Cover image for Historical dictionary of Taoism
Historical dictionary of Taoism
Pas, Julian F.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xliii, 414 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
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Format :


Call Number
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BL1923 .P37 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

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Taoism is often described as the smallest and least known of China's historical "Three Teachings," which also include Confucianism and Buddhism. This book provides a readable overview while simultaneously giving sufficient detail about the intricate and beautiful complexities of Taoism. A lengthy introduction deals with the historical development of Taoism, including its current situation within the world. It outlines the basic teachings, concepts, and writings, and also describes their historical significance. It also presents viewpoints on the crucial debate concerning whether Taoism is a religion, a philosophy or both. The dictionary section of the book presents the concepts, persons, rituals, beliefs, and historically significant events of Taoism in great detail. The entries move fluidly between current teachings in Taoism and their historical antecedents. Also included is a helpful chronology of Taoist history as well as notes on the romanization of Chinese. This book should not be overlooked by those who want a full study of this influential philosophical system.

Author Notes

Julian F. Pas was Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at University of Saskatchewan.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Over the past five years, Scarecrow Press has published nearly 20 titles in its Religions, Philosophies, and Movements series. Historical Dictionary of Taoism, like its predecessors in the series for Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Bahaism, is a welcome addition to the reference literature for Asian and other non-Judeo/Christian religions, given the paucity of English-language sources devoted exclusively to a particular tradition. The volume consists of nearly 275 alphabetically arranged entries covering persons, practices, and concepts, although structural flaws detract from its usefulness. First, this work needs an index. Writing for nonspecialists, Pas has "tried as much as possible to provide names and titles in English, rather than in Chinese." See references are provided from transliterated Chinese to English, but, in some cases, vice-versa. An index would have minimized the use of see references and allowed for the inclusion of variant forms of transliteration, names/terms included within an entry but for which no separate entry exists, and a grouping of related entries by subject. Second, entries occasionally give citations to supplemental works, but the references are abbreviated, forcing the user to turn to a bibliography at the end of the dictionary for the complete bibliographic citation. This is especially annoying when one finds that the bibliography is divided into subjects, with citations arranged alphabetically by author under each subject heading. Consequently, the user must search for a citation under every subject heading. Other features of this dictionary include a 20-page chronology, consisting of three columns which juxtapose Chinese dynasties, events in Taoist history, and events in Buddhism and other schools in China. This is followed by a 50-page introduction to Taoism. But the reader would do better by first consulting the entry for Tao (The Way) or by reading the last section of the introduction which addresses the nature of Taoism. Otherwise, the reader will end up with historical information about a concept that is never defined. Historical Dictionary of Taoism has advantages over the existing reference literature in English. The Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism (Shambhala, 1996) is shorter, contains fewer entries, and is less academic in tone and presentation than Pas' work. The Shambhala Guide to Taoism (Shambhala, 1997) provides some historical overview and much information on Taoist ritual practice. The overview articles on Taoism in Encyclopedia of Religion [RBB O 1 87] are excellent, but this source is perhaps not the best for a quick lookup of terms or individuals. Finally, Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy (Routledge, 1997) includes a chapter on Taoism in Chinese philosophy, though the concern of this work is philosophy and not religion. In his preface, Pas recognizes that his work is quite modest when compared to reference sources in Japanese and Chinese, and hopes that readers will forward suggestions to him for a future improved second edition. In addition to the aforementioned structural issues, expanded content will be necessary. For example, some regard Tsao-chun as an important deity in Taoism, but Pas' work has no separate entry for him, nor is he mentioned in the entry Gold Cinnabar Taoism. Libraries, however, needn't wait for that new and expanded edition but would do well to purchase the present volume, since it is the most comprehensive English-language guide to Taoism to date.

Choice Review

Of the three major indigenous philosophical-religious traditions (the others are Confucianism and Buddhism) that have shaped the Chinese lifestyle for more than two millennia, Taoism is least known in the West because of a critical lack of scholarly studies. This dictionary offers not only numerous entries for special terms but also a comprehensive introduction that discusses historical developments and current research. The chronology and bibliography are also very useful. The entries are arranged alphabetically by the traditional Wade-Giles romanization, followed immediately by the pinyin version (e.g., "Tao-te ching/Daodejing"). Although the entries are based chiefly on secondary sources, they are fairly adequate, accurate, and include notes and further readings. The editor (religious studies emeritus, Univ. of Saskatchewan), concerned that "an overdose of Chinese terminology would easily overwhelm a nonspecialist reader," uses English names and titles wherever possible. For the benefit of those who have some background in Chinese, a glossary containing the original characters would be desirable. The present work may not fill the scholarly niche completely, but it constitutes an excellent study guide and reference source. W. S. Wong; University of California, Irvine