Sacred Texts Interpreted
Religious Documents Explained
by Carl Olson
October 2017, 663pp, 7x10
2 volumes, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4187-3
$218, £162, 188€, A295
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4188-0
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Religious texts serve as written records of faiths that capture spiritual beliefs and transmit traditions and practices from generation to generation, providing cultural continuity and community.

Covering the major monotheistic religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—as well as selected Eastern religions and Bahá'í, Zoroastrianism, and Mormonism, this cross-cultural book offers excerpts of sacred texts and interprets passages to enable a deeper understanding of these religious writings.

Sacred Texts Interpreted: Religious Documents Explained gives readers the opportunity to examine—directly—the primary sources of different religions and to better understand these texts through expert commentary on selected passages. The interpretative material investigates the nature of sacred texts along with the relationship between sacred scripture and canon, and it explains why these sacred texts have enduring significance and influence. The author provides suggestions on how to read a sacred text before turning to the textual selections from 13 religious traditions arranged alphabetically, beginning with the Bahá’í religion and ending with Zoroastrianism.

Each chapter is devoted to the primary textual sources of a particular religious tradition and is prefaced by an introduction to the literature that places it within its historical and cultural heritage. The emphasis for each religion is on its foundational scriptures that are often considered sacred by its adherents. Readers will gain a much greater appreciation of how powerful religious texts have always been across human culture and throughout millennia—and of how religious thought and ideology have shaped daily life, built civilizations, inspired art and literature, and incited wars and violence.


  • Guides readers through some of the most important religious texts in world history, providing significant interpretative material to help students understand the history and ideas within these writings
  • Discusses the nature of a sacred text and suggests ways of reading a sacred text to more fully appreciate its significance
  • Provides insightful comments from the editor that accompany the selected texts, explaining the context of passages to enhance readers' comprehension
Carl Olson is professor of religious studies at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. Besides numerous essays in journals, books, and encyclopedias, his 18 published books include The Different Paths of Buddhism: A Narrative-Historical Introduction; The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-Historical Introduction; Celibacy and Religious Traditions; Religious Studies: The Key Concepts; The Allure of Decadent Thinking: Religious Studies and the Challenge of Postmodernism; Indian Asceticism, Power, Violence, and Play; and Religious Ways of Experiencing Life: A Global and Narrative Approach. While at Allegheny College, Olson has been appointed to the following positions: Holder of the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair, 1991–1994; Holder of the Teacher-Scholar Chair in the Humanities, 2000–2003; and Visiting Fellowship at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge 2001–2002.


"Overview essays, 'Introduction to Sacred Texts' and 'The Art of Reading Sacred Texts,' as well as remarks on the writings themselves, serve as both a starting point for readers learning about different religious traditions and a model for how to interpret intelligently other passages. VERDICT Many readers will value this unique resource, including undergraduate students of comparative religion and general readers interested in the topic."—Library Journal, February 15, 2018

"[T]he set can function as an introduction to prominent religious traditions and their corresponding texts, and offers a basic understanding of sacred text development and interpretation. Summing Up: Recommended."—Choice, May 1, 2018
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