Devotion and Doubt: 2015 Edition
Best of the Year: 2015
Interested in Scientology, religious tolerance, the inner workings of the Vatican, greater devotion, accusations of witchcraft? Here are 10 of the best religion books for 2015.
The Top 10
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology
by Leah Remini with Rebecca Paley
Remini is an actress & talk show host who was raised in the Church of Scientology and found success in Hollywood as a member of it. She finally broke with the church after 30 years when she began to ask questions about its practices. Readers say her book is hard to put down.
Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue
by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz.
The well-known atheist and critic of religion Sam Harris, in dialogue with a moderate Muslim who heads the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank in the UK. In the past, Harris has denigrated liberalism’s response to religious extremism. Here he shows himself willing to listen to Nawaz’s views. This book is dense with ideas and will make you think.
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
A novel of King David, as told from the point of view of the prophet Nathan, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, People of the Book, and Caleb’s Crossing. “In her gorgeously written novel of ambition, courage, retribution, and triumph, Brooks imagines the life and character of King David in all his complexity. . .The language, clear and precise throughout, turns soaringly poetic when describing music or the glory of David’s city. . .taken as a whole, the novel feels simultaneously ancient, accessible, and timeless.”—ALA Booklist
Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis's Secret Battle against Corruption in the Vatican by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Italian investigative journalist Nuzzi’s account of the new Pope’s efforts at reform; the waste, misuse of funds, and cover-ups he has to deal with; and the opposition he faces from those in the Catholic Church who profit personally from its wealth.
The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith and God by Alstair McGrath
Here’s another entry in the recent series of books responding to the “New Atheists” (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins et al). See my previous post, Is There a God? And What Was He Thinking?
The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson.
This book is a favorite of President Obama’s. He and Marilynne Robinson had a conversation about it which was a New York Review of Books cover story. Read the conversation & then read the book!
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacey Schiff
Schiff is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the best-selling Cleopatra. This book is reportedly less accomplished – you’ll learn something if you don’t already know much about the Salem witch trials, but the material is poorly organized, and Schiff doesn’t present any new ideas until the last 50 pages. (Hint, hint.)
One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History by Peter Manseau
Like Howard Zinn? This revisionist religious history, which highlights a number of individuals, includes the roles Native American religion (the Iroquois prophet Handsome Lake, who may have inspired Mormon prophet Joseph Smith); Islam (the enslaved Omar ibn Said, from Senegal); Judaism (the Portuguese Jew Jacob Lumbrozo, who immigrated to Maryland in 1656); Sikhism (Bhagat Singh Thind, of Astoria, Oregon, who unsuccessfully applied for US citizenship in 1919 after serving in the Army); Wicca and more have played in our people’s past.
If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and A Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
Carla Power is a foreign correspondent with an Oxford degree in Middle Eastern Studies; Sheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi is an Islamic scholar at Oxford. Powers had never read the Qur’an when she asked her friend if she could study it with him for a year. Sheikh Akram is especially known as a supporter of women’s rights. The result of their journey together is intriguing.
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
Evans says she was a “crusader” in her teenage years, but as she grew older began to question her church’s conservative outlook. She thinks churches have tried to keep or attract members of her generation with cool music & so on. But "Millennials aren't looking for a hipper Christianity. We're looking for a truer Christianity." By focusing on each of the 7 sacraments and showing how it represents openness and caring, Evans tries to show what a truer church means to her.
Vaughn Harrison works at Half Moon Bay Library.