02/03/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Palgrave Macmillan. 201 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-333-68763-5.
check out website: www.palgrave.com
One advantage of seeing advance catalogues from the various publishing houses is that you can get a bigger picture of what new books are been released outside of our own genre. You try doing a Net browse for books you wouldn't have heard of otherwise without such means.
One of the things I do keep an eye open for are books that might be useful to writers, novice or otherwise, as well as the rest of you who might want to widen their horizons as to what is often researched for background information. As a writer/editor, there is always a necessity to do ground work on various subjects even if it's just to keep up to date.
When I spotted 'Religion & Belief' by Joan Garrod and Marsha Jones in Palgrave Macmillans's catalogue, I saw a useful primer looking at terrestrial religions and how they blend with into various societies. From time to time, this kind of subject gets dealt with in Science Fiction with probably Frank Herbert's 'Dune' series being the most notable example. It wasn't until the book arrived recently that I realised that it was an A-Level book. However, why should knowing that stop you looking at any book if it was useful, more so if you don't have to write essays after each chapter.
What this book does do is give a quick grasp and understanding of all the major religions and some of the cults as well as going into depth on Christianity and Islamism. You end up with a rounded picture before it looks how much of an impact it has on societies around the world although obviously there is some emphasis on the UK, USA and interestingly, Iran. I never realised how significant the deposing of the Shah there back in the late 70s was the turning point from westernisation of the Middle East back into Fundamental Islamism. Had that event not happened I doubt if anyone from that area of the world would have changed beliefs but it would certainly have allowed more basic freedoms for the women there then they have today.
From a society aspect, there are various statistics showing how with Christianity that a belief in a higher deity tends not to go hand-in-hand with a desire to go to church, although that does change as people get older. With the extended lives we're all living now, some faiths must be waiting for their congregation to grow into them.
I should point out this book makes no judgement on any faiths but rather shows what each faith represents. It touches on all the religious stirs in recent years and even the stories behind the stories, especially how the press blew some things out of proportion in the manner some news was reported.
Will this book be any good to you for Science Fiction or even fantasy. Much fiction is based on giving realities one faith if they have one. It's rather rare to have more than one faith at a time in a story unless they are in conflict with each other. Understanding how our own works and how the various faiths get along together or not as the case can be can only give better insight if you're preparing a story not too far removed from our reality.
The structure of this book is such that even after you've read it, you can easily go back and dig out information you need very quickly even without the index. As such, it's a useful quick reference to have in your bookshelf.
I learnt quite a bit from this book. The writing is practical and insightful and if you're contemplating anything in this line you'll find this a useful ready guide.
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