THE LONG SEARCH by Ninian Smart


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A sweeping survey of the great world religions--scholarly and readable, but plagued with structural flaws. Smart is a Scottish Episcopalian, a distingiushed theologian and historian of religion. He wrote this book in conjunction with a BBC-TV series of the same name, and it looks, unfortunately, like the usual hasty follow-up. Smart's basic problem is his uncertainty over who his reader is and how much he knows. Thus, he offers some chatty tips on how to tell a real guru from a fake, then launches into a complex discussion of the relations between Brahman and Atman in the thought of the 9th-century Indian philosopher Shankara. He discusses Ramanuja and Ramakrishna without giving their dates. He jumbles the natural order of exposition by treating Judaism after Christianity, and he introduces the subject of Hinduism only to drop it and pick it up several chapters later. His presentation hops from point to point, often skipping logical transitions, On the other hand, Smart commands an immense breadth of information, and he deals it out with a generous hand. In just under 300 pages he finds time to go into such intriguing, but relatively minor, topics as Jainism, Zoroastrianism, the Albigensians, Rumanian Christianity, Shingon Buddhism, etc. He sketches in the historical background of religious conflict, and sums up the present condition and future prospects of religion in both East and West. It's a tour de force, a sort of kaleidoscopic picture, brightly colored and richly detailed (and the text is accompanied by dozens of superb photographs and reproductions), but for many readers it may all go by in a blur.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1978
Publisher: Little, Brown