To read that Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Religions of the World is “the product of over thirty years of study and teaching” (p. ix) is no surprise. To discover that the actual project took author James A. Beverley a mere ten years from inception to publication is, in some ways, amazing, considering the extent of the book. For in this encyclopedic volume, Beverley, a long-time Professor of Christian Thought at Tyndale College in Toronto, gives readers an overview of the main religions of the world. The mere 19 chapters (encompassing Baha’i to Witchcraft) are deceiving. For within them he explores the themes and variations of each main belief system, so that the actual number of faiths he discusses adds up to hundreds. (In the chapter on Protestantism, for example, Beverley discusses 28 denominations and historical movements within the protestant stream of Christianity.)
Beverley takes his cue on how to tackle each religion from the religion itself. For example, his discussion about the short-lived and relatively recent Branch Davidians cult is brief with a focus on news reports surrounding the controversial raid of their Waco Texas headquarters in 1993.
Buddhism, on the other hand, with its modern resurgence in the west and its history spanning centuries, gets much longer treatment and includes Beverley’s description of his meeting with the Dalai Lama.
Information about each religion includes names of its key people and describes the roles they played, details beliefs and worship practices, traces the religion’s history in a time line, and suggests websites and books to consult for more information.
The author makes no claims that this is an objective appraisal of the world’s religions, however. In a must-read introduction he states that he presents his material from the perspective of an evangelical Christian scholar. He writes:
"I realize that many readers will not share this paradigm or worldview….I recognize that this book would be different if written from a Buddhist, Muslim, esoteric, or other tradition. It would also be a different book if it adopted the standpoint of relativism, or postmodernism, or the perspective of the so-called objective academic." (p.7)