With titles like "Spirituality For Dummies" and "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jesus", user-friendly books on sacred texts, major religions, meditation, and figures such as Jesus, the Buddha and Pope John Paul II are proving popular in the United States.
"Many people in the United States today see spirituality as a tool to be understood and used in life," said Mary Kupiec Cayton, professor of history and American studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. "These guides can help bring people up to speed on subjects where they have little prior knowledge. They also suggest that there is a market for accessible information dealing with religion and spirituality."
The books are known for their colourful designs – the "Dummies" series is in yellow and black, and the "Idiot’s guides" are in bright orange and white – and for their straightforward explanation of subjects ranging from car repair and home design to computer programmes and history.
More than 450 "Idiot’s" titles are in print, and the "Dummies" range has more than twice as many. Nearly 50 religion-related titles exist; subjects range from witchcraft and divining spirits to Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. Authors include clergy, journalists and professors of religion.
Such series are successful because people are inundated with information, and the books provide a way to make sense of a subject quickly, Cayton noted.
Still, some readers are reported to have been offended by the books.
"These guides are often written in a light-hearted way that might make some think that sacred topics weren’t being taken seriously or were being handled superficially by the authors," noted Cayton.
"For liberals, the guides might seem to indicate that there is one appropriate way of understanding complex topics, when in fact the ‘one appropriate way’ conveyed by the author might be only one perspective on the topic of many," she said. "Alternatively, for more conservative believers, topics might be presented as matters of opinion when they ought to be seen as matters of faith."
Current subjects include C. S. Lewis, the author of "The Chronicles of Narnia", which has recently been released as a film, and a book on Pope John Paul II to mark the first anniversary of his death in April.
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You can download and read the first Chapter of Spirituality For Dummies at http://members.aol.com/kumuda/chapter1.html.
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