality and prescience that can highlight the unexpected patterns of familiar subjects—and, in this respect, Eck falls flat. No creed is examined in any depth; no belief is taken at face value; and every contradiction (between and within each religion) is explained away. There are some interesting historical asides, particularly in regard to the formation of the World Council of Churches, but these get swallowed up in platitudes. Intellectual meandering that eventually falls off the map. Eck, in the best ecumenical style, tries to reconcile contradictory beliefs by reducing them to their lowest common denominator- -seemingly without realizing that this robs them of imaginative force.
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