Comparing Religions
Buy Rights Online Buy Rights

Rights Contact Login For More Details

More About This Title Comparing Religions


Comparing Religions is a next-generation textbook which expertly guides, inspires, and challenges those who wish to think seriously about religious pluralism in the modern world.

  • A unique book teaching the art and practice of comparing religions
  • Draws on a wide range of religious traditions to demonstrate the complexity and power of comparative practices
  • Provides both a history and understanding of comparative practice and a series of thematic chapters showing how responsible practice is done
  • A three part structure provides readers with a map and effective process through which to grasp this challenging but fascinating approach
  • The author is a leading academic, writer, and exponent of comparative practice
  • Contains numerous learning features, including chapter outlines, summaries, toolkits, discussion questions, a glossary, and many images
  • Supported by a companion website (available on publication) at, which includes information on individual religious traditions, links of other sites, an interview with the author, learning features, and much more


Jeffrey J. Kripal is the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University. His most recent publications include Mutantsand Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal (2011); Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and theSacred (2010); Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (2007); and The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study ofReligion (2007).


An Important Note to the Instructor xi

A Comment on the Cover Image and the Paintings xv

List of Illustrations xvi

Acknowledgments xx

Part I Prehistory, Preparation, and Perspective 1

Introduction: Beginnings 3

1 Comparative Practices in Global History: If Horses Had Hands 9

The Comparative Practices of Polytheism 11

The Comparative Practices of Monotheism: Early Judaism 16

The Comparative Practices of Monotheism: Early Christianity 20

The Comparative Practices of Monotheism: Early Islam 27

The Comparative Practices of Asia: Hinduism 33

The Comparative Practices of Asia: Sikhism 36

The Comparative Practices of Asia: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism in China 38

The Tough Questions 39

2 Western Origins and History of the Modern Practice: From the Bible to Buddhism 43

Deep Upstream: Mystical Humanists, Protesters, Rationalists, and Romantics 44

Mid-Upstream: “Not as Moses Said,” or the Biblical Beginnings of Critical Theory 54

Just Upstream: Colonialism and the Modern Births of Spirituality and Fundamentalism 58

The Immediate Wake: Counterculture, Consciousness, Context, and Cosmopolitanism 67

The Tough Questions 73

3 The Skill of Reflexivity and Some Key Categories: The Terms of Our Time Travel 77

The History of Religions 79

Patterns of Initiation 82

The Humanities: Consciousness Studying Consciousness 85

Cultural Anthropology and Initiation Rites 88

Working Definitions and Their Histories 89

The Uncertainty Principle: The Insider–Outsider Problem (and Promise) 103

Religious Questions as Ultimate Concerns 105

The Tough Questions 106

Part II Comparative Acts 109

4 The Creative Functions of Myth and Ritual: Performing the World 111

Myth: Telling the Story Telling Us 113

Ritual: Acting Out the Story Acting Us 116

Patterns in Myth 120

Patterns in Ritual 125

Comparative Practice: The Awakened One and the Great Hero in Ancient India 133

Beginning a Toolkit 138

The Tough Questions 139

5 Religion, Nature, and Science: The Super Natural 143

Religion and Contemporary Science 145

The Paradox of the Super Natural 146

Food and Purity Codes: “You Are What You Eat” 149

New Directions: Space Exploration, Dark Green Religion, and Popular Culture 154

Comparative Practice: The Human Plant 164

The Toolkit 172

The Tough Questions 173

6 Sex and the Bodies of Religion: Seed and Soil 177

In the Beginning … 178

The Social Body: Sexuality, Gender, and Sexual Orientation 181

Sex and Transgression 188

Super Sexualities 192

The Sexual Ignorance of the Religions 195

Comparative Practice: The Two Ann(e)s 198

The Toolkit 204

The Tough Questions 205

7 Charisma and the Social Dimensions of Religion: Transmitting the Power 209

Charisma and Community 211

The Institutionalization of Charisma: Passing on the Charge 215

Patterns of Special Institutions 221

The Miracle and the Saint: Signs of the (Im)possible 226

Comparative Practice: The Flying Saint and the Levitating Medium 229

The Toolkit 234

The Tough Questions 235

8 The Religious Imagination and Its Paranormal Powers: Angels, Aliens, and Anomalies 239

System and Anomaly: Paranthropology 241

The Sixth Super Sense 244

The Imaginal: Not Everything Imagined Is Imaginary 249

The Comparative Practices of Popular Culture 253

Miracles in the Making: The Fortean Lineage 258

Fact and Fraud: On the Trick of the Truth 259

Comparative Practice: Supernatural Assault Traditions 261

Adding to Our Toolkit 266

The Tough Questions 267

9 The Final Questions of Soul, Salvation, and the End of All Things: The Human as Two 271

Two Scenes 272

The Nature of Embodied Consciousness 275

Patterns of the Soul and Salvation in the History of Religions 276

Soul Practices 280

Traumatic Technologies of the Soul 284

Comparative Eschatologies 286

Comparative Practice: Re-Death, Near-Death, and After-Death Experiences 288

The Toolkit 294

The Tough Questions 296

Part III Putting It All Together Again 299

10 Faithful Re-readings: Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism, and Justice 303

The Task of Theology: Relating Reason and Revelation 306

Excluding the Other Religious Worldview from One’s Own 313

Including the Other Religious Worldview within One’s Own 315

Encountering the Sacred within and beyond All Religious Worldviews 318

Comparison Is Justice: Liberation, Black, Feminist, and Queer Theologies 321

Nuances: Faith and Scholarship 331

The Tough Questions 331

11 Rational Re-readings: Masters of Suspicion, Classical and Contemporary 335

When Religion Doesn’t Work 336

On the Heart of Reductionism: “There Is No Gap” 337

Sigmund Freud: Religion Is a Childish Illusion 340

Émile Durkheim: Religion Is Society Worshipping Itself 344

Postcolonial Theory: The Gaze of Empire 348

On Spirit and Spandrels: Cognitive Science, Evolutionary Psychology, and Cultural Evolution 350

The Study of Religion and Violence before and after 9/11 357

The Tough Questions 361

12 Reflexive Re-readings: Looking at the Looker 365

The School of the More 366

Four Exemplars of Reflexive Re-reading 368

The Phenomenology of Religion: What Is versus What Appears 371

Reflexively Re-reading Miracle: The Man in the Door 372

The Filter Thesis: The Door in the Man 379

Neuroscientists at the Cusp 383

Concluding Thoughts: Culture, Cognition, and Consciousness 389

The Tough Questions 392

… and Cosmos: Epilogue from Houston 397

Glossary 401

Index 413


“This volume is highly recommended for undergraduates, and even graduate students and general readers.”  (Religious Studies Review, 1 September 2014)

“This book offers the most original and provocative recasting of the comparative study of religion in decades, and it’s aimed just where we need this rethinking the most: the classroom. Other textbooks tend to work with a checklist of subjects as they summon the major religions serially to the stage. Kripal starts instead with the mystery of the comparative act itself, allowing that to determine what he brings forward for our attention. So it’s charisma, sex, the paranormal, and ‘soul practices’ more than it’s Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. Kripal recognizes the comparativist in each of us and urges us to take it seriously. The result is deep and wide, and excitingly open-minded.”
John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College, Columbia University

“Armed with an extensive array of case studies and a richly diverse portfolio of illustrations, Kripal not only provides a lucid survey of the ‘facts’ of the world’s religions, but inspires us to embrace the fundamentally transcendent nature of the religious experience in all of its manifestations, both ordinary and uncanny, and to confront the inherent challenges of studying religion in a responsibly comparative manner. Comparing Religions is a masterly example of how a book intended for the classroom can be an invigorating stimulus toward new ways of thinking about a phenomenon that pervades every aspect of our world.”
Sarah Iles Johnston, The Ohio State University

“Kripal is at his very best in this exceptional introduction to the study of religion. After a self-reflexive journey through the religious realms of myth, ritual, nature, science, sex, charisma, soul, salvation, and the imagination and its paranormal powers, we are guided to put it all back together with an eye to religious tolerance, freedom, and pluralism. This book is the red pill. Ingest it and you will be enlightened.”
April D. DeConick, Rice University

“Comparing Religions is a lucid, entertaining, and even fun introduction to the comparative study of religion. It will be effective with its target audience, young people and the undergraduate classroom, because, while they must wrestle with the way scholars deconstruct and reduce to social or evolutionary functions such phenomena, Kripal never loses sight of the experiences and meanings of those transformed by, engaged in, and mobilized through it. There is no better single volume to entice students into the fraught and fascinating study of religion.”
Bron Taylor, author of Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future and editor of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature

“Jeffrey Kripal provides a thoughtful and compelling discussion of key themes, ideas, and challenges that ground the study of religion across traditions and geographies. It is a layered and textured treatment that will capture the imagination and engage students from start to finish. This important and timely text is not to be missed.”
Anthony B. Pinn, author of Introducing African American Religion