This list uses the term “religious” loosely. This list does not speak to any one faith or religious practice, although it is, of course, informed by the tradition and faith to which I feel the most kinship and from which my worldview grows – Christianity. I want to read more in other faiths, so please, in the comments, widen my view.
In no particular order, here are ten religious books that have shaped how I see the world.
1. The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris – Norris’ quiet strength, deep devotion to The Hours, and absolutely openness to new understandings changed my life and my faith.
2. For the Time Being by Annie Dillard – This book shaped my writing, teaching me to not feel so wed to transitions, but it also shaped my view on the world – to trust that it will all come together, in time, when the dust clears away.
3. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – When I first watched this lecture in preparation for a study skills course I taught, I sobbed. Pausch’s determination, his ability to articulate the way obstacles make us stronger spoke deeply to what I know life to be.
4. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott – There’s nothing of the primness that makes much of Christianity so brittle and cutting here. Just Lamott’s truth, spoken fully and with swearing. I love it.
5. My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok – It is often hard to be an artist in a faith community because art requires originality and sometimes challenge. Potok’s book gave me the character Asher, into whom I could lay my experience.
6. Passion for Peace: Reflections on War and Nonviolence by Thomas Merton – To be an American pacifist (maybe a pacifist from anywhere?) is a hard thing. And yet, Merton’s vision and words gave me ways to think through my own position and hold it loosely even as I held it firm.
7. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell – Myths – those in the Bible and those that permeate most religious texts and most cultural understandings – taught me truths and the ability to read truth in stories other than fact. Campbell’s work has helped me see the intersections and divergences in experience and story.
8. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeline L’Engle – L’Engle’s works (including her books for children) have been central to my understanding of my own faith and the world. This book showed me that it is our perceptions that change reality, not reality itself.
9. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown – The historical accounts in this collection tore my spirit and rent my heart. To learn of the genocide, to hear about the way tribal spirituality was outlawed, to push past my own stereotypes – for all of these things I am grateful to Dee Brown.
10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – Raskolnikov taught me that faith isn’t always about church, and it isn’t always correct. It’s hard-fought and hard-wrought. One of my favorite books of all time.
Also, I just started reading An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Taylor Brown. I’m three pages in, and I’m changed already.
What are your favorite religious books and why? What should I read to broaden my knowledge, understanding, and worldview?