- The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions Edited by Patrick Taylor and Frederick I. Case
This is easily the most comprehensive and impressive encyclopedic work on religions in the Caribbean (and probably on any other subject in Caribbean studies) that I have encountered. The impressiveness of the work derives from its bringing together the expertise of a host of scholars working on a broad spectrum of religious traditions, topics, and issues. These include scholars in religious studies, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, ethnomusicology, art history, and language and literature.
As would be expected, the major Christian and Judaic traditions transplanted to the Caribbean from Europe and the United States are appropriately represented among the entries. African-derived traditions such as Vodou, Santería, Orisha, Abakuá, Palo Monte, and Kumina that have adopted themselves to the Caribbean milieu are ably treated. Revivalism, Spiritual Baptist Faith, Rastafari, Mita Congregation, and other traditions that have emerged out of the interplay of religious influences in the Caribbean are duly represented. Islam, Hinduism, Chinese religions, and Japanese religions, and other topics related to these traditions, receive appropriate treatment. I was pleasantly surprised to find separate entries on Mahakari, mandirs and masjids, Shakti Puja in Trinidad, Arya Semaj, Hosay, and Sunni Islam. The manner of treating the various [End Page 377] traditions and related topics recognizes the Caribbean as a dynamic environment in which various traditions interact with and influence one another, in the process transforming themselves and often giving rise to new iterations.
Another salient aspect of this work is its level of detail across the broad range of entries. Unlike the sometimes cursory treatment one often finds in encyclopedias, many topics receive coverage of 20 or more double-column pages. The treatment of Islam occupies almost 40 pages; several writers contribute 48 pages on Rastafari; Vodou extends across 50 pages, Santería 23, and Hinduism 50 pages, plus additional entries for various related topics. The Roman Catholic Church fills nearly 70 pages, with additional shorter treatments offered under the profiles of various countries; the discussion of religion in literature runs for over 40 pages. Of course, not all topics receive equally comprehensive treatment, and the logic by which some topics are granted more extensive treatment is not clear. For example, Pentecostalism is probably the most popular and vibrant religious tradition in the Caribbean today with a large following (it has more adherents than any other single practice in Jamaica, for example), and yet it is dispatched in a mere 12 pages.
This leads me to some issues I find with this encyclopedia. First, I am not sure what the logic is for including entries, which are a seemingly curious mix of traditions or groups, countries, themes, issues, and topics. This approach results in substantial repetition. For example, while Hinduism has its own entry, it is also discussed under entries for Trinidad and Suriname, and several topics related to Hinduism received independent entries. The same occurs with regard to Vodou, which receives attention in the profile of Haiti in addition to having its own entry. Of course, in such an extensive work some repetition should be expected and may even be the best way to cater to the various interests that readers bring to it.
A second issue with the work is the unbalanced nature of the entries in which it profiles the various countries. At one end of the spectrum, Cuba receives a treatment of more than 20 pages, but a number of countries receive roughly three pages. The rest of the countries fall somewhere in between, with no other country having more than 10 pages of coverage. A third issue is the omission of independent entries for some Christian traditions. The Dutch Reformed Church receives brief and wholly inadequate mention in the profile of the Netherland Antilles. The Holiness movement, while treated briefly under some country profiles, commands no independent entry, and such Holiness denominations as the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan [Holiness] Church with a following in countries across the Caribbean seem...