Fr Pavel Stefanov, Shoumen University, Bulgaria

Handbook of Pentecostal Christianity
Edited by Adam Stewart
DeKalb, IL, Northern Illinois University Press, 2012, 240 pages
Price: Paper $22.95
ISBN: 9780875806723

Handbook of Pentecostal Christianity is an easy-to-read guide designed for those interested in learning about one of the fastest growing religious traditions in the world. Adam Stewart’s unique collection presents concise, yet comprehensive explanations of some of the most important terms and concepts needed to understand the origins and development, as well as the beliefs and practices, of Pentecostalism worldwide.

Twenty-four scholars from five continents provide entries, which are written from disciplinary perspectives as diverse as anthropology, biblical studies, black church studies, history, religious studies, sociology, and theology. The fifty entries shed light on such aspects as The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, exorcism, Godly Love, prophecy, snake handling, and the Word of Faith movement. Each entry also includes a brief list of references and suggestions for further reading.

These brief, engaging explanations on aspects of Pentecostalism can be read on their own, or alphabetically from start to finish. In its entirety, Stewart’s text provides the reader with an introduction to the history, theology, practices, and contemporary forms of Pentecostalism as it stands at the outset of the twenty-first century. Stewart’s handbook is an appealing introduction to Pentecostalism suitable for both students of religion and the curious general reader.

Benjamin Penny
The Religion of Falun Gong
Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2012, 272 pages
ISBN: 9780226655017
Price: Cloth $45.00


In July 1999, a mere seven years after the founding of the religious movement known as the Falun Gong, the Chinese government banned it. Falun Gong is still active in other countries, and its suppression has become a primary concern of human rights activists and is regularly discussed in dealings between the Chinese government and its Western counterparts. But while much has been written on Falun Gong’s relation to political issues, no one has analyzed in depth what its practitioners actually believe and do.

The Religion of Falun Gong remedies that omission, providing the first serious examination of Falun Gong teachings. Benjamin Penny argues that in order to understand Falun Gong, one must grasp the beliefs, practices, and texts of the movement and its founder, Li Hongzhi. Contextualizing Li’s ideas in terms of the centuries-long Chinese tradition of self-cultivation and the cultural world of 1980s and ’90s China—particularly the upwelling of biospiritual activity and the influx of translated works from the Western New Age movement—Penny shows how both have influenced Li’s writings and his broader view of the cosmos. An illuminating look at this controversial movement, The Religion of Falun Gong opens a revealing window into the nature and future of contemporary China.


T. H. Barrett, University of London

“This is a very lucid and readable work of mature scholarship that brings our understanding of Falun Gong to a completely new level. While Benjamin Penny does not downplay the movement’s political significance, he describes for the first time the religious coherence provided by its reliance on textual materials, including internet materials, and carefully explicating the meanings of those texts by reference to both the Chinese tradition and contemporary global culture. Penny thereby makes clear the distinctiveness of Falun Gong as never before, equipping the reader to follow its future history with a far greater appreciation of how it has evolved in the past. However that history unfolds, anyone interested in China or in religion today should read this book.”

David Palmer, coauthor of The Religious Question in Modern China

“The Religion of Falun Gong is a rare book—it is about a new religious movement, but written with the erudition of a specialist in China’s classical language and religious history. It is also attuned to contemporary Chinese realities and draws on Penny’s own experience in China and with Falun Gong practitioners. Polished and accessible, this enjoyable read is one of the best books available on Falun Gong.”

Anthony C. Yu, University of Chicago

“Benjamin Penny’s new study presents a highly persuasive case for considering Falun Gong as a religion by examining all its defining features represented in both traditional and contemporary media: history; charismatic personality; doctrinal and informational texts (disseminated in print and electronic format); foundational teachings and continual development; individual and group cultivation; and evolving organizational structures. The systematic treatment, seasoned with judicious comparison with other religions, makes clear the movement’s grounding in certain diction and symbols of historical Buddho-Daoist traditions, selective conceptual idioms and techniques of pneumatic calisthenics (qigong), and the innovative rhetoric of its own. It is a timely and valuable contribution to help us understand China’s new and changing religious landscape.”

Table of contents:

A Note on References and Translations
1 What Is Falun Gong?
2 The History of Falun Gong, 1992–99
3 The Lives of Master Li
4 Spiritual Anatomy, Cosmos, and History
5 Cultivation
6 Steps to Consummation
Epilogue: Transformations
List of Chinese Names and Terms

The Romance of the Middle Ages
Eds. Nicholas Perkins and Alison Wiggins
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2012, 176 pages, 70 color plates
ISBN: 9781851242955
Price: Paper $35.00


From chivalrous knights to damsels in distress, fire-breathing dragons, and high-walled towers, the characteristics and expectations we ascribe to stories of love and romance have their origins in some of the most beautiful and intriguing books of the Middle Ages. Encompassing Arthurian legends, Alexander the Great’s global conquests, sudden reversals of fortune, revenge, or enchantment, images and tales of medieval romance still resonate today. This beautifully illustrated history of romance legends explores the conjunctions of chivalric violence, love, sex, and piety that marked these striking and resonant stories.

Through a discussion of surviving manuscripts, printed books, and visual art, The Romance of the Middle Ages examines the development of romance as a literary genre, its place in medieval culture, and the scribes and readers who copied, owned, and commented on romance books—from magnificent illuminated manuscripts to personal notebooks. It describes the dangerous pull of desire in works by Dante, Chaucer, Malory, and many others, and traces the influence of these stories through their rewriting in Shakespeare, Spenser, Walter Scott, and Mark Twain, along with the medievalist visions of Morris, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones. The Romance of the Middle Ages then brings the story up to date by showing how later writers and artists have responded to medieval romance, including Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and J. K. Rowling, and the very different knightly casts of Monty Python and Star Wars.

The Romance of the Middle Ages is an engaging analysis of stories that still have the power to capture our imaginations long after ‘happily ever after’.


Derek Pearsall, University of York

“An altogether delightful book. The authors have a gift for the telling detail, and for smuggling in the unexpected. It is hard to imagine a book that does its job, of introducing medieval romance and its afterlife to the general reader, more perfectly.”

James Simpson, Harvard University

"Evangelicals and literary critics have looked sternly askance at medieval romance for about six hundred years. Entirely undaunted, medieval romances pass insouciantly across borders of time, geography, social class, and gender with their passports of pleasure. Nicholas Perkins and Alison Wiggins here allow us to join those journeys of romance. Their lightly worn, precise scholarship takes us inside the books of these marvelous stories. This is a gorgeous, utterly delightful book."

Helen Cooper, Cambridge University

"This book is at once an informative and lively introduction to all aspects of romance—medieval and modern, its writers and readers, in manuscript and print—and a treasure trove of some of the Bodleian's visually most remarkable holdings."—Helen Cooper, Cambridge University

Table of contents:

Note on translations and glosses
1. Romance and the Medieval World
Nicholas Perkins
2. Empires of Romance
Nicholas Perkins
3. Scribes and Settings
Alison Wiggins
4. Dangerous Encounters
Nicholas Perkins
5. Romance in the Age of Print
Alison Wiggins
6. Romance in the Modern World
Alison Wiggins
Further Reading


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