Impressively vast in scope and content, Ostler’s work is most accessible to fellow specialists but should intrigue dedicated...

The effects of religion on language are well-known; what about the effects of language on religion?

It is toward this question that Ostler (The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel, 2010, etc.) turns his formidable capabilities as a linguist and historian. To answer this question, the author, the chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, looks at what he deems the three great missionary religions of world history: Buddhism, Christianity, and, to a lesser extent, Islam. In the cases of Buddhism and Christianity, in encounters with new linguistic communities, the religions themselves changed in various ways to accommodate the new formats of communication. Even if core beliefs remained the same, geographic and ethnic differences would occur, spurred on by language. Islam was different in that it demanded the authority of Arabic, and so even in new linguistic communities, the Quran remained the same text; new converts were made to adopt Arabic, at least for the purposes of religion. Ostler provides an interesting discussion of Buddhism’s movement into China, demonstrating how the Chinese significantly added to the religion’s tradition and canon. He also follows the epic story of Christianity’s migration through nations speaking Greek, then Latin, then the tongues of Northern Europe, of Eastern Europe, and eventually the languages of South America and elsewhere. He notes that everywhere Christianity went, new versions of it sprang up or new linguistic traditions were added. The author concludes that, indeed, language has had deep influence on the world’s religions. However, “the languages of the ancient world have died or changed beyond recognition, but many of the revealed faiths of the Axial Age [800-200 B.C.E.] are still with us. Some languages indeed…owe most of their continued existence to the religions they serve.” The author’s brilliance is on display throughout the book, and it makes for an intriguing, if at times bewildering, read.

Impressively vast in scope and content, Ostler’s work is most accessible to fellow specialists but should intrigue dedicated readers as well.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-515-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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