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A Million and One Gods: The Persistence of Polytheism

Reviewed by Anna Collar

Page duBois sets out not to defend polytheism, but to recognise the difficulty that modern scholarship has with discussing it in a sensible way, so biased is the field towards monotheism. The book rests on the premise, unstated in much Western scholarship on religion, as well as in monotheist religions and popular culture, that polytheism is somehow a primitive aspect of religious behaviour and belief, and that monotheism represents an ethically and philosophically superior development out of such primitive beginnings. DuBois introduces the book by exploring etymologies of the words used to describe religion – God, religion, deity – and highlights the legacy of monotheism in the English definitions, for example, the idea that worship involves love of the deity; in polytheist worship, reverence of a deity can be as inspired by respect or fear or other emotions, and does not require love. Her concern throughout the book is to bring out the roles that polytheism continues to play in Western life, although at a subaltern level, and to show the reader what can be learned from them.

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