“An attractive, sensitively written book that can help young people better understand their playmates and neighbors who may be of different faiths. Such an approach today helps ensure peace and cooperation tomorrow in our ever more diverse society.”
Joan Brown Campbell
“The concise, descriptive text and beautiful illustrations provide an informative and entertaining resource to help children—and adults—understand the diversity as well as the similarity of the world’s religions.”
It’s a inspiring, eye-opening ‘family gift’ for the holidays!
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
Have you already started your holiday shopping this year? A World of Faith is the perfect gift for individuals young and old—especially for families who welcome learning more about the inspiring, colorful diversity of our world’s many faith traditions. The moment I opened my copy of this gorgeous hardcover book, I was in awe of Kathleen Peterson’s full-page interpretations of the religious communities I have covered as a journalist all my life.
I should not have been surprised by the high quality of this book, because it was written and developed by Pulitzer-prize-winning religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack, who also currently is the Executive Director of the International Association of Religion Journalists. I’m honored to call her a friend and to work closely with her on the IARJ’s efforts to increase awareness of religious diversity around the world.
So, our interview about her book started on what might seem to be an odd note: the illustrations.
“What I fell in love with right away were the illustrations,” I told Peggy. “Your accompanying text about each religious group is masterful, but what makes this book so fascinating—so compelling that you just have to sit down and explore each page—are those illustrations.”
“I’m glad you’re going to emphasize the wonderful illustrations,” Peggy said. “This idea for this book began with a suggestion by a friend at The Salt Lake Tribune, cartoonist Pat Bagley, who suggested that I work on a children’s book about world religions with each page opening to show an illustration and some text going from A to Z as readers turned the pages. At the time he made this suggestion, Kathleen Peterson was looking for a project. This all came together in A World of Faith.”
“How should we describe Kathleen’s illustrations in words?” I asked Peggy. “I’m going to include the book’s cover with this column, so they can see one illustration—but, how do you describe the style that readers will find throughout the book?”
“First, they are paintings,” she said. “They look like batiks. In the center of each illustration are some people doing something that’s a part of that particular faith—maybe they’re getting married or we see the Eucharist or something else is going on in their faith community. In the background of each illustration is some kind of structure—like a church, a synagogue or a tent—and around the border are symbols of that faith. Kathleen spent as much time researching the illustrations as I did working on the text for each page.”
Make Sure You’re Ordering the Second Edition
The link with this column (above) will take you to the Amazon page for the expanded “Second Edition,” which was released in the final days of 2022, so it still is relatively new book as we near the 2023 year-end holidays.
Copies of the original, shorter version of this book, first published in the late 1990s, still are floating around the world, including on Amazon where some resellers are offering used copies of that first edition. Instead, we’re urging readers to get the new Second Edition.
“The first edition was more focused on Christianity,” Peggy explained.
That’s because the idea was shaped by a question from Peggy’s young son. As a family, they had just attended a colorful, annual Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartan service in Salt Lake City. “And, my son asked me about the differences between the different Christian denominations. He wanted to know: What makes Baptists and Catholics and Presbyterians—and all the other denominations—different from each other?”
So, that first edition was partly an answer to her son’s question.
“But then I became very involved with the International Association of Religion Journalists and I realized that I needed to expand the faith traditions in a Second Edition,” Peggy explained. “Because the IARJ has members—journalists who cover religion all around the world—I was able to ask our colleagues to help check the summaries I was writing to go along with Kathleen’s illustrations.”
What’s in the book?
In addition to Kathleen’s illustrations, you will find two paragraphs on each facing page, researched and written by Peggy, then vetted for accuracy by a wide array of scholars and journalists who are knowledgeable about these faiths.
I asked Peggy to describe the style of these texts.
“The opening paragraph is about the origins and founding of that faith group and the second paragraph is about common practices: baptism, bar mitzvah, wedding practices, anything that would make that faith seem more common to readers and also more distinct,” Peggy said.
“And the reading level?”
“We estimate the text is about 5th or 6th grade, but here’s the irony: I’ve heard from a lot of adults who love this book. A lot of people want to know just this much about religion—an illustration and a couple of paragraphs. There are hundreds of big books that go into great depth about religion available on Amazon. But, if you are interested more in a taste of the diversity of world religions, then this book is what you want.”
I agree entirely. The book covers a huge array of religious groups, including: Anglican, Baha’i, Catholic, Daoist, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon—and all the way through to Zoroastrian. This won’t make you an expert on world religions, but it will orient you to the many branches of faith that are a living part of our global culture today.
A Universal Call to Compassion
As a life-long professional journalist, like Peggy, I have specialized in covering religious and cultural diversity—so I was not surprised by the array of sacred practices and spiritual wisdom I found in these pages. I was impressed that she has included African and Native American traditions. I also can confirm that Peggy’s and Kathleen’s work is accurate in distilling the information down into an astonishingly small space.
One of the truths most readers will discover in these pages is that not all faith traditions identify what Americans think of as “God”—the Abrahamic idea of a single God—as the core of their beliefs. All of these traditions do, indeed, believe that there is a powerful spiritual realm in life—a transcendent core to our experience in the cosmos or, we might say, a universal calling to respect each other as human beings.
But that’s my way of summarizing the book’s central themes—so I asked Peggy for her summary, as well.
Peggy said, “I can tell you that writing this book was deeply inspiring to me. As I worked on it, and now that it’s out in the world, people always ask me: ‘What do they all have in common?’ And that’s not easy to answer because these faiths are not all monotheistic. Some traditions have multiple gods; some traditions do not even say there is a ‘God’ or that there are ‘gods.’
“What they do share is a belief in something outside of human existence. We might agree to use the word ‘divine’ to describe that ‘something outside of us.’ These traditions all have rituals and practices that they believe can somehow connect the human and the divine. And, when we do connect, what does this divine want of us? These traditions share a belief that this other sphere of existence, what we might call the divine, wants humanity to embody compassion and to follow ethical behavior toward each other on our planet.
“I found myself very moved by all the different faiths and the different ways that what many of us call God is expressed in our world. This book gives me hope—and my hope now is that children and parents and grandparents and teachers will be moved toward hope as they explore these pages.”