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SELECTING HOLY TEXTS AND REFERENCE BOOKS
FROM THE WORLD'S GREAT RELIGIONS

FOR PUBLIC MEDITATION ROOMS, PUBLIC LIBRARIES, A PERSONAL RELIGIOUS LIBRARY, etc.

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Recommended religious texts and reference books:

We define religion very broadly: "Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a worldview." (A worldview is a set of basic, foundational beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe.) Thus we would consider Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Native American Spirituality, and Neopaganism to be religions. We also include Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, Ethical Culture etc. as religions, because they also contain a "belief about deity" -- their belief is that they do not know whether a deity exists, or they have no knowledge of God, or they sincerely believe that God does not exist. 

We have attempted to find the sacred texts of the 19 most popular religions in the U.S., based on the ARIS religious survey of 2001. 1 Where a group does not have a specific text, as in the case of Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, Wicca, etc., we list some current books dealing with the religion.

We have listed the most important books and translations first under each religion, in case your purchasing budget is limited. The first number beside the name of the religion is the number of adherents in the U.S., in millions The second number is the number of followers worldwide, in millions. More precise figures are available.

bulletChristianity: (159, 2,069) All Christians hold the Holy Bible in great esteem. However, there are major differences among the various English translations.
bulletTo most Protestants, the Bible consists of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament).
bulletThe Roman Catholic church, Eastern Orthodox churches and the Anglican Communion add seven additional books: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or, Sirach), and Baruch. These are called the Deuterocanonical books by the Catholics and Orthodox, or the Apocrypha by Protestants,  "Also, Catholic Bibles contain an additional six chapters (107 verses) in the book of Esther and another three in the book of Daniel (174 verses)." 2
bulletA famous saying, attributed to St. Jerome is: "Every translator is a traitor." Translators of the Bible filter the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek through their own viewpoints, prejudices and theological beliefs. As a result, various versions depict:
bulletExodus 21:22 as either condemning abortion or being unrelated to abortion.
bulletExodus 22:18 as calling for the extermination of either witches or evil sorceresses. (That is important because many Wiccans and other Neopagans call themselves witches.)
bullet 1 Corinthians as condemning either homosexuals or abusive pedophiles to Hell after death.
bulletetc.

As a result, a number of different translations are needed in order to match the needs of visitors. We suggest:
bulletKing James Version (KJV). This is widely used among all Protestant denominations, particularly among the Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic groups. Read reviews of order this Bible safely from Amazon.com online book store.
bulletNew International Version (NIV). This is probably the most popular Bible among Evangelicals. Amazon link
bulletNew American Bible (NAB) is popular among Roman Catholics. It includes the Apocrypha. Amazon link
bulletNew Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is widely used by liberal and mainline Protestants. It includes the Apocrypha, and uses inclusive language. Amazon link
bulletGood News Translation (GNT) has a limited vocabulary and is popular among persons for whom English is a second language. Amazon link
bulletThe Book of Mormon: Another testament of Jesus Christ is considered sacred scripture by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other denominations in the Mormon movement. Amazon link
bulletScience and health with key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy is by the founder of Christian Science. It promotes spiritual healing and is extensively used by Christian Scientists. Amazon link

bulletNo religious affiliation: (27, 784) These are individuals who are not affiliated with any organized religion. Many consider themselves Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.
bulletJudaism: (3,15)
bulletTorah: These are the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Amazon link
bulletTanach: This is the Torah and the Nevi'im (the major and minor prophets) and Kethuvim (the other writings from the Hebrew Scriptures). Amazon link
bulletTalmud: This is a commentary on the Tanach. Amazon link to an introduction to the Talmud
bulletIslam: (1,1,254)
bulletThe Qur'an is the holy text of Islam -- believed to be the final revelation from God to humanity. Amazon link A preferred copy of the Qur'an contains both the original Arabic and an English translation. Amazon link
bulletThe Hadith are the collected sayings of Muhammad. A book containing a sampling of the most important Hadiths in both Arabic and English is available. Amazon link
bulletBuddhism: (1,373)
bulletThe Tripitaka are the sole canonical text in Theravada Buddhism. A condensation of the Tripitaka is available. Amazon link
bulletThe Sutras are an addition to the Tipitaka, revered by Mahayana Buddhism. A book containing the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra is available. Amazon link
bulletAgnosticism: (1, Unknown) Agnostics are undecided whether one or many Gods or Goddesses exist. Agnosticism is not a full religion with clergy, dogma, rituals, etc. It has no holy book. However some of the following books explain Agnosticism:
bulletClarence Darrow, "Why I am an Agnostic." Amazon link
bulletLeslie Weatherhead, "The Christian Agnostic." Amazon link
bulletAtheism: (1, Unknown) In the popular meaning of the term, Atheists are convinced that no Gods or Goddesses exist. Like Agnosticism, Atheism is not a full religion with a holy book. Some of the following books cover Atheism:
bulletMichael Martin et al., Eds., "The impossibility of God" Amazon link
bulletGordon Stein, "An anthology of Atheism and Rationalism" Amazon link
bulletHinduism: (0.8,837)
bulletThe Bhagavad-Gita has been described as "the most famous and revered of all Hindu Scriptures." Amazon link
bulletThe Upanishads has been described as "the font of Indian spirituality. Each Upanishad is a lyrical statement about the deeper truths of mysticism..." Amazon link
bulletThe Rig Veda is a collection of over 1,000 Sanskrit hymns of great beauty. A selection of 108 hymns is available. Amazon link
bulletUnitarian Universalism: (0.6, Unknown) This is a religion that is free of dogma and required beliefs. It welcomes Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Humanists, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, etc. It has no Bible. Some books about "UUs" are:
bulletJohn Buehrens: "A chosen faith: An introduction to Unitarian Universalism." Amazon link
bulletDavid Bumbaugh, "Unitarian Universalism: A narrative history." Amazon link
bulletWicca and other Neopagan traditions: (0.3, Unknown) These are Earth centered faiths which are reconstructions of ancient Celtic Pagan religion. Some books on Wicca are:
bulletScott Cunningham, "Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner." Amazon link
bulletRaymond Buckland, "Buckland's Complete Book Of Witchcraft." Amazon link
bulletSpiritualism: (0.1, Unknown) This is an often neglected belief system involving communication with the dead. Their foundational book is Allan Kardec's "THE Spirits Book: The principles of Spiritist Doctrine. Amazon link It is available online at: http://www.sgny.org/
bulletNative American: (0.1, Unknown) This is a religion transmitted by an oral tradition without a sacred written text.
bulletBaha'i Faith: (0.08, 7.5) The Alkitab Alaqdas (a.k.a. Most Holy Book, Kitab-i-Aqdas) by Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith. Amazon link
bulletNew Age: (0.07, Unknown) This is more a collection of practices and beliefs that it is a religion. It is so diverse that it seems quite impossible to recommend one or two comprehensive books on the topic.
bulletSikhism: (0.06,24) Guru Granth Sahib (a.k.a. Adi Granth, First Book) is the most sacred book of the Sikh religion. Amazon link. This is an expensive book, but is often available at a reduced cost through Amazon Marketplace.
bulletThe Church of Scientology: (0.06, Unknown) This religion is based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard which include:
bulletWhat is Scientology. Amazon link
bulletThe Scientology Handbook. This is a large and expensive book, but is often available at a discount through Amazon Marketplace. Amazon link
bulletScientology: The fundamentals of thought. Amazon link
bulletHumanism: (0.05, Unknown): This is "a philosophy that emphasizes the value of human life in all its creative potential within a secular context." 3
bulletJim Herrick, "Humanism: an introduction." Amazon link
bulletLewis Vaughn & Austin Dacey, "The case for Humanism: Introduction." Amazon link
bulletSecularism: (0.05, Unknown) These are individuals who live their lives independent of religion. Many are Agnostics, Atheists, and Humanists.
bulletTaoism: (0.04,2.7) TheTao-te-Ching was written by Lao Tsu, the founder of Taoism in the sixth century BCE. An English translation with black and white photographs interspersed is available. Amazon link

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Site navigation:

Home page > Spirituality > here

Home page > Religious info > Basic info > here

Home page > Religions of the world > here

Home page > Comparing religions > here

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Notes and references used:

  1. American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) data for 2001 is at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 

  2. Dave Armstrong, "The 'Apocrypha': Why it's part of the Bible," (1996), at: http://ic.net/

  3. From Amazon.com's review of Jim Herrick's book "Humanism: an introduction." Amazon link

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-DEC-11
Latest update: 2005-DEC-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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