When Jeff Downs contacted me to do this review, I was excited. I’ve always had an interest in Eastern Religions, but the majority of my exposure to what they believe has been through historical novels, Kung-Fu movies, and just a few apologetic materials. Needless to say, my first choice, out of the list of books he gave was this one. I’m weak on the East, I must admit.

A short overview:
The author is John Renard, who is also known for his scholarly treatments of Islam. (Which, personally, I believe to be a just a bit over-sympathetic. I digress.)

It is published by Paulist Press, an American Catholic publishing house, founded by missionary priests. It is the fourth in a series of “101 Questions” books from Paulist Press, which cover Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, as well as the Church, in other volumes.

This book is a very short, very concise Q & A format study of Confucianism, Shinto, and Daoism, as the title suggests. It is arranged in nine sections, with most terms indexed for easy reference. The sections are fairly clear-cut, if pedantic.

1. Beginnings and Early Sources
2. Development and Spread
3. Doctrines and Practices
4. Authority, Law, and Ethics
5. Spirituality and Popular Piety
6. Religion and Artistic Expression
7. Internal Diversity and External Relations
8. Women, Family, and Society
9. Chinese and Japanese Traditions Here and Now

One thing you’ll notice, while crusing through this book, is that the writing style is extremely dry. It reads like a textbook, and is as interesting as most textbooks are. Which is to say, of course, not very interesting at all. It is not that the subject matter is not interesting – it is. The style the author gives to it is very much academic, and not at all engaging. I found it tough going, if quick – and I’m an omnivoracious reader, averaging 2000+ pages a week – on a slow week.

The second thing you’ll notice, if your tastes in literature are similar to mine, at least, is that the “101 Questions” style of the book does not lend itself well to a straight read-through. I found that it will work very nicely as a reference book, if you are looking for the answer to a specific question about the religions he writes about – but that it comes across quite disjointed, otherwise.

Apart from writing style and formatting, the book is very informative, despite it’s faults. It gives you quite a bit of background, history, and detail about the questions it examines. I enjoyed learning, although I didn’t enjoy reading it.

My suggestion is very simple. Use it for reference, if you get it. It has a glossary, index, subject listing, and a very exhaustive bibliography. It seems to be a good ‘beginner’s” book, or a book for general readers. Like most textbooks, it works better for reference than it does for regular reading material.

It’s not a long book. Including all of the references in the back, it is only 243 pages. It has 3 1/4 pages listing the various schools of the 3 religions, 3 pages of glossary for Chinese and Japanese terms, 6 pages of timeline, 6 1/2 pages of bibliography, and ten pages for an index. For such a short book, that’s some serious reference material.

It is fairly indepth, although concise, quickly readable and referenced.