Spirituality and Religion
How Do We Look? the Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization by Mary BeardWhat it is: Published alongside the PBS series Civilizations, this thought-provoking exploration of art and architecture spans both continents and faiths, from early Buddhist cave art to Christian mosaics.
Topics of note: Islamic figurative calligraphy; comparing sacred art with its secular contemporaries; the importance of asking why a particular work was made when evaluating it.
About the author: Mary Beard is a Cambridge academic known for her work about the classical world including Wolfson Prize-winning Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town.
The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829 by Antonia FraserWhat it's about: the politically charged, occasionally violent battle in 18th-century Britain to allow Catholics the same civil rights that Protestants enjoyed.
You might also like: Alice Hogge's God's Secret Agents, which outlines the fraught, fluid relationship between the British monarchy and its Catholic subjects in the late Tudor and early Stuart period.
Author alert: Popular historian Antonia Fraser is best known for her biographies of royal figures like Marie Antoinette and Mary Queen of Scots.
Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim's Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford... by Jan KaronWhat's inside: Best known for her Mitford novels, Jan Karon presents this touching collection of sermons, prayers, advice, and inspirational quotes from Father Tim, the star of the series.
Is it for you? Although this collection will appeal most to established Mitford fans, it also includes essays from the author about her own faith journey and her writing.
Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and... by Linda Kay KleinWhat it is: Linda Kay Klein's candid and sometimes disturbing appraisal of the emotional consequences that she believes evangelical Christianity's "purity culture" is having on young women -- and her story of leaving it behind.
Is it for you? Klein's reflections on her trauma and recollections of her experiences may be difficult for some readers.
Further reading: Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks, which looks at similar issues faced by Muslim women; A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.
Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne LamottWhat it's about: This candid, funny collection from the bestselling author of Hallelujah Anyway reflects on hope, encouraging readers to rely on its power even when things look grim.
Reviewers say: "Those who enjoy Lamott's consistently self-deprecating humor, vulnerability, and occasional nuggets of positivity will enjoy her latest" (Kirkus Reviews).
Want a taste? "I am stockpiling antibiotics for the Apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen."
Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen ArmstrongWhat it is: a thorough exploration of the relationship between religion and violence, from early human civilization through the post-9/11 era.
Why you should read it: the unprecedented and comprehensive scope of the author's research, which is expertly condensed and recounted.
Reviewers say: "Provocative and supremely readable" (Publishers Weekly).
Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary by Joe JacksonWhat it's about: The life of Black Elk, the legendary Lakota Sioux healer who led the late 19th century religious revival known as the Ghost Dance movement.
Why you should read it: Although the most widely read book about Black Elk is John Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks, which details his religious beliefs, Joe Jackson's work is the first exhaustive biography of the man himself.
Did you know? In 2016, steps were taken within the Catholic Church to nominate Black Elk for sainthood.
The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao by Ian JohnsonWhat it is: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ian Johnson's compelling and lyrical account of his observations about China's evolving religious landscape following Mao Zedong's death in 1976 (and the subsequent loosening of government restrictions on religious practice).
Why you should read it: This book provides important context for understanding recent news reports of the Chinese government's efforts to Sinicize minority religious populations like the Uighur Muslim community.
One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History by Peter ManseauWhy it's significant: This thought-provoking history is a much-needed examination of many of the non-Christian religions that have shaped both religious and secular aspects of American society.
Topics include: the religious diversity of Thomas Jefferson's library, the Jewish and Moorish presence among Spanish conquistadors, and the Iroquois religious legacy that helped inspire Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.
Reviewers say: "this history from another perspective reexamines familiar tales and introduces fascinating counternarratives" (Publishers Weekly).
The Story of the Jews: Volume Two, Belonging: 1492-1900 by Simon SchamaWhat it is: the 2nd volume of Simon Schama's expansive yet accessible history of the Jewish people, covering the years between their 1492 expulsion from Spain and the rise of modern Zionism in the 19th century.
What's inside: Gripping depictions of some of the less well-known figures in this era of Jewish history, in locations as diverse as Venice, Ming China, and the court of Suleiman the Magnificent.
Book buzz: This book and the other volumes in the series were originally published as companions to the BBC/PBS series of the same name.
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