100 holy people who have shaped the history of humanity

26/03/19 | By Marcus Braybrooke

We are today heirs to the spiritual wisdom of every age and every religion. Yet so often our knowledge is still parochial. I recognised this was true in my case when, some years ago, I watched a Son et Lumière at the Red Fort in Delhi. I had a degree in history, but I knew nothing of the Great Moghul Emperors of India. In the same way, although we live in a world, at least for some people, of global communications and travel, we know too little about the cultures and religions of each other. Yet if we are to live together in our global village we need to become aware of this rich and varied cultural and spiritual inheritance. I hope this book will contribute to this by helping a wider public learn about some of the people of different religious traditions and from many countries and centuries who have shaped the spiritual life of humankind.

The last century and especially the last two decades have seen a very significant, although often unrecognised, development in the religious life of humankind. This is thanks to the devoted work of scholars and translators. Not only the scriptures of most religions but also the writings of innumerable holy people are now available in English and other modern languages and often easily accessible on the World Wide Web. I realise, with little talent for learning languages, that fifty years ago I could not have studied the world religions in the way that is now possible.

How do you determine influence? Maybe it is by founding a religion or a significant movement within a religion. Maybe it is by the influence of writing, whether by devotional works, theological studies or poetry. Others have been influential by their practical work for peace and in care for the suffering and by setting an example for others to copy.

What I have found fascinating is the interaction between spiritual movements through the ages. Interfaith dialogue in the way we think of it today may only date from the end of the nineteenth century, but different religions over the centuries, have in many places interacted sometimes by disputation, sometimes by borrowing and learning from each other. I have found it helpful to picture the spiritual history of humankind as a great river with various springs, sources and tributaries, always changing, sometimes dividing, maybe with backwaters, but moving forwards and enriching the present with what is carried forward from the past and opening up new vistas for the future. Diana Eck, a renowned scholar of religions, I have discovered since writing this, uses the same image. ‘Religious traditions are far more like rivers than stones’ in that ‘they flow and change, sometimes drying up in arid land, sometimes dramatically changing course in new territories. All of us contribute to the rivers of our traditions. We do not know how we will change the river or be changed as we experience its currents.’

Marcus Braybrooke, an interfaith pioneer for forty years and Christian theologian, has lived and studied with people of many faiths worldwide. He is the author of over forty books.

Beacons of Light is published by Circle Books

Today we are inheritors of the wisdom of spiritual teachers of every religion, century and country - thanks to the work of many scholars and translators. Their messages, with significant cross-cultural harmonies, are an inspiration to us today. They challenge us to recognise the oneness of humanity and to reverence the Earth.

Beacons of Light introduces 100 of the world's most influential spiritual teachers - some like Jesus, the Buddha or Muhammad are well known; others like Rabia, Manikkavacakar, Guru Arjan Dev or Hildegard deserve to be better known. The story of their lives is clearly set in the historical and religious context of their time. A summary is given of their message and continuing influence.

The author has dared to rank the 100 according to his personal assessment of their influence and challenges the reader to do the same and not just to absorb the information but also to reflect on the impact of the people discussed.

The book is an invitation to the reader, as a citizen of the world, to claim his or her inheritance of spiritual riches.

With his breadth of knowledge, enthusiasm, diligent work and sensitivity, Marcus has become a 'beacon' for others, including myself, to follow. A really important read. Rabbi Jackie Tabick, Chair of the World Congress of Faiths, London

Your heart and mind will be opened by this treasure of a book that shines with the brightness of 100 of humanity’s greatest lights. Revd Charles Gibbs, Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative


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