Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Great Events in Religion, edited by Florin Curta and Andrew Holt



A while back I was recruited by Andrew Holt to write some articles for an encyclopedia of the history of religion.  I took him up on it, even though he was asking for articles not particularly close to my current research interests.  It was an interesting challenge.

Just a couple of hours ago my contributor's copy came to my door.  I hadn't thought about the encyclopedia for quite a while, even though Andrew and I correspond fairly frequently, and as a result it was a bit of a shock to see the finished work.


Part of the surprise was the sheer size of the thing, which is a three-volume work.  I shouldn't be surprised, of course, because it is after all aiming at describing a whole important aspect of human existence.  There are, however, plenty of things calling themselves encyclopedias that have huge holes in their coverage.  Now I'm not sure yet that Great Events covers everything that I might think it should cover -- remember I've had it for two hours or so -- but it does have an awful lot of stuff.

Likewise I did know, somewhere in my fallible memory, that it was going to be "an Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History," but perhaps I hadn't really thought about what that might mean. What it does mean is that all religious history is treated in chronological order, which gives the whole thing a comparative history emphasis.  For me, that's a big plus. I am tempted to just sit down and read it through and see what I learn.  (I am unlikely to be able to do that.)

I have to admit that I have always been skeptical of the usefulness of  encyclopedias -- something I share with many historians -- but there is a chance that this one might be useful. The rare reader who has the time and access to the whole thing may get a much fuller view of world history than I did l when I  read Arnold Toynbee's A Study in History in my high school library.

I am genuinely pleased to see this.  As to how well it succeeds, I will get back to you.

Contest:   I am not sure this will have a prize, and it has as much intellectual content as clickbait promising to show you how the starts of some shows in the 70s look today.  In other words, you will be guessing.  Guess what three pivotal events I wrote up for Great Events.  To narrow the field a tiny bit, I wrote nothing on chivalry or the crusades.  Do it for laughs.

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