Provocative Reflections
The Seduction of the Spirit, by Harvey Cox (Simon and Schuster, 1973, 350 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Lewis Rambo, graduate student, University of Chicago Divinity School, Chicago, Illinois.

The instability of the religious situation in the United States and Western Europe during the last decade is evident in the remarkable speed with which theological fashions and popular passions emerge and disappear. These trends, however ephemeral, are important indicators of the pervasiveness of man’s religious aspirations and the sterility of most of the available sources of spiritual nourishment.

A small group of theologians have maintained their popularity amid the flux of religious sensibilities. Whoever else is listed in such a group, one cannot omit Harvey Cox, widely known for The Secular City. Cox, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, is perhaps both the preeminent expression of and the molder of the varieties of contemporary religious movements.

His latest book is subtitled The Use and Abuse of People’s Religion. It is a chronicle of the recent years of theological ferment and Cox’s own attempt, through autobiography and theology, to create a religious orientation that fully reflects the diversity of man’s religious needs and is pertinent to contemporary society. The three central points of the book are the imperative urge for individual testimony, the vitality and importance of “people’s religion,” and the urgent need to create a theology of culture that will confront the destructive forces of modernity, especially the manipulative use of the mass media.

Cox writes that “all human beings have an innate need to tell and hear stories and to have a story to live by.” The individual’s testimony is a narrative account of personal experience that, though unique, contains themes that resonate at the deepest level with the experience of other humans. Cox’s own story began in Malvern, Pennsylvania—a small town that, he reports, “was a place the whole world had left behind.” Nevertheless, it was there that he “first learned about God.” Cox remembers the Baptist church with “a mixture of warmth, boredom, awe, guilt, and fascination.” He tells of his early desire to be a minister and of his doubts about some of the doctrines he heard from the ministers he wished to emulate. The experience of baptism by total immersion and early participation in congregational business shaped his views of the potency of symbolic behavior and the crucial role of “participatory democracy” in human affairs. With gratitude Cox writes this about Malvern:

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It molded impulses and instincts that still move me every day. It aroused obsessions that still haunt me. It kindled longings I will feel until I die. Malvern was the place where, as I might once have said, and can still say in another way, “Jesus came into my heart,” where the awful sense of the fathomless mystery and utter transiency of life first dawned on me, and where I discovered that in the midst of all that terror and nothingness I was loved. What more could anyone’s tribal village do for him?

Formal education expanded Cox’s horizons (he received the B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, the B.D. from Yale Divinity School, and the Ph.D. from Harvard). He was also influenced by the Marxist-Christian dialogue in Berlin, where he was an “ecumenical fraternal worker” with the World Council of Churches.

In Berlin, the challenge of forging a form of Christian life and thought adequate to the condition of Christians living under Communist rule in East Germany stimulated Cox’s interest in Bonhoeffer and “religionless Christianity.” Out of this struggle came The Secular City. The celebration of the secular and the disdain for the “religious” did not prevent Cox from further growth of his understanding of the positive role of rituals and symbols (see his book The Feast of Fools). Cox discovered that a Christianity devoted solely to social action lacked long-term depth and viability; indeed, Christianity must enrich and enliven the inner nature of man (Cox calls it “interiority”), which is being eroded by modernity.

The most dynamic force combating the debasement of contemporary life is, according to Cox, “people’s religion,” which he describes as a form of “collective testimony” and a genuine expression of “collective interiority.” People’s religion is a plea for hope, survival, and dignity. Although Cox previously felt that the religion of the oppressed was, as Marx said, their opiate, he discovered through observation and participation that religion can be a revolutionary force, galvanizing the will and determination of a people. Cox recognizes that these forces can be twisted into “instruments of domination”—thus the “seduction of the spirit.”

Cox calls Christians to challenge the perversion of our religious needs. He feels that the mass media are the locus of an effort to sedate and seduce modern man to acquiesce to a vision of himself as a mere machine designed to consume and to master the environment. Television, radio, the films, and other media mold our perceptions and inform our desires with symbols and images that will ultimately imprison us and render us vulnerable to outside control. (It should be made clear that Cox is not against technology per se but its misuse.) The message of Christianity, however, is one of liberation and fulfillment—a view of life diametrically opposed to that of the contemporary mass media.

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The Seduction of the Spirit is rife with provocative ideas. Rarely will the reader find himself agreeing fully with Cox, but no one who reads the book with an open mind will fail to agree that Cox writes with zest and that the book reveals to us a man who is restlessly seeking the truth and has broad human empathy. Those who are theologically “conservative” will be uncomfortable with Cox’s eclecticism, and those who are “liberal” will probably be uneasy with his fascination with what might be considered atavistic (e.g., rituals, symbols, testimony, autobiography). Nevertheless, Cox’s experience of the modern world and his quest for a Christianity to sustain man in this time of perplexity should provoke interaction.

The Best Available

The Gospel of Matthew, by William Hendriksen (Baker, 1973, 1,015 pp., $14.95), is reviewed by Ronald Scharfe, assistant professor of Bible, Fort Wayne Bible College, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Of all the New Testament books, Matthew’s Gospel seems to have suffered more than the rest from a lack of solid evangelical commentaries. One can recall the commentaries by Plummer and by Broadus, which are still helpful though definitely dated, or Tasker’s commentary in the Tyndale series, which is fairly recent (1961) but unfortunately brief. There is no doubt in my mind that this new one by William Hendriksen is about the best available on Matthew from a conservative viewpoint.

It is clearly contemporary in its major emphasis, yet not divorced from the literature of the past, and it certainly is substantial—1,015 pages, making it the largest in Hendriksen’s projected series of commentaries on the New Testament, so far numbering eight.

An immediate benefit for the careful reader is the author’s long introduction to the Gospels in general, and to Matthew in particular. This section alone covers the first ninety-nine pages of the book. Of special value is Hendriksen’s lucid consideration of the Synoptic problem. At every point he shows an acute awareness of the history of the problem together with presently held positions. Hendriksen cogently argues for the priority of Mark, though with certain qualifications. He cautiously states that “none of the arguments advanced against Mark’s priority has succeeded in overthrowing the weight of evidence in its favor.” It is moreover refreshing to note Hendriksen’s emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the composition of the Gospels—a point currently overlooked by many in the heavy stress given to redaction criticism, which for the most part gives little or no attention to the divine origin of the Gospels. Nevertheless this emphasis of Hendriksen does not imply that he naïvely overlooks the historical and cultural context out of which the Gospels arose.

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Hendriksen’s introduction also offers a helpful discussion of the reliability of the Gospels. Attention is focused on Harnack’s liberalism, Wrede’s skepticism, Schweitzer’s pessimism, and Bultmann’s radicalism, all of which are found wanting, basically because they fail to provide satisfactory explanations regarding: (1) the testimony of eyewitnesses to the risen Lord, (2) the fact that this testimony is too early for folklore to have done its work, (3) the fact that none of these early witnesses expected Christ’s resurrection, and (4) the dramatic growth of the church.

Among other introductory matters of interest is the author’s view, contrary to popular opinion, that Christ in Matthew is seen not so much as king but as prophet, and his reasoned position that Matthew is not a translation of an earlier Aramaic text, though it does have a Hebraistic character.

The commentary itself is marked by thoroughness of exposition, clarity of thought, and an uncomplicated style that makes for easy reading. Hendriksen’s comments are well thought out, scholarly in nature, based on an exact exegesis of the text, and practical in scope. Scrutiny of the footnotes reveals that he is abreast of Dutch and German scholarship as well as recent research in the English world. The finer points of exegesis coupled with grammatical insights into the Greek text are for the most part reserved for the footnotes (of which there are many), and these serve to support many of the author’s convictions firmly but graciously expressed throughout the body of his work.

Hendriksen prefers to see in Matthew not five great discourses by Christ, as held by many interpreters, but rather six—i.e., chapter 23 (the seven woes) is isolated from chapters 24 and 25 (the last things). This may disturb some who see a parallel between the five books of Moses and the Matthean Gospel, but the author’s reasoning seems to indicate otherwise.

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Hendriksen is fond of using an acrostic method to convey biblical truth (examples are on pp. 79 ff., 694 f., 819, and 1,003). This device tends to give a somewhat artificial and forced character to an otherwise scholarly exposition, though it is not nearly as noticeable here as in his commentary on Ephesians.

The judicious comments, the plausible and clearly expressed positions, and the author’s well-known expertise make this commentary more than the product of an unreasoned traditionalism. I think it is sure to take its place as one of the finest conservative works on the Gospel of Matthew.

On Pornography

Pornography: The Sexual Mirage, by John W. Drakeford and Jack Hamm (Nelson, 189 pp., $6.95), Obscenity, Pornography, and Censorship, by Perry C. Cotham (Baker, 206 pp., $2.95 pb), and The Case Against Pornography, edited by David Holbrook (Open Court, 294 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Jack Welch, associate professor of English, West Virginia University, Morgantown.

Recently in our small mountain town, a store opened that featured pornographic books, pictures, and films. The newly elected prosecuting attorney felt compelled to arrest the owner and his clerk and to stop all X-rated films showing in town, but any part of the community that might have supported him was paralyzed by questions that seemed unanswerable: Was someone’s freedom being jeopardized? Does pornography cause crime? Is pornography only a natural extension of every man’s fantasies? Is censorship ever permissible? In time, a grand jury refused to indict the store owner and his clerk, and now our town, like almost every other town in America, has pornography again, and mainly as a result of inaction.

If the people of our town had taken the time to read the three books under consideration here, the outcome might have been different. The authors and editors of these books raise three very different voices against pornography. The first voice is that of Drakeford and Hamm in Pornography: A Sexual Mirage: they earnestly describe pornography as an unmitigated menace that will ultimately destroy the nation. Dramatic drawings by Hamm show the great shotgun of pornography pointed at the head of an unaware America, and Drakeford’s text is similarly urgent. Their book also provides generous samples of pornographic writing, included on the assumption, no doubt, that the reader of an anti-pornography book will not be aroused by the samples. The voice also provides a battle strategy: we should (1) form groups, (2) write letters of protest, (3) organize boycotts of stores selling pornography, and (4) once success is attained, keep a sharp eye out for pornography’s return.

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The Captain America Complex, by Robert Jewett (Westminster, 286 pp., $10). Critical examination of the belief that America is God’s chosen country. Exposes the dichotomy of nationalism and religious interpretations. Thought-provoking.

Art and the Bible, by Francis Schaeffer (InterVarsity, 63 pp., $.95 pb). Two excellent essays by the well-known apologist dealing with (1) the uses of art in the Bible, and (2) the Christian world view as revealed in and through the Christian’s artistry. For both artists and non-artists.

Hidden God, by Ladislaus Boros (Seabury, 126 pp., $5.95). Scholarly, thought-provoking reflections on the closeness of God to man and the quiet working of God in men’s lives.

Saint Francis: Nature Mystic, by Edward Armstrong (University of California, 275 pp., $12) and Repair My House, by Glen Williamson (Creation, 173 pp., $4.95). A British ornithologist critically examines the nature stories about the thirteenth-century mystic to distinguish biographical fact from fancy. Attempts an unbiased, well researched portrait. The second book is an easy-to-read, imaginative biography seeking to show Francis’s relevance to evangelicals.

Sex, Satan and Jesus, by Richard Hogue (Broadman, 160 pp., $2.95 pb). Directed to the young, in their language. Hogue reveals Satan’s power in the sexual freedom of today. He presents Jesus as the strength and reason to overcome. Biblically sound and arrestingly written.

Grace Confounding, by Amos Wilder (Fortress, 52 pp., $4.95). Fine religious poems by an emeritus professor at Harvard Divinity School (and brother of Thornton Wilder).

Arousing the Sleeping Giant, by Robert Hudnut (Harper & Row, 186 pp., $5.95). A plan for making the church “a vital part of society.” Views the Church as a social agency that needs to function more as a reformer and example of social conduct.

The Proclamation of the Gospel in a Pluralistic World, by George Forell (Fortress, 138 pp., $3.50 pb). Twelve thoughtful, readable essays on such subjects as “varieties of religious commitment,” “work and vocation,” and “law and gospel as a problem of politics.” Stresses work through, not outside, the existing churches.

G. K. Chesterton, by Dudley Barker (Stein and Day, 304 pp., $8.95). Chesterton is delightful not only for his eloquent defense of orthodox Christianity but also for what he says on any other subject he chose to write about. He deserves more attention than he gets. This new biography delineates the warm, witty exuberance of the man as well as the literary genius. Includes a bibliography of his writings.

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Statism in Plymouth Colony, by Harry Ward (Kennikat, 193 pp., $9.95). Careful examination of the establishment and evolution of government among the Pilgrims, presented in conjunction with their religious beliefs.

The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Volume I, by Emil Schürer, revised and edited by Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar (T. and T. Clark, 614 pp., £10). The scholarly world has long awaited the revision of this justly famous and indispensable—though now quite dated—work by the distinguished biblical scholar Emil Schürer (1844–1910). Despite its high price, this volume should be in every theological library.

Oriental Thought, by Yong Choon Kim (Thomas Books [301 E. Lawrence Ave., Springfield, Ill. 62717], 129 pp., $8.95, $5.95 pb). A useful introduction to and interaction with Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shinto.

When Can a Child Believe?, by Eugene Chamberlain (Broadman, 80 pp., n.p., pb). How to help younger children genuinely know Christ as Saviour. Poses practical questions for parents.

Calling Our Cities to Christ, by Roger S. Greenway (Presbyterian and Reformed, 129 pp., $1.95 pb). Call to evangelize the cities for Christ. Much more history than practical suggestion. Defines the problem well.

It’s Faster to Heaven in a 747, by William M. Sheraton (Sheed and Ward, 167 pp., $5.95). Story of an airline pilot’s subtle awareness of God and his call to the ministry. Quiet, novel-like story that holds one’s interest throughout.

In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, by John D. Crossan (Harper & Row, 141 pp., $5.95). Scholarly analysis of Jesus’ parables from a literary perspective. Strong use of secular poetry to interpret meanings.

The Children of Darkness: Some Heretical Reflections on the Kid Cult, by Richard S. Wheeler (Arlington, 189 pp., $7.95), and The Liberal Middle Class: Maker of Radicals, by Richard L. Cutler (Arlington, 255 pp., $8.95). Wheeler, a conservative Congregationalist journalist, and Cutler, a psychologist who does not reveal his religious commitment, look at the problem of youth rebellion against the outwardly successful affluent society. Wheeler sees the problem as basically spiritual, involving a rejection of Christianity and of the Bible’s civilizing mandate; Cutler views it more analytically, and uncovers many of its implicit—and usually invalid—presuppositions. Each book represents a contribution to our understanding of the problem, but neither comes through with a real answer.

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Multi-Media in the Church, by W. A. Engstrom (John Knox, 128 pp., $3.50 pb). Suggestions for using various visual and sound devices to bring the gospel message to worship. Very practical for beginners in this area.

The Debonnaire Disciple, by Dana Prom Smith (Fortress, 120 pp., $2.95 pb). The Christian doesn’t have to prove himself and therefore is free to be himself. Provides discussion on various ramifications of this idea, especially on the true meaning of meekness. Very thought-provoking book.

The Church of England, the Methodists and Society, 1700–1850, by Anthony Armstrong (Rowman and Littlefield, 224 pp., $3.50 pb). Close look at the Methodist revival and evangelical renewal, its causes and effects. For advanced students.

Church Worker’s Handbook, by Godfrey Robinson and Stephen Winward (Judson, 96 pp., $1.50 pb). A very practical, introductory guide to congregational leadership.

Ethics and the New Testament, by J. L. Houlden (Penguin, 133 pp., $2.10 pb). Denies any overall “New Testament view” of morality, and insists that each book should be taken independently as the work of a practical Christian thinker answering contemporary ethical questions. Illustrates the need for more evangelical treatments of this critical subject.

A Guide to Preaching, by R. E. O. White (Eerdmans, 244 pp., $3.95 pb). Intended for the layman and the ministerial student. Stressing aims and techniques.

A quieter and somewhat more moderate voice is that of Perry C. Cotham in Obscenity, Pornography, and Censorship, a book that is like a civilized debate. For example, Cotham presents rather cogent arguments against censorship, but he also states clearly his own position for the censoring of pornography. Another aspect of his book is a discussion of the role the Church should play: (1) patronize the arts, (2) not join in a united action against pornography, (3) step up its teaching program so that children understand the part sex plays in the integrated personality, and (4) hang its corporate head in shame for ever teaching that sex was dirty or (worse yet) for ignoring the sexual nature of human beings. In other words, Cotham’s voice is cautious (“overkill” is a term he uses and warns against often), and he is even modest enough to admit that pornography, the subject of his book, is not of overriding importance to America.

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Finally, the third voice is an analytical chorus assembled by David Holbrook in The Case Against Pornography, which describes, among other things, the social implications, the psychology, and even the rationale of the subject of love and its fragment, sexuality. Perhaps the central essay in this book is Viktor Frankl’s “The Meaning of Love,” which explains the psychology of love in its physical, psychic, and spiritual aspects. In the physical aspect, one person is first attracted to another by the way that person looks. Then “infatuation” sets in (Frankl’s term for “infatuation” is “eroticism”), and a person is compelled by his own emotions to understand the psychic qualities of the person he is infatuated with. Finally comes love, which Frankl describes as “living the experience of another person in all his uniqueness and singularity,” the last two nouns encompassing what Frankl calls the “spiritual.” Obviously pornography does not encompass the whole of a person but only that first physical element, and, furthermore, anyone believing that “love” is that mere first attraction is missing two-thirds of his humanity.

Similarly abstract but cogent arguments are offered concerning pornography’s deleterious effect on language (Ian Robinson’s “Pornography”) and about the specialties of pornography that appeal exclusively to persons with abnormal psychiatric patterns (Robert J. Stoller’s “Pornography and Perversion”). All in all, this volume is very likely to tell even well-informed readers some interesting new things about psychology, literature, and society that bear on pornography, and at least one writer quite sensibly reminds us that our individual complaints about offensive television programs, magazines, and advertisements will have the democratic, uncensorious effect of quashing pornography at least in the generally circulated media.

However, after reading these three books I still have a doubt about the various definitions. Cotham tends to put the subject in the mind of the beholder, while Drakeford and Hamm try to describe the varieties of pornography (“The Plot Sickens,” “Skin Flicks,” “Roughies,” “Kinkies,” and “Ghoulies”), and Case in at least one instance describes it as “an attitude of mind” (David Boadella’s “Pseudo-Sexuality and the Sexual Revolution”). From a literary point of view—and pornography is in fact a type of literature—pornography can easily be recognized as the presentation of some aspect of life (usually the sexual but also the violent and perhaps others as well) that has been taken out of the context of its usual. place in life and over-emphasized. Literature is not pornographic when it presents sexuality as most of us know it, with discretion and moderation and in the context of a whole life. It is pornographic when sexuality seems to be all of life.

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But pornography is an accomplished fact in Scandinavia and West Germany and is spreading rapidly in Britain and the United States—perhaps as a result of our luxurious and materialistic age or perhaps as a profound failure of Protestantism. David Holbrook insists that pornography is, in any case, a symptom of the failure “in our intellectual life,” and all three books either directly or indirectly indicate that an ideology must replace that which we now have in order to stop pornography.

For the Christian, the spectre of pornography is surely not a surprise. John has warned us of the hollowness of what Kenneth Clark calls the “heroic materialism” that is surely the functioning principle of our present civilization: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The Christian, then, who honors the “true,” the “honorable,” the “just,” the “pure,” and the “lovely” (Phil. 4:8) stands squarely opposed to pornography, and it remains only that every Christian writer, editor, minister, and teacher give no comfort to the pornographer and, more importantly, turn desperate persons to Christianity, where the only genuine peace may be found.

College Religion Boom

Religion For a New Generation, edited by Jacob Needleman, A. K. Bierman, and James A. Gould (Macmillan, 1973, 592 pp., $5.95), Ways of Being Religious: Readings For a New Approach to Religion, edited by Frederick J. Streng, Charles L. Lloyd, and Jay T. Allen (Prentice-Hall, 1973, 627 pp., $9.95), and Readings on the Sociology of Religion, edited by Thomas F. O’Dea and Janet K. O’Dea (Prentice-Hall, 1973, 244 pp., $5.95), are reviewed by Watson E. Mills, associate professor of philosophy and religion, Averett College, Danville, Virginia.

Here are three books from the flood of new material coming out of the religion boom in American higher education. The day when only pre-ministerial students elected to take religion courses is gone. Today the young are packing every seat for the religion courses that “speak to them.” And they are eager to examine mysticism, occultism, and Eastern religions, rather than to confine their studies to the traditional Western systems.

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Many church-related universities and colleges are abandoning the older seminary model for teaching religion in favor of a broader model that includes what traditionalists will regard as rather unorthodox dimensions of religious experience. The state universities are rapidly creating departments of religion, and these, too, have a non-traditionalist look.

This emerging approach to the study of religion emphasizes the diversity of experiences called “religious.” Many of the new textbooks, such as these three, consist of excerpts selected from widely divergent sources. Theoretically, the student is exposed to many views, often in conflict, and in the process sifts out what is meaningful for him.

Religion For a New Generation follows the Macmillan hit Philosophy For a New Generation, first published in 1970 and reprinted in that same year! But success for the latter does not necessarily spell success for the former, since Philosophy did not undertake to enlarge the scope of philosophical enquiry so much as merely to contemporize it by presenting readings on “The Hippie Revolt” and Eric Fromm’s love theory among others, many of which were taken from the classical writers. Religion, however, is offered, the editors tell us, because most existing textbooks limit the study of religion to “western religion.”

Like Streng, Lloyd, and Allen, who offer eight ways of being religious, so Needleman, Bierman, and Gould present eight chapters, each consisting of several readings. Among these chapters are: “The Religious Diagnosis of Man” (“The Delusion of Selfhood According to the Buddha”; “Spirit in Bondage”; “The Two Natures of Man”; “The Diagnosis of Religious Man”); “The Sacred Word” (“Moses Maimonides”; “Paul van Buren”; “Daniel Berrigan”; “Martin Lings”); “The Struggle With Death” (“Fyodor Dostoyevsky”; “Johannes von Saaz”; “Nikolai Berdyaev”; “Paul Tillich”). The authors explain:

It no longer seems courageous or even reasonable to affirm that modern man has grasped the essential scheme of reality. And as it is impossible to return to the narrow and often sentimental sense that we used to have of religion, there has arisen a hunger for a wider and deeper sense of the religious.

Perhaps an alternative response would be responsible college-level courses that take a historical-critical, no-nonsense approach to the study of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Chapter three will certainly shake some students because these readings deal with social action within the religious context—an area that greatly needs attention in American Protestantism. These pages may expose a student’s provinciality, but he will be the better for it.

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The O’Dea husband and wife team have collected readings in the sociology of religion—another course that is very popular on many campuses. Here, too, there are some rather pronounced “existential” notes as the authors explore the character of religion and its relation to man’s struggle for significant existence. This reader is a companion volume to Thomas O’Dea’s The Sociology of Religion (Prentice-Hall, 1966) and follows the general organization of that text. Some of the readings in this area that appear crucial are missing from the reader because they are condensed or paraphrased in the textbook. The reader deals primarily with Western religions, though several sections are devoted to Eastern thought.

These three volumes and the courses in which they will be used raise two basic questions: (1) Can a college student of average ability really choose, from the wealth of material flashed before his mind, those traditions worthy of further study? Is the relevance test anything more than the appeal to experience with a pragmatic twist? (2) The definition of religion is a question long debated by philosophers. Does expanding the range of entities included under that umbrella really begin to solve the intrinsic problem? In my own opinion, no. Neither does recasting the definition in strictly existentialist terms! At points the definition seems so broad that the term has little specific meaning left. I think we should examine the unfolding “religion boom” on the university level in light of these questions.

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