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World Religions in Practice

The new edition of World Religions in Practice has been expanded to introduce six of the world’s major religions to students. This unparalleled introduction, exploring how religions are lived through their customs, rituals and everyday practices, now includes Daoism in addition to the religions covered in the first edition: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Innovative and accessible, the text goes beyond many traditional textbooks by adopting a directly comparative approach that allows for a greater understanding of the nature of religion.

Each chapter engages with an individual theme, such as birth, death, food, pilgrimage, sacred texts, worship, and ethics, exploring the rituals, customs and beliefs across a range of religions. With great clarity, Gwynne works through these key themes, describing the practices of each religion, at the same time providing a balanced and sympathetic discussion of the similarities and differences between each faith.

The new edition includes an increased range of student‐friendly features. These include short readings from sacred texts and rites across different traditions, which allow students to engage directly with original sources.

Paul Gwynne lectures in comparative religion in the General Education Program of the University of New South Wales. He completed his doctoral studies in Rome and has taught theology and religious studies in Indonesia and at the Melbourne College of Divinity. His previous books include Special Divine Action (1996), the first edition of World Religions in Practice (2008, Wiley Blackwell) and Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad: A Comparative Study (2014, Wiley Blackwell).

World Religions in Practice

A Comparative Introduction


Paul Gwynne




Second Edition










List of Boxes

0.1Some Definitions of Religion
1.1The 13 Principles of the Jewish Faith (Maimonides)
1.2The Shema
1.3The Five Pillars of Sunni Islam
1.4The Nicene Creed
1.5The 10 Avatars of Vishnu
2.1The Principal Upanishads (and Corresponding Vedas)
2.2The Opening Chapter of the Daode jing
2.3The Three Baskets of Buddhism (Tipitaka)
2.4The Books of the New Testament
2.5The 24 Books of the Jewish Scriptures (Tanach)
2.6Al‐Fatiha: The Opening Chapter of the Qur'an
3.1Traditional Hindu Classes (Varna) and Life Stages (Ashrama)
3.2The Four Noble Truths
3.3The Buddhist Pancasila
3.4The Four Main Sunni Schools of Law
3.5The Golden Rule of Ethics in Each Religion
4.1Prayer over the Baptismal Font (Catholic Rite)
4.2The Seven Sacraments
4.3Prayer from a Jewish Circumcision Rite
4.4The Adhan (Islamic Call to Prayer)
4.5The Traditional Hindu Samskaras
4.6The 12 Stages of Dependent Origination and Their Traditional Symbols (Buddhism)
5.1Buddhist Bardo Prayer (for the Dead)
5.2The Six Bardos of Tibetan Buddhism
5.3Jewish Kaddish Prayer
5.4A Muslim Funeral Prayer
6.1The Wives of Muhammad
6.2The Seven Jewish Wedding Blessings
6.3Prayer from an Eastern Orthodox Wedding Rite
7.1The Buddha's Teaching on Eating Meat (Mahayana version)
7.2Prayer from an Anglican Rite of the Eucharist
8.1Prayers for Donning the Tefillin
8.2The Upanayana Ceremony
9.1The Four Yugas (Ages) of the Hindu Time Scale
9.2The Five Scrolls and Their Corresponding Holy Days
9.3The 39 Prohibited Activities on the Jewish Sabbath
9.4Salat Prayer Times

List of Tables

1.1The Five Wisdom Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism
3.1The Daoist adaption of the Buddhist Pancasila
3.2The Ten Commandments in its different forms
7.1The Five Elements of Daoism
9.1The Western Christian calendar
9.2The Theravada Buddhist calendar
9.3The southern Hindu calendar
9.4The Chinese calendar
9.5The Jewish calendar
9.6The Islamic calendar

List of Figures

1.1Interior of a Jewish synagogue
1.2Interior of the Blue Mosque, Istanbu
1.3Christian mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbu
1.4Sacred image (murti) of the Hindu goddess Durga
1.5Daoist images on an altar
1.6The Taijitu
1.7Buddha statue at Kamakura, Japan
2.1The setting of the Bhagavad Gita: Krishna and Arjuna in dialogue
2.3Buddha preaching to the first five disciples at Sarnath
2.4A Jewish boy reads from a Torah scroll using a yad
2.5Qur’an with prayer beads
4.1A priest pours holy water over a baby’s head during a baptism
4.2A mohel prepares a child for circumcision
4.3The Hindu sacred sound aum
4.4A Hindu child receives his first haircut in the cudakarana ceremony
5.1Central section of the Buddhist wheel of life
5.2Lighting a Hindu funeral pyre on the banks of a river
5.3Memory stones on a Jewish grave
5.4Muslim women visiting a cemetery
5.5Cross and flowers on a Christian grave
6.1Traditional breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding
6.2A Hindu wedding with canopy (mandap) and sacred fire
6.3A Christian bride and groom take their vows before the altar
6.4A new Buddhist novice with shaven head and robes
6.5Tea ceremony at a Chinese wedding
6.6The Bagua (Later Heaven version)
7.1Buddhist monks carrying bowls on their daily alms round
7.2Bread and wine used in a Christian Eucharist
7.3Jewish Passover plate with symbolic foods
7.4An Islamic butcher shop in England
8.1Islamic women in the veil
8.2Jewish boy wearing kippah, tallit and tefillin
8.3A young man receives the sacred thread during an Upanayana ceremony
8.4Image of St Patrick in episcopal dress with miter and crozier
8.5Daoist priests in ritual vestments
8.6Thai Buddhist monks in their traditional robes
9.1Christmas nativity scene
9.2Young Buddhists often join a monastery during the wet season (Vassa)
9.3Hindu girls lighting lamps on the feast of Divali
9.4Chinese Dragon Boat Racing
9.5Eight‐branched menorah (with central lighting candle) used at Hanukkah
9.6Shi’ite Muslims beating their chests during Ashura
10.1A mosque with two minarets in Azerbaijan
10.2Torah scrolls inside the holy ark in a synagogue
10.3Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
10.4The Vastu Purusha Mandala
10.5Hindu mandir (temple) at Khajuraho, India
10.6Kuthodaw Buddhist Temple in Mandalay, Myanmar
10.7Basic geometric patterns of the stupa design
10.8Qingyang Daoist Temple in Sichuan, China
11.1Major pilgrimage sites in Hinduism
11.2The holy city of Varanasi (Benares) on the Ganges
11.3Major pilgrimage sites in Daoism
11.4Stairway to Heaven, Taishan
11.5Major pilgrimage sites in Buddhism
11.6Buddhists meditating at the bodhi tree, Bodhgaya
11.7Major Christian pilgrimage sites in Israel
11.8The old city of Jerusalem
11.9Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
11.10The Western Wall, Jerusalem
11.11Muslim pilgrims at the Ka’bah, Mecca
11.12Sites of the Hajj


The second edition of World Religions in Practice retains most of the key features of the original edition. It remains a comparative study of a sample of major religions based on a set of practical themes. What is new in this edition is the inclusion of a sixth religious tradition – Daoism – and, consequently, a slight reduction in the number of themes in order to maintain the length of the book. The addition of Daoism means that the sample now includes one of the principal ingredients of Chinese religious culture, which is an eclectic mix of popular folk traditions and the “Three Teachings”: Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Whilst Buddhism has an Indian provenance, Daoism and Confucianism originated in China and, in introductory works on world religions, are often dealt with under the umbrella term “Chinese religion”. The decision to focus on Daoism alone, rather than include all elements of Chinese religious practice, is not intended as a value judgment on those other elements but simply to ensure that a manageable, working comparison is achieved.

The addition of this extra material meant that the chapter entitled Day has been omitted, although some of its time‐related contents have been incorporated into the chapter entitled Year, which looks at the annual calendars. It also meant that, in each chapter, the original sections on the five religions have been trimmed to provide a more succinct presentation. Finally, the inclusion of Daoism has also affected the order in which the religions are covered in each chapter. As explained in the first edition, this order is not random. Rather, it has been designed to highlight similarities and connections between religions on the theme in question, thus producing a useful spectrum of comparative analysis each time. In other words, Daoism has now joined the “dance” of the religions across the themes. Hopefully, these changes have resulted in a tighter, more representative comparison of the fascinating interplay between six of the world’s major religious traditions.

Note on Scriptural References

The following versions of scriptural and traditional texts have been used:

  1. Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, ed. John Bullitt, sutta translations by the Venerables Bhikkhu Bodhi, Acharya Buddharakkhita, Bhikkhu Khantipalo, Nanamoli Thera, Ñanavara Thera, Narada Thera, Nyanaponika Thera, Soma Thera, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Phra Ajaan Geoff), and Sister Vajira; I. B. Horner, John D. Ireland, K. R. Norman, and F. L. Woodward. At
  2. Babylonian Talmud, ed. Rabbi Dr Isidore Epstein. London: Jews’ College. Also available at www.come‐and‐
  3. Bhagavad Gita, trans. Laurie L. Patton. London: Penguin, 2008.
  4. The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press (1991). Copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  5. The Hadith, USC‐MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts, University of Southern California, at
  6. The Holy Koran, trans. Mohammed H. Shakir. New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc., 1983. Also available at
  7. Translations of the Daode jing and other Daoist texts are taken from Louis Komjathy (2013). The Daoist Tradition. London: Bloomsbury.

The Pinyin system has been used for transliterations of Chinese words.

Words in bold type are included in the Glossary at the end of the book.


I wish to thank the following academic colleagues for their invaluable feedback on the draft manuscript:

Professor John D'Arcy May, Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College, Dublin

Associate Professor Douglas Pratt, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Dr Heather Foster, School of Education, University of South Australia, Adelaide

Peta Jones Pellach, Director of Adult Education, Shalom Institute, Sydney

Associate Professor Mehmet Olzap, Charles Sturt University

Amna Hansia and the staff of the Australian Islamic College, Perth

Associate Professor Constant Mews, Director of Centre for Studies in Religion and Theology, Monash University, Melbourne

I am also very grateful for the professional advice and support of the Blackwell staff and their associates for this second edition, especially Rebecca Harkin, Ruth Swan, Vimali Joseph and Georgina Colby. I also wish to thank my wife, Kim Host, for her proof‐reading of the manuscript.

Paul Gwynne