Friday, September 10, 2010

The Best Review

This is one of the best reviews I have ever recieved. This one, for my first book, Religious Syncretism. A savy blogger (his true views are often hard to discern) and religious enthusiast wrote it, and I was pleased to read it.

By Curtis Steinmetz (just outside the beltway) -

Syncretism is a very controversial subject. It is also an intrinsically complex subject, since by definition it involves the ways in which religions "mix" together, rather than the far simpler (but in truth simplistic and hopelessly unrealistic) approach of treating religions as neatly separated, mutually exclusive clubs.

Controversies over syncretism arise because of two inter-related questions: (1) is syncretism a good thing or a bad thing? and (2) is syncretism a natural state or is it a sign of the "decay" of a once "pure" religion? While scholars tend to shy away from the first question as irredeemably subjective, the second question is unavoidable. But the second question inevitably yields only one answer: that syncretism is a natural, universal feature of all religions. But that, in essence, also answers the first question.

Maroney confidently handles this complex and controversial subject. His writing style is clear and engaging, his examples are thoughtfully chosen and well presented, and the book is structured in a way that presents the world of religious syncretism in all of its luxurious messiness without overwhelming the reader (the forest, as the old saying goes, is not lost sight of in the course of examining representative trees).

This is a subversive book. It "deproblematizes" syncretism in a way that many will find discomforting. As Maroney himself points out in the first chapter, the monotheistic religions of the world have a tendency to view syncretism as their "sworn enemy". In spite of that attitude, though, Christianity, Judaism and Islam have all engaged in syncretism throughout their histories not only with each other, but also with those other, Pagan, religions.

Although he has chosen what has generally been considered an esoteric topic in the study of religion, Maroney has actually produced a book that in many ways is far superior as a general introduction to Religion (with a capital "R") than the usual survey books on World Religions (ie, Huston Smith, Stephen Prothero, etc). Because he focuses on Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the otherwise forbidding subject of syncretism is made accessible to a wide English speaking readership. I wish such a book had existed many many years ago -- but I am very glad it is here now!

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