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Preface

elcome to The Norton Anthology of World Religions. The work


offered to you here is large and complex, but it responds to a simple
desirenamely, the desire that six major, living, international world religions should be allowed to speak to you in their own words rather than only
through the words of others about them. Virtually all of the religious texts
assembled here are primary texts. Practitioners of Hinduism, Buddhism,
Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have written and preserved these
texts over the centuries for their own use and their own purposes. What is
it like to read them, gathered as they are here like works of religious art in a
secular museum?
For practitioners of any of these six religions, who number in the hundreds
of millions, this anthology is likely to provide some of the surprise and fascination of a very large family album: some of ones religious ancestors trigger
an immediate flash of recognition, while others look very distant and perhaps
even comical. For an army of outsiders those whose religion is not anthologized here, those who practice no religion, those who are spiritual but not
religious, and those who count themselves critics or antagonists of religion
the experience will be rewarding in different ways. No propaganda intrudes
here on behalf either of any given religion or of religion in general. The goal
at every point is not conversion, but exploration. The only assumptions made
are that the most populous and influential of the worlds religions are here to
stay, that they reward study best when speaking to you in their own words,
and that their contemporary words make best sense when heard against the
panoramic background of the words they have remembered and preserved
from their storied pasts.
Many of the texts gathered here have been translated from foreign languages, for the religions of the world have spoken many different languages
over the course of their long histories. A few of the worksthe Bhagavad Gita,
the Daode jing, the Bible, the Quranare readily available. Many more are
available only in the libraries of a few major research universities or, though
physically available, have not been intellectually available without detailed
guidance that was impossible for the lay reader to come by. Bibliographic information is always provided for previously published translations, and a number
of translations have been made especially for this anthology. A central concern
throughout has been that the anthologized texts should be not just translated
but also framed by enough editorial explanation to make them audible and
intelligible across the barriers of time and space even if you are coming to
them for the first time. When those explanations require the use of words in
a foreign language with a non-Roman writing system, standard academic

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modes of transliteration have sometimes been simplified to enhance userfriendliness.


Globalization, including international migration in all its forms, has
brought about a large-scale and largely involuntary mingling of once-separate
religious communities, and this historic change has created an urgent occasion for a deeply grounded effort at interreligious understanding. Yes, most of
the worlds Hindus still live in India, yet the Hindu Diaspora is enormous and
influential. Yes, many Jews have migrated to Israel, but half of the worlds
Jews still live in deeply rooted Diaspora communities around the world. Conventionally, Islam is thought of as a Middle Eastern religion, yet the largest
Muslim populations are in South and Southeast Asia, while the Muslim
minority in Europe is growing rapidly. By the same token, Christianity is not
thought of as an African religion, yet the Christian population of subSaharan Africa is growing even more rapidly than the Muslim population of
Europe. In a bygone era, the six religions treated here might have been
divided geographically into an Eastern and a Western trio, but we do not
so divide them, for in our era they are all everywhere, and none is a majority.
Religiously, we live and in all likelihood will continue to live in a world of
large and mingling minorities.
This involuntary mingling has created a state of affairs that can be violently
disruptive. Terrorism in the name of religion, more often within national
borders than across them, has turned many minds against religion in all
forms. And yet, paradoxically, religious violence during the twenty-first century has persuaded many that, contrary to innumerable past predictions,
religion is by no means fading from modern life. And though the threat of
religious violence is a dark challenge of one sort, the bright new opportunities for cross-cultural and interreligious learning present an unprecedented
challenge of a different and, in the end, a more consequential sort. On the
one hand, whatever some of us might have wished, religious violence has
made religion a subject that cannot be avoided. On the other, for those who
engage the subject in depth, the study of religion across cultural and political borders builds a uniquely deep and subtle form of cosmopolitan sophistication.
In all its formal featuresthe format of its tables of contents; its use of
maps and illustrations; its handling of headnotes, footnotes, glossaries, and
bibliographies; its forty-eight pages of color illustration in six insertsThe
Norton Anthology of World Religions announces its membership in the venerable family of Norton anthologies. As was true of The Norton Anthology of
English Literature upon its first publication more than half a century ago, this
anthology is both larger and more rigorously realized than any prior anthology published in English for use by the general reader or the college undergraduate. It opens with a generous introduction addressing a set of basic
questions not linked to any single tradition but affecting all of them. Each
of the six religious traditions is then presented chronologically from its origins to the present (the Buddhism volume also uses a geographical organizing principle). Each presentation begins with a substantial overview of the
tradition being anthologized. Each is also punctuated by period introductions tracing the history of the tradition in question. And yet this work is
not a history merely enlivened by the inclusion of original texts. No, history
here is simply the stage. The texts themselves are the per formance, displaying as only they can the perennial and subversive power of religious litera-

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ture. The difference might be compared to the difference between English


history with a bit of Shakespeare and Shakespeare with a bit of English
history. The histories come and go, but Shakespeare is irreplaceable. Shakespeare is, to use a term that originated in the church, canonical.
Derived from the Greek word for a ruler or measur ing rod, canon came
to mean a rule or criterion of any kind. By extension, the same word came to
mean the church rule or canon law governing the contents of the Bible:
which books were to be included and which excluded. And by yet a further
extension, canon came to refer to the understood list of acknowledged masterpieces in English or some other literature. So, the Bible has a canon. English
literature has a canon (however endlessly contested). But what works of religious literature constitute the world religious canon?
Aye, dear reader, there was the rub as plans were laid for this anthology.
In 2006, when the editorial team began work in earnest, no canons existed
for the literatures of the worlds major religions. There were limited canons
within that vast expanse of written material, the Bible itself being the paradigmatic example. But the literature of Christianity is larger than the Bible,
and the situation grows only more complicated as one ranges farther afield into
traditions whose concentric canons are more implicit than explicit. Even
though more than one canon of the Bible exists, Bible scholars can easily handle that limited variety and still quite literally know what they are talking about:
they can deal with a clearly delimited body of material within which evidencebased historical interpretation can go forward. But what canon of religious
texts exists to help define the entire field of religious studies for religion scholars? The field has never had an agreed-upon answer to that question, and some
of the most sweeping theoretical statements about religion turn out, as a result,
to rest on an astonishingly small and vague empirical base.
Granted that no master canon in the original religious sense of that term
can ever be devised for the religions of the world, the lack of a limited but
large and serious study collection of texts is one major indication that the
study of religion remains at an early stage of its development as a discipline.
For the religions of Asia, especially, it has been as if the Elizabethan theater were being studied without ready access by students to the plays of
Shakespeare or with, at most, access to Hamlet alone. This lack has been
particularly glaring in the United States for reasons that deserve a brief
review. Until the early 1960s, the study of religion was largely confined to
private colleges and universities, where, thanks to the countrys Protestant
intellectual heritage, it consisted overwhelmingly of biblical studies and
Christian theology. Often, the department of religion was a department of
philosophy and religion. Often, too, there was a close relationship between
such departments and the college chaplaincy. In public colleges and universities, meanwhile, the situation was quite different. There, the traditional
constitutional separation of church and state was understood to preclude
the formal study of religion, perhaps especially of the very religions that the
student body and the faculty might turn out to be practicing.
But then several events, occurring at nearly the same moment in both the
public and the private spheres, created a new climate for the study of religion, and religious studies emerged as a new academic discipline distinct
from philosophy or theology, on the one hand, and even more distinct from
the chaplaincy, on the other. We are still reckoning with the consequences
of this shift.

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In 1963, Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg wrote for the Supreme Court
of the United States in a concurring opinion in Abington v. Schempp (374
U.S. 203, 306): It seems clear to me . . . that the Court would recognize
the propriety of . . . the teaching about religion, as distinguished from the
teaching of religion, in the public schools, language that seemed to clear a
path for the study of religion in tax-supported schools. Significantly, Goldberg was a Jew; just three years earlier, Americans had elected John F. Kennedy as their first Roman Catholic president. American religious pluralism
was becoming increasingly inescapable at the highest levels in American
public life; and as it came to be understood that university-level religious
studies was to be the study of various religions at once, including but by no
means confined to the religions of the United States, the Founding Fathers
fear of an imposed, national religion began to recede from the national consciousness. American pluralism was now as powerful a factor in American
religious life as the Constitution itself.
This anthology is published on the fiftieth anniversary of an event little
noticed in the cultural ferment of the 1960s but of great importance for the
study of religionnamely, the 1964 reincorporation of the National Association of Biblical Instructors (NABI), the principal association of college
professors teaching these subjects, as the American Academy of Religion
(AAR), whose current mission statement focuses pointedly on the understanding of religious traditions, issues, questions, and values all in the
plural. The formal incorporation of the AAR was intended first as a quiet
but magnanimous gesture of invitation by a Protestant academic establishment toward the scholars of Americas Catholic and Jewish communities,
but this was just the beginning. Others would soon be drawn into a conversation whose animating academic conviction is well captured in a dictum of
the great nineteenth-century scholar Max Mller: He who knows one religion knows none.
Catholics and Jews had had their own seminaries and their own institutions of higher learning, but scholarship produced in them tended to remain
in thempartly, to be sure, because of Protestant indifference but also
because of defensive or reactively triumphalist habits of mind among the
residually embattled minorities themselves. But this was already changing.
Optimism and openness in the Roman Catholic community had been much
assisted in the earlier 1960s by the Second Vatican Council, whose byword
was the Italian aggiornamentoroughly, updating as employed by the
benignly bold Pope John XXIII. American Jews, meanwhile, profoundly
traumatized as they had been during and after World War II by the Shoah,
or Holocaust, Nazi Germanys attempted genocide, breathed a collective (if
premature) sigh of relief in 1967 after Israels stunning victory over its Arab
opponents in the Six-Day War. During the same period, the Reverend Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., had spearheaded a revolution in American race
relations, as segregation ended and the social integration began that would
lead to the election of a black president, Barack Obama, in 2008. In short,
the mood in the early 1960s was in every way one of barred doors swung
open, locked windows flung up, and common cause undertaken in moral
enterprises like the interfaith campaign to end the war in Vietnam.
One influential scholar saw the shift occurring in the study of religion as
cause for academic jubilation. Writing in 1971 in the Journal of the American
Academy of Religion (which had been, until 1966, The Journal of Bible and

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Religion), Wilfred Cantwell Smith clearly welcomed the change that was taking place:
Perhaps what is happening can be summed up most pithily by saying
that the transition has been from the teaching of religion to the study
of religion. Where men used to instruct, they now inquire. They once
attempted to impart what they themselves knew, and what they hoped
(of late, with decreasing expectation) to make interesting; now, on the
contrary, they inquire, into something that both for them and for their
students is incontrovertibly interesting, but is something that they do
not quite understand.
And yet there was a shadow across this scene. The newborn American
Academy of Religion had bitten off rather more than it could chew. The spread
of religious studies to the state university campuses that were proliferating in
the late 1960s and the 1970s was vigorously pluralist. Jewish studies experienced an enormous growth spurt, and so did Hindu studies, Buddhist studies,
Islamic studies, and so forth. Smith, a scholar of comparative religion who
had made his first mark as a specialist in Islam, could only welcome this in
principle. But others, writing later, would be troubled by growth that seemed
to have spun out of control.
Recall that in 1971, globalization was not the byword that it has since
become. The Hindu Diaspora in the United States was still tiny. Christian
Pentecostalism, though well established, had not yet achieved critical mass
in Africa. Europes Muslim minority, if already substantial, was relatively
dormant. Mainland Chinas population was still in Maoist lockdown. And in
the United States, Americans had not yet begun to grasp the coming effects
of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed
quotas that had been in place since the 1920s; the resulting explosive growth
in Hispanic and Asian immigration would by 1990 make non-Hispanic Caucasians a minority in Los Angeles, Americas second-largest city. Americans
still saw themselves as a colonized people who had achieved independence,
rather than as a colonizing people. The rhetoric of European postcolonialism
had not yet been applied to the United States, a superpower whose world
hegemony was quasi-imperial in its reach and neocolonialist in its effects.
Worldwide, the transformative interrogation of religious traditions by women
and about women had barely begun.
While all of these changes, as they have brought about the multiplication
and intensification of religious encounters, have made the study of world religions more important than ever, they have not made it easier. They have not,
in particular, lent it any internal intellectual coherence. They have not created
for it a new study canon to replace the narrowly Protestant study canon, as the
founding of the AAR seemed in principle to require. The creation of religious
studies as a field had been an academic gamble on a barely perceived religious
future. Had the bet paid off? An eminent senior scholar, Jonathan Z. Smith,
wrote in 1995 of the change that had taken place: The field made a decision to give up a (limited) coherence for a (limitless) incoherence.
That limitless incoherence was the context in which we took up the challenge to produce The Norton Anthology of World Religions. How ever were
we to begin?
There came fi rst the recognition that we would be creating for the field
of religious studies a first draft of the very canon that it lacked a canon

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covering nearly four thousand years of history in a score of different languages, aspiring not to be authoritative regarding belief or practice but to
be plausibly foundational for the study of the subject.
There came second the recognition that though canons, once achieved,
are anonymous, they do not begin anonymously. They begin with somebody
who declares this in and that out and defends his or her choice. This realization shifted the decision to be made from What? to Who?
There came third the question of whether the answer to the question
Who? would come in the singular or in the plural and if in the plural, how
multitudinously plural. For each of the traditions to be anthologized, would
a large board of specialist advisers be assembled to determine what would be
included? Would the selections be formally approved by some kind of plebiscite, as in the verse-by-verse ratification by translators of the language
included in the King James Version of the Bible? Would the work of annotating the resulting selections be divided among committees and subcommittees and so forth? Would some governing board formulate a set of topics
that each editor or team of editors would be required to address so as to confer
a sturdy structure upon the whole? Would there be, for example, a different
board of consultants for each period in the long history of Judaism or each
language across the geographic breadth of Buddhism?
Our decision was to reject that kind of elaboration and gamble instead on
six brilliant and creative individuals, each with a distinct literary style and
a record of bold publication, and then to impose no common matrix of obligatory topics or categories on them, nor even a common set of chronological
divisions. (Does China have its own Middle Ages? When does modernity
begin in Turkey?) It was understood, however, playing to an institutional
strength at W. W. Norton & Company, that the prose of these editors, formidable though they were, would be edited very heavily for explanatory clarity even as we second-guessed very lightly indeed their actual anthological
choices. To what end this blend of laxity and severity? Our aim has been
simply to enhance the intelligent delight of students in religious literature
both as literature and as religion. Intelligent delight does not mean the
delight of intelligent people. The reference is rather to the delight that a
strange and baffling ancient text can provide when a great scholar, speaking
in his or her own voice, renders it intelligible for you and you recognize,
behind it, a human intelligence finally not all that unlike your own.
If that has been our aim for students, our aim for professors has been
rather different. Professors of religious studies often find themselves called
upon to teach insanely far beyond their area of trained academic competence. For them, we hope to have provided both an invaluable reference tool
and a rich reservoir of curricular possibilities. For their graduate students,
we hope to have provided breadth to complement the depth of doctoral
study at its best. A student studying in depth and probably in the original
language some particular religious text can discover here what else was being
written in the same tradition at the same time. What preceded that text in
the life of the religious tradition? What followed it? Who celebrated it? Who
attacked it? The fine art of page flipping, crucial to the unique operating system of an ink-on-paper anthology, enables just this kind of exploratory learning. Over time, by repeated forays backward and forward in the evolution of a
religious tradition, a serious student can come to know its literature like the
interior of a large residence. But this is just the beginning. Comparable forays

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into the development of other traditions can by degrees situate the target
religious tradition in the global religious context. Finally, to further aid all
users, the companion website to The Norton Anthology of World Religions
will provide, over time, both supplementary substantive content other religious traditions, to begin withnot included in the print anthology and an
array of aids for the use of teachers and students.
Beyond these conventional ser vices, however, lies something riskier. We
acknowledge that we have provided the professoriate a target to shoot at:
How could you possibly omit X? some will exclaim. And others: Why on
earth did you ever bother with Y? We welcome all such objections. They
betray nothing more than the real, existential condition of a field still in
many ways struggling to be born. Disciplines do not spring into existence
overnight. They are negotiated into existence over time through trial and
error. The more vigorously our colleagues find fault with this first draft of a
canon for their field, the more productive will be the ensuing negotiation.
Intuition based on deep scholarship and teaching experience has surely
played a role in the choices made by the six associate editors responsible,
respectively, for anthologizing the six religious literatures covered: Wendy
Doniger (Hinduism), Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Buddhism), James Robson (Daoism), David Biale (Judaism), Lawrence S. Cunningham (Christianity), and
Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Islam). They have all sought to include those
incipiently canonical texts that few of their colleagues would dare exclude.
More intuitively, they have sought to include neglected works of beauty and
power whose very appearance here might help them become canonical. The
editors have even included occasional attacks on the religious traditions
anthologizedfor example, excerpts from Kancha Ilaiah, Why I Am Not a
Hindu, in the Hinduism anthology and from Bertrand Russell, Why I Am
Not a Christian, in the Christianity anthology. As these two contrarian
entries nicely demonstrate, the canon of texts regarded as permanent and
irreplaceable in a religious tradition does not coincide exactly with the canon
of texts arguably crucial for the study of the tradition. Coping with all these
complications, the editors have coped in every case as well with the painful
space limitations that we have had to impose on them even after allowing
the anthology to grow to nearly twice its originally envisioned size.
One large question remains to be addressed in this brief preface: By what
criteria did you choose to anthologize these and only these six religions? This
question has a theoretical as well as a practical dimension. How, to begin
with, do we distinguish that which is religious from that which is not? Is
atheism a religion, or at least a religious option? Whatever atheism is, it is
certainly no modern novelty. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2007)
begins with a substantial chapter, Atheism in Antiquity, by the distinguished Dutch classicist Jan Bremmer. Whether atheism in a given ancient
or modern form should be considered a strictly religious option may depend
on how a given atheist plays it. The novelist Alain de Botton, nothing if not
playful, dreams or artfully feigns dreaming of a floridly religious enactment
of atheism in his Religion for Atheists: A Non-believers Guide to the Uses of
Religion (2012). Meanwhile, a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum suggests that
the religiously unaffiliated might actually be both more interested in and better informed about religion than the affiliated. But back to the question at
hand: If we cannot clearly distinguish religion from irreligion or the strictly
from the casually religious, how can we be sure that we are choosing six

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versions of the same thing? Arcane and obscure as this question may sound,
it did bear rather directly on one of our six key choices, as will be explained
below.
In the end, in making our choices, we fell back to an infra-theoretical,
practical, or working criterion for inclusion: we required that the religions
anthologized should be the six most important major, living, international
religions, a rubric in which each of the three italicized words counted.
Because we anthologize only living religions, we do not anthologize the
religions of ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, despite the fact that
these religious traditions loom large in the history of the study of religion in
the West, thanks to the dominance of the Bible and of the Greco-Roman
classics in Western higher education.
Because we anthologize only international religions, we do not anthologize folkloric or indigenous religions, which are typically and symbiotically
confined to a single locale, despite the fascination that these religions have
had for the sociological or anthropological study of religion, from Johann
Gottfried Herder and mile Durkheim in the late eighteenth and nineteenth
century to Clifford Geertz in the twentieth.
Geography, except as the difference between national and international,
is not the principle of organization in this anthology. One consequence, however, of our anthologizing only literary religions and then applying a mostly
demographic criterion in choosing among them has been the omission of
indigenous African religion. While it is true that Yoruba religion is now international and that some texts for it are now available, no such text has become
canonical even for practitioners themselves. Rather than saying anything
about the limitations of African or other indigenous religious traditions,
notably the rich array of Amerindian religions, our decision says something
about the inherent limitations of any text-based approach to the study of religion. Texts can indeed teach much, but they cannot teach everything about
everybody.
As for the key criterion major, we apply it demographically with one glaring exception. Religious demography tends to overstate or understate the size
of a religion depending on whether and how that religion counts heads. Roman
Catholicism, which counts every baptized baby as a member, probably ends
up with somewhat overstated numbers. Daoism, by contrast, probably ends up
with its adherents undercounted because formal affiliation is not a recognized
criterion for basic participation in it.
Yet even after these difficulties have been acknowledged, there can be no
quarrel that Christianity and Islam are demographically major as well as living and international. The same goes at almost equal strength for Hinduism
and Buddhism. The obvious exception is Judaism, whose numbers worldwide,
though far from trivial, are small even when the question Who is a Jew? is
given its most broadly inclusive answer. Too small to be reckoned major by a
head count, Judaism is too important on other counts to be reckoned less
than major. It is the exception that breaks the rule. Its categories, its legends, and many of its practices have been decisive not only for Christianity
and Islam but also, arguably, for Western secularism.
As many readers will have noticed by now, this grid of six does not stray very
far from the textbook areas of religious studies, as is only right and proper in a
reference work, yet this claim of relative normality calls for qualification in
two final regards if only to provide the occasion for a pair of disclaimers.

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First, this anthology does not deal with several religious traditions that,
though fully literary and indeed of great intrinsic interest, do not meet its
stated criteria. Three that might be named among these are Sikhism, Jainism, and Shinto, but several other traditions commonly enough included in
textbooks might easily be added to the list. No judgment of intrinsic worth
or importance should be inferred from their exclusion, just as none should
be inferred from the omission of indigenous African or Amerindian religion.
A less ample presentation of a larger number of religious traditions would
always have been possible. Our choice, and all such choices come at a cost,
has been to produce ampler presentations of plausibly canonical texts for
those most populous religions traditions that the world citizen is likeliest to
encounter in the new religious environment that we all inhabit.
To name a second perhaps surprising choice, our grid of six, though generally familiar, has Daoism where most textbooks have Chinese religion.
The usual textbook grid resorts to geography or ethnicity as a naming criterion in and only in the Chinese case. Why so? Though, as noted, the designations Eastern and Western do still have some textbook currency, no one
speaks of Christianity as European religion or of Islam as Afro-Asiatic
religion. Why proceed otherwise in the Chinese case alone?
Our decision, breaking with this practice, has been, in the first place, to
anthologize Chinese Buddhism within the Buddhism anthology, allowing
that sub-anthology to become, by the inclusion of its Chinese material, the
longest of the six. Our decision, in the second place, has been not to anthologize Chinese Confucianism at all. We have a secondary and a primary reason
for this second decision.
The secondary reason not to anthologize Confucianism is that the Peoples
Republic of China does not regard it as a religion at all. The government
recognizes only five religions: Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam plus (as separate
religions) Catholicism and Protestantism. Confucianism it simply defines
as altogether out of the category religion.
Properly so? Is Confucianism a religion, or not? This question is notoriously one that the West has never been able to answer and China never able
to ask, and we do not presume to give a definitive answer here. It is true, on
the one hand, that at many points during its long history, Confucianism has
seemed to be neither a religion nor quite a philosophy either but rather a code
of wisdom and conduct for the Chinese gentleman scholar or, perhaps better, the aspiring Chinese statesman. Yet at other points in Confucian history,
it must be noted, Confucius has been accorded the honor of a virtual god.
We choose to leave that question in abeyance.
Our primary reason, in any case, to set Confucianism aside and dedicate
our limited space to Daoism is that while the Confucian canon has been
widely translated and, as ancient religious texts go, is relatively accessible,
the Daoist canon has only recently been rescued from near death and has
never before been presented for the use of nonspecialists in an overview of
any historical completeness.
While two pre-Daoist classicsthe gnomic Daode jing of Laozi and the tart
wisdom of Zhuangzihave been endlessly translated and are in no danger of
disappearance, their relationship to the Daoist canon as a whole is, to borrow
from an observation quoted in James Robsons introduction to the Daoism
anthology, like the real but distant relationship of Plato and Aristotle to the
Christian canon. What would we know of Christianity if Paul, Augustine,

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Dante, Luther, Milton, and so on down the hallowed list had all been lost
and only Plato and Aristotle survived?
Such a fate did indeed very nearly befall Daoism. In the nineteenth century, leading up to the establishment of the first Republic of China in 1912,
Qing dynasty authorities systematically confiscated Daoist temples and
turned them into schools and factories. Having begun as an underground
movement in the second century, Daoismlong out of official favorwas
largely forced underground only again and more deeply so after the establishment of the Republic, which condemned it as superstition.
For the Daoist canon, the cost of this persecution was nearly outright
extinction. By the early twentieth century, few copies of Daoisms canon of
eleven hundred religious texts survived in all of China. But then, remarkably,
circumstances eased enough to permit the reprint in 1926 of a rare surviving
copy of the full 1445 Ming dynasty canon. This had been the last great effort
at canon formation in Daoist history before Daoisms long decline commenced. As this reprint reached the West, scholarship on the history of Daoism and the interpretation of its texts slowly began. Nonetheless, particularly
after the establishment of the Communist Peoples Republic of China in
1949, with its aggressive early persecution of all religions, many in the West
believed that the actual practice of Daoism had fi nally died out in its birthplace.
They were mistaken. Over the past few decades, reliable reports have
made it clear that Daoism is still alive and indeed is growing steadily stronger, having survived as if by taking Mao Zedongs advice to his guerrillas
that they move among the people as a fish swims in the sea. Just as the fish
in the sea are not easily counted, so the Daoists of China escape the usual
forms of Western quantification and Communist surveillance alike. But the
Daoist fish are numerous, even if they have reason to swim deep.
Meanwhile, the work of translating and contextualizing the recovered
texts has attracted a growing corps of Western scholarsinitially in France
and more recently in other Western countries, including the United States.
As their work has gone forward, the world has begun to hear of Daoist messiahs and utopian dreams of peace; Daoist confession rituals and community liturgies; Daoist alchemy and proto-scientific experimentation; Daoist
medicine, bodily cultivation (as distinct from asceticism), and sexual practices; Daoist prayer, including Daoist letter-writing to the gods; and Daoist
pageantry, costume, magic, and music. In short, a lost religious world the
central, popular, indigenous, full-throated religious world of Chinahas
been brought back to textual life. Our decision was to bring our readers a
major sampling from this remarkable recovery.
The major religions of the world are probably better grasped, many scholars
now insist, as a set of alternative customs and practices in loose organization
worship liturgies, pilgrimages, dietary restrictions, birth and burial practices,
art, music, drama, dance, and so forththan as a set of contending ideologies. Millions of men and women, even when they practice religions that we
rightly regard as literary, are themselves illiterate. Yet when writing remade
the world, it did remake religion as well. The major religious traditions of
the world would not be major today had they not become literary traditions
as well.
Because it is written, religious literature can be and has been shared, preserved through wars and persecutions, transmitted over time and space, and,

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PREFACE

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most important of all, taught with ease and delight. When all else perishes,
the written word often survives. The work before you is a self-contained, portable library of religious literature. You may read it on a plane, in the park, or
in a waiting room and trust that every foreign or otherwise strange term will
be explained on or near the page where it occurs. No foreign alphabets are
used. Transliterations have been simplified to serve pedagogical utility rather
than philological perfection. Diacritical marks have been kept to the absolute minimum. Though, as noted, a few of the large theoretical considerations that religion raises as a subject for human inquiry will be addressed
in the general introduction, the emphasis in this work is overwhelmingly
pragmatic rather than theoretical. For in this domain, more perhaps than
in any other, outsiders have historically been as important as insiders, and
beginners as welcome as veterans. So, to conclude where we began, whether
you are an outsider or an insider, a beginner or a veteran, we welcome you
to the pages of The Norton Anthology of World Religions.
Jack Miles
Irvine, California

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