rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 1: p. 80
Sources: Milestone Documents of World Religions: Exploring Traditions of Faith Through Primary Sources
Amanda Sprochi

Amanda Sprochi, Health Sciences Cataloger, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri

The latest in Schlager’s Milestones series, this title presents primary sacred documents from the world’s faith traditions. Editor David M. Fahey has interpreted “religion” in the broad sense, so along with the expected writings from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other major world religions are contributions from African religions, Neopaganism, Humanism, and Freemasonry, for example, as well as texts from ancient Egypt, the Near East, Greece, and Rome. Each article includes an overview section that gives the historical and religious context of the document, a time line; information about the “author” or the authorship of the text, explanation and analysis of the text, a discussion of the intended audience, the historical and religious impact of the document, key quotes, and questions for further study, to help guide readers and their teachers in discussion and analysis. The document itself is presented, in English translation when needed, either in full or in large excerpts, and a bibliography and glossary accompany each signed article. Black and white photos throughout enhance each document and a list of documents and index help navigate the three volume set.

The idea for these volumes is a great one—to collect primary documents in world religions and present them in a context that helps students and general readers understand their purpose and meaning. However, the execution is problematic. Although Fahey, the editor, is a professor emeritus from Miami University specializing in world religious history, many of the contributors to this volume, touted as “esteemed scholars” in the introduction, are listed as either high school teachers or “independent scholars.” One wonders why, for example, an Assyriologist was not asked to write the entries on ancient Mesopotamia, or a Biblical scholar the entry on Exodus. The articles are competent enough but many are not specialists in that particular area. Fahey addresses this in the introduction, mentioning “the difficulty of locating authentic versions of ancient texts and the scholars to write about them and acquiring permission to reprint copyrighted items” (xvi). However, a minimal amount of research would uncover many specialist scholars in the relevant areas.

More troubling, however, is the presentation of the texts themselves. No credit is given for any of the texts or their translations, which are, if not reproduced entirely, quoted at length. While some texts are old enough to be out of copyright, the translations are not. The version of the Epic of Gilgamesh used comes from a 1989 translation by Maureen Gallery Kovacs, which is neither cited nor given credit anywhere in the volume. References for other texts are presented in the bibliography for that entry, but usually there is more than one textual source listed and it is hard, if not impossible, to know which version was used. A few texts, but not many, are credited in an acknowledgment section at the front of volume 1. Of the three chapters from the Bible discussed, one uses the Revised Standard Version, one the King James, and one the NRSV. Since translations can vary widely, this lack of consistency along with the lack of attribution presents a problem for the reader. Given that one of the primary stated goals of this series is to offer “an unparalleled reference tool for students conducting primary source research” (publisher’s description) it is a shame that more care was not taken in the attribution and citation of the texts.

Aimed primarily at high school students, with content aligned to the National Standards in World History, this could be a useful reference if used with caution and if proper academic citation is not an issue.



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