Orlando ESPIN and James NOCKOLOFF, editors, An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies. Glazier books/ Liturgical Press, 2007. pp. 1500 $49.95 ISBN:978-0-8146-5856-7.
Reviewed by Ruth POOCHIGIAN, 4717 Ferris Ave., Madison WI 53716

Bypassing the ongoing debate that pits theological study against the field of religious studies, this dictionary delivers on its promise: it is an introductory teaching tool. At the same time, it is scholarly and trustworthy.

Offering a wide-ranging and comprehensive selection of topics Espin and Nockoloff, the editors of this volume, have relied on colleagues with experience teaching undergraduates and beginning graduate students. These authors know the limitations of such a resource as well as its value. In an era when students can rely on “instant internet access” for information about persons and concepts central to the study of both Catholic Christianity and the wider world of religion, this resource provides both accuracy and reliability without claiming to be any more than it is.

The editors and authors do not promise that every entry will offer a comprehensive summary of the topic or evidence of cutting edge research. What they do promise is that the information provided is relevant, current and scholarly.

By drawing on scholars from many fields and from many denominations and faith traditions, the editors have ensured that the work is “ecumenical, multicultural and international.” (p. xxxii)

The richness in this resource is summed up by the four goals set out in the introduction which include:

* developing-nation and U.S. minority perspectives (see as examples Zombi/Haiti, Homophobia, Gay Theology)
* U.S. Latino/a, Latin American, African American, African and Asian theologians (as examples see entries for Gebarra, Phelps, Phan)
* religions present in the U.S. but usually absent from American introductory dictionaries (see B’Nai Brith, Evangelical)
* European countries usually ignored in American dictionaries (the editors point out Spain, Portugal, Russia and Greece)

The world of Islam, still a mystery to many in North America, is opened up through careful definitions, distinctions and explanations.

This is a project that has long been needed and will be well-received by those who “negotiate the boundary,” as Ann Taves described it in a 2003 analysis, between these two fields of study. It will be especially useful for those who teach undergraduates and for those who teach in non-religious university settings.

I highly recommend this dictionary. Professors and libraries will be the initial beneficiaries. It’s publication in hard cover may put it out of range for any but the most serious student; however, the publishers might consider future editions (which they suggest themselves as benefiting by feedback from colleagues) in a less expensive soft cover edition, as they have with other resources. This would make it more appealing and accessible to students.


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