HUBER, ROBERT V., STUART A. P. MURRAY, SARAH NOVAK, DAVID WEST REYNOLDS, THOMAS CUSSANS, ELIZABETH MECHEM, and PATRICIA WRIGHT. The Atlas of World Religions: A Visual History of Our Great Faiths (Hammond, 2008) $59.95 hardcover. 400 pp. Over 200 maps and 300 photographs in color and black and white. ISBN-13: 978-0843709957. Atlas of World Religions at Amazon.com
The 400-page Hammond Atlas of World Religions charts the development and history of humanity's major faiths, integrating annotated maps into an encyclopedic treatment of the subject from prehistory to the present day. Hammond is the world's leading publisher of atlases, and Phaeton Group archaeologist David West Reynolds served as expert consultant on this new title. The atlas offers a useful overview of the history of word religions and provides an engaging introductory survey of this fascinating topic, but it is particularly useful in its emphasis on the role that geography has played in shaping the world's great faiths. The maps prepared for this volume lay before the reader a panoramic view of globe-spanning events, tracking human migrations and the movements of influences, identifying key sacred sites, and making plain the spatial relationships--the proximities and the distances, the barriers and the mixing grounds--that have channeled the currents of religious history since before the rise of civlization.
Large maps, which frequently span two-page spreads, display the epic scope of great historical developments and highlight the geographical settings that are so often crucial to understanding incidents in religious history. The Fertile Crescent's lack of internal barriers brought religious influences there into close contact, fostering both conflict and commonality within the ancient matrix of Mesopotamian traditions. The vast reach of the Roman Empire allowed Christianity to be imposed by imperial decree across a formerly diverse range of cultures, creating a religious unity in Europe so powerful that it long outlasted the Empire itself. Behind a nearly impenetrable barrier, the Himalaya mountains sheltered Tibetan Buddhism from violent outsiders for centuries, allowing the development of an entire national culture oriented around a religious philosophy of non-violence. The Atlas covers these and many other important geographical influences on the history of the major faiths.
Phaeton Group's director Dr. David West Reynolds served as one of the experts on the team of seven authors who prepared the text for the Hammond Atlas of World Religions. Reynolds wrote sections covering Buddhism (which originated in Nepal), Confucianism (China), Jainism and Sikhism (India), and Shinto (Japan), in addition to topical essays treating subjects such as pilgrimage, diaspora, and religious violence and extremism. Dr. Reynolds also contributed sections on the establishment of Christianity in Europe, and on the native religions of the New World, as well as consulted on other sections.
Dr. Reynolds' archaeological research is better known in connection with ancient architecture and urban patterns, not religious studies. So what led him to contribute to an Atlas of World Religion? "Religion is becoming an increasingly difficult topic to discuss in today's world," Reynolds says. "There is deepening fragmentation of society along religious lines. In a growing range of situations, it is no longer even safe to have the kinds of free discussion that we used to take for granted. This makes it more important than ever to understand the roles that religions play in world cultures, and to appreciate the kinds of choices that religions have fostered in the past, especially when different religious cultures have come into contact with each other."
The rich visual approach of the project also appealed to Reynolds. "The Hammond atlas integrates more than 300 photographs of architecture, worship ritual, and artifacts into its presentation of the maps and the essays. The imagery provides a sense of the diverse physical textures of world religion, of its 'material culture' as we'd call it in archaeology. All this quickly and easily gives the reader familiarity with the expressions of these different cultures. The visual elements of a culture are always prime clues to identity. In a book introducing many intense and divergent cutural identities, the presentation of this complementary imagery is a substantial asset. An approach like this is in keeping with Phaeton's belief in communicating as efficiently as possible."
Hammond catalogue description of The Atlas of World Religions