Religious Reference

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By Alice Alford, Reference Librarian

Religion is a universal institution; anthropologists have yet to discover a contemporary society that is without some form of religious belief and practice. It is believed to be almost as old as humankind, with roots reaching back into the time of prehistory when the Neanderthals walked the earth. Evidence has been found that indicates that these cave dwellers, who lived from 100,000 to 25,000 years ago, were the first of the the human family to practice a form of religion, and it included a belief in an afterlife. Archeologists have unearthed Neolithic burial sites in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Some of the graves, which dated back at least 50,000 years, contained not only fossilized human remains on which had been sprinkled red dye, but also tools, weapons and food. Paleoanthropologists believe that these items had been placed in the graves to serve the dead in their afterlife.

Today, there are 9,900 religions in the world; several of which are considered to be major religions because of the number of adherents they have, as well as the influence they have had in the shaping of cultural ideas and beliefs. They are Buddhism; Christianity; Islam; Judaism; Confucianism; Hinduism; Taoism; and Shinto.

"The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of World Religions", which is in the library's reference collection, provides an excellent introduction to the major religions as well as some of the lesser known ones such as Jainism, Sikhism and Rastafariaism. The book, which is beautifully illustrated with 350 color photographs and drawing, provides in depth insight into each religion covered. Written by experts, each entry contains information about the religion's founder and history, forms of worship, festivals, and beliefs and practices. The volume also offers an abbreviated section on sects and denominations. For those who are interested in reading more about the religions covered in "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Religions" a list of books for further reading is included.

I invite you to stop by the library and peruse this highly informative book on a very topical subject in today's world.

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