Brutus (Lines of Thinking in Aesthetics, 2012, etc.) delivers an impressive introduction to global religions and the urge to worship, from ancient history to today.
In his concise introduction, Brutus writes that this book is merely meant to provide “some background for a study of religion in culture and through history.” That may seem like a tall order, but Brutus succeeds in packing a lot of information into his concise, readable summaries, helpfully broken into sections. Writers of grand-scale history can get themselves into trouble with this sort of summarization, lopping off the nuances that don’t fit their theses; but Brutus avoids this trouble via his extensive knowledge and his lack of polemics. While there are times when the reader may wish to know more about a subject, a part of the pleasure here is Brutus’s wide-ranging examination of the etymology of certain terms in various languages; faith traditions (focusing on Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam); and various approaches to religion (from biology to game theory). Unlike some polemical theist and atheist writers, Brutus sets out with a more modest thesis, which comes out most clearly in his conclusion: Approaching religion from a philosophical and humble standpoint provides gratification in the search for knowledge rather than its assumption. (It’s no surprise that Brutus’ main models are the gadfly of Athens, Socrates, and the nondogmatic Buddha.) With such a broad view of the subject, readers may find certain topics more interesting than others, but without cluttering the text with footnotes, Brutus gives plenty of direction for finding out more about particular topics. Those looking for material to use in arguments against their theistic or atheistic friends and family are better off looking elsewhere, as Brutus’s book primarily addresses the act of critical inquiry itself. As he notes, everyone can do philosophy, and philosophy’s main goal is to be the servant of life. Brutus ends with a warm, personal depiction of this during his own travels in Jerusalem.
Far-reaching, erudite introduction to philosophy of religion without needless polemics.