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Holy People of the World: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia (3 Volume Set) edited by Phyllis Jestice (ABC-CLIO) How does a person become holy? In nearly every religion and culture throughout history; women and men have been recognized for their unusual connection to the divine or for their exceptional service to faith and humanity. Spainning all major religions of the world, Holy People of the World: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia is the first reference to provide a cross-cultural perspective on the subject, presenting the most significant holy individuals in history and examining their impact across religions, cultures, regions, and time periods.

Some highlights from the coverage:

  • Illuminates ideas of holiness and sanctity through nearly 1,100 biographies and 64 comparative articles

  • Investigates religions and cultures through the phenomenon of personal holiness, a subject often understudied or neglected in religious studies

  • Explores cultures by examining what they deem holy

  • Includes illustrations, end-of-entry: suggestions for-further reading, and a thorough subject index

  • Offers detailed insight into the main issues and trends regarding holy people and their roles in world religions

Featuring contributions by more than 200 international religious studies experts and historians, this three-volume encyclopedia offers nearly 1,100 biographical sketches of venerated men and women. Sketches provide detailed information about each individual's life and legacy and center on the basic question of how this person came to be regarded as holy. In addition, the work presents a wide range of authoritative articles about views of holy people and aspects of holiness and veneration across cultures.

Holy People of the World: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia fo­cuses on the relationship between humans and the divine in the world religious traditions. Its particular theme is that most effective intermediary between heaven and earth: the holy human being who has a foot in both realms. It is in-tended as a contribution to the study of comparative reli­gion, seeking to understand both diversity and similarities in world religions through this aspect of popular religion. The encyclopedia is largely biographical in format and com­prises 1,183 entries; more than 1,000 of these are biogra­phies of holy people from around the world—well known and obscure, representatives of many religions, and from all periods from which traditions of holy people survive. A con­cise selection of articles treats specific types of holy people (for example, Bhakti saints and Imams). In addition, there are major articles on attitudes toward holy people in many religions, ranging from the cult of saints in Christianity to the less familiar role of holy people in African and Amerindian traditions. In an effort to consider some of the common themes of holy people around the world, there are also 64 comparative articles on such issues as miracles, pu­rity and pollution, and sexuality and holy people.

But what is a "holy person"? This encyclopedia has em­ployed a broad definition, seeking to explore the variety of religious experience without privileging the Roman Catholic traditional definition of a "saint." Even the term "saint" has been avoided except in the case of Christianity, lest the reader be drawn into preconceptions that do not necessarily fit other religious traditions. Instead the encyclopedia exam­ines "holy people"—human beings who have been regarded as efficacious contacts to the holy, who because of a special sense of "otherness" have been held up as objects of veneration as well as paradigms for human behavior. The role of the holy person depends on personal charisma, rather than ec­clesiastical office, and exists either in the mainstream or on the margin of most world religions.

What this encyclopedia offers is very much a sampler pack of holy folk from around the world. Adequate biogra­phies of Muslim holy people alone could easily fill many vol­umes; a compilation of all significant holy people of the world would fill a library rather than a three-volume ency­clopedia. Therefore we have attempted to be representative rather than comprehensive. The holy people chosen for in­clusion are intended to show major trends in attitudes about the human being as a bridge to God, the gods, the forces of heaven—however the divine or supra-human is defined in a given religion. The advisory board members, experts in the various religious traditions, were asked to suggest a variety of holy people over a wide range of time, in the hope that various "fashions" in holiness would emerge by looking at a broad chronological sweep. We also did our best to allow for the large regional variations of any religion that has moved into a variety of cultural contexts, for example including Muslim holy people not just from the traditional Islamic lands but from India, Africa, and America. The women and men included in this encyclopedia are founders of religions, mystics, healers, sages, reformers, and teachers.

Coverage is uneven, because in the final analysis this project is only a single step in scholarly understanding of the phenomenon of holy people especially as an expression of popular religious belief and practice. In some religious tra­ditions, holy people have been studied for generations and play a central role—in traditional European Christianity, for example, scholarly studies of saints began in the seventeenth century, and the official hierarchy of the church fully em-braced the idea of a "communion of saints" as a valued element of religiosity by the second century C.E. It is only much more recently, though, that Protestant Christians have begun to escape the Reformation polemical line that insists that there are no special mediators between God and humans ex­cept Jesus and to acknowledge the charismatic role of great churchmen and -women as spiritual guides, even if they are not intercessors in a conventional Roman Catholic sense. Similarly, Judaism has tended to downplay the role of the in­dividual charismatic holy person, some scholars of Judaism even arguing that there are no holy people in the religion.

In other religions, the issue of the holy person has as yet won little study. Sunni Islam has tended to be suspicious of a privileged role of holy people, as a result of which there have been many fewer studies than of a comparable phenomenon in Christianity. The study of popular Buddhism can fairly be said to be in its infancy, again creating what is probably a skewed picture of Buddhist holy people. Buddhist scholars are better covered in this work than more popular sorts of holy people, not necessarily because the latter were rare but because a body of specialized studies has not yet been pro­duced that could underpin their appearance in a reference work. Recent studies of African holy people show enormous promise of providing a wider definition of the holy person, both in the universal religions of Islam and Christianity and in the indigenous religions, whose details are only beginning to come into focus. A project like the present one, under-taken in the year 2020, would probably be very different be-cause of advances in scholarship in many traditionally understudied fields.

In part, this encyclopedia's contents were also determined by the current composition of religion and history depart­ments at universities around the world. There are many peo­ple ready and willing to write about fifteenth-century Christian female mystics—many fewer have studied indigenous African religions, or have been willing to explore the issue of holy people in Judaism. Similarly, the editor had twenty-one offers from scholars of ancient philosophy who all wanted to write the article on Plotinus, but finding anyone to write ar­ticles on ancient Mediterranean hero cults was much more complicated and at times impossible. A particular challenge was finding Islamic scholars able to commit the time to pro­viding articles because of the disruption to many of their lives and many new calls on their time in the wake of the World Trade Center attack.

This encyclopedia was the product of many hands and minds. First thanks are of course due to the busy scholars who nevertheless agreed to serve as members of the advi­sory board, providing lists of holy people to be included, coming up with lists of possible authors, and acting as a re-source in everything from how to alphabetize Islamic en-tries to obscure questions of Aztec god-kings. Two hundred and sixty-nine people from over twenty countries wrote ar­ticles, some of them providing whole collections of beauti­fully crafted articles on holy people in their field of expert­ise. The recruiting process was long and difficult, and would have been impossible had it not been for so many scholars who were generous in opening their own professional contacts to my importunities, whether the referrals were to friends and students or to whole internet discussion lists on religious topics

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