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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: January 2010

4 - The Religions of the Book, Meditative Experience, and Public Life


Students of religion and politics must know their history. Much of the religious influence on politics takes place over long time periods. People do not change their basic identities in a split second. Even when they think they do, the resulting identity is formed in reference to the former one. This chapter briefly presents the relevant histories of the seven world religions treated in this book. This historical knowledge will be crucial to understanding contemporary politics in Chapters 5-10. The religions of the book receive more coverage for two reasons: history makes a bigger difference to these religions; and the majority of humanity belongs to them.


Shortly after the beginning of the second millennium b.c.e., God called a rich Semitic trader to leave his culturally advanced city on the fertile crescent and to take his family and his belongings to the less developed hinterland. And Abram, later Abraham, went. Roughly six hundred years later the same Yahweh, who then tells the Israelites his name, commanded Moses to lead the descendants of Abraham out of Egypt, where they had fled to escape famine during the time of the patriarch Joseph. Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea and into forty years of wandering in the desert. Moses's successor, Joshua, led the people into Canaan, the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. The Jews had become a people defined by their covenant with Yahweh.