SHINTO: Origins, Rituals, Festivals, Spirits, Sacred Places
C. Scott Littleton. Oxford, $17.95 (112p) ISBN 0-19-521886-8
This is an outstanding introduction to the Japanese religion Shinto ("spirit way"), exploring its syncretistic affinities with Buddhism, its modern status as the state religion and its emphasis on harmony with nature. Littleton first offers a quick but comprehensive history of Shinto over the past 2,000 years, stressing its evolution into an imperial cult in the late 19th century. Short chapters follow on kami (deities), sacred texts and persons, ethical principles, concepts of the afterlife and other topics. Throughout, full-color photographs of shrines, rituals, talismans and artwork complement the text, which is replete with interesting facts (e.g., that sumo wrestling derives from an ancient Shinto ritual). Readers will come away with a deeper appreciation of both Shinto and of Japanese culture. (May)

CHAIRMAN MAO MEETS THE APOSTLE PAUL: Christianity, Communism, and the Hope of China
K.K. Yeo.
Brazos, $29.99 paper (304p) ISBN 1-58743-034-7
This book explores the impact of Marxist politics and culture on China's traditions, particularly its theological worldview. It is equal parts Christian apologetic (with Yeo using the ideas of the Apostle Paul to challenge Mao's theories of society and utopianism) and academic text. Yeo, a Chinese biblical scholar, writes well, but the book is too specialized for the general reader. ("Sinification," "tropological" and "a-utopian" are not words that trip lightly off the tongue.) However, scholars will value his thorough approach, skill at comparative thinking, clear distinction between Marxism and Maoism (two ideologies that are often conflated) and deep knowledge of Christian theology. (May)

Margaret McGee.
Innisfree, $15.95 paper (160p) ISBN 1-880913-55-0
McGee presents an offbeat, engagingly written, appealingly uncertain spiritual memoir. Although she was raised a Protestant, she left the faith during her freshman year of college and considered herself an atheist. But in midlife she became "an atheist who prays"--one who struggled with spiritual questions and wanted to know more about the God she couldn't quite believe in. She started church-shopping, a mostly awful experience she likens to "dating after a bad divorce... they were all jerks out there." After a time, however, she found not one but two churches, the Episcopal and the Unitarian, and joined both. She eventually decided to strengthen her commitment to just one congregation. But, as she notes in the epilogue, that choice "doesn't feel final." Stay tuned. (May)

Jan G. Linn.
Chalice, $16.99 paper (136p) ISBN 0-8272-1443-X
This perceptive book is geared for an audience of "Christian seekers who want to know what they can believe without coming across as either condemning of non-Christians or wishy-washy about their own faith." Linn attempts to navigate a via media through issues such as biblical interpretation, the role and activity of the Holy Spirit, and dealing with religious pluralism. In one chapter, he offers the elusive Holy Grail of Christian writing: discussions of homosexuality and abortion that are biblically informed, culturally critical and theologically compassionate. Linn raises many questions and provides fewer answers, which should provoke readers to think matters through for themselves. Those Christians who desire "a mature faith that is both biblical and flexible" will cherish this book. (Apr.)

Toni Packer.
Shambhala, $12.95 paper (144p) ISBN 1-57062-875-0
This refreshingly iconoclastic collection of dharma talks encourages readers to deemphasize issues such as posture, the "stages" of enlightenment or the proper meditation techniques in favor of "effortless being." Packer, founder of the Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry in western New York, draws on an eclectic assortment of thinkers, from traditional Zen masters to Krishnamurti. This anthology has some repetition of ideas, but in general, the various pieces adhere quite well. Packer's emphasis on awareness and "the wonder of presence"--combined with her rare ability to make abstract concepts seem simple, even obvious--makes this a welcome addition. (Apr.)

WISDOM FROM WORLD RELIGIONS: Pathways Toward Heaven on Earth
John Marks Templeton.
Templeton Foundation, $14.95 paper (400p) ISBN 1-890151-91-2
Templeton offers 200 spiritual "laws," nearly half of which are his own work, with the others coming from mostly Western sources (e.g., Benjamin Franklin, St. Gregory, Norman Vincent Peale) with a smattering of ideas from Hinduism and Buddhism. Templeton structures the motivational laws into weekday readings for 40 weeks, suggesting that the book be used as a school text during the academic year. Unfortunately, it is repetitive and too long by half (do we really need separate laws for "The tree is known by its fruits" and "You shall know them by their fruits"?). The attractive design, which surrounds each of Templeton's essays with additional quotations, cannot quite redeem this redundant digest of positive thinking. (Apr.)