As summer rolls in, our team has curated a list of recommended books, essays, and prose for your enjoyment. Whether your toes are in the sand or you’re in the backseat on the road trip, we hope these theological and thought-provoking reads will find you wherever you are this summer.
It’s hard to believe that spring is already behind us, but here we are: the days are longer, warmer, and the earth is bright and green again. Graduation season is in full force and there are road trips, beach days, and barbecues up ahead. We know the kids will be sent home from school with their summer reading assignments any day now, and before that happens we want to equip you with your very own summer reading entertainment, curated by our team here at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. Whether your toes are in the sand or you’re in the backseat on the road trip, we hope these theological and thought-provoking reads will find you wherever you are this summer.
Recommendations by Ryan McAnnally-Linz, Associate Director; Matt Croasmun, Associate Research Scholar; Drew Collins, Associate Research Scholar; Connie Steel, Humanities Education Evaluator; Liz Burkemper, Administrative Assistant; and Macie Bridge, Communications Assistant.
Theology and Identity by Kwame Bediako
I read this book in 2006 while in residence at Bediako’s theological center in Akropong, Ghana. It still is regularly on my mind as I think about theology and culture. Bediako invites us to reimagine both the “church fathers” and 20th-century African theologians. Both, he says, are people asking what to do with “pre-Christian" wisdom in light of the revelation of Christ. In both cases, many take different routes: from enthusiastic retention to all-out rejection, and everywhere in-between. What can we learn from both groups as we make sense of the gospel’s encounter with culture in our own context?
The Doctrine of Scripture by Brad East
A very readable yet rich account of what Scripture is for Christians. The status of the Bible has never quite recovered from the 19 and 20 century onslaught of historical and philosophical criticism, to the extent that even positive or constructive theological accounts of Scripture are all too-often shaped in response to such criticism. East’s book seeks to leave much of that baggage behind, grounding the doctrine of Scripture in relation to other elements of Christian faith and practice—Christology, the liturgy, sacraments such as baptism and the eucharist. The result is a very refreshing and enriching account that seeks not to justify the nature and use of Scripture but to explain how we, and many of those Christians who came before us, have already and continue to celebrate and use it.
Freedom and Sin: Evil in a World Created by God by Ross McCullough
It's a rare accomplishment to join thorough, dextrous technical argumentation with spiritual sensitivity and winsome prose. McCullough's book offers a genuinely new response to the enduring theological and existential problem of our human sinfulness but does so while working from within the deep channels of the Catholic intellectual tradition.
Galatians: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible by Kathryn Greene-McCreight
“Why indeed does Paul care so much about the Galatians’ foreskins?” This is in many ways the question that drives Kathryn Greene-McCreight rich and thoughtful new commentary on Paul’s letter to the flock in Galatia. Reconsidering the many simplistic accounts of Galatians as pitting justification by faith against justification by works, viz. Torah in general and circumcision in particular, Green-McCreight explores Galatians while offering a very exciting and compelling alternative perspective—that while election in Christ is apart from circumcision, Galatians nonetheless “insists on the physicality of election in Christ and mitigates the tendency to untether the body of Christ from the story and people of Israel” (5).
Revelation of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
Julian ought to be in the conversation for greatest theologian ever to write in English. Too often she gets boiled down to what sounds like anodyne, vaguely spiritual hopefulness. In fact, her multi-decade effort to interpret an intense visionary experience and share its significance with her fellow Christians is an exemplary display of theological discernment. The writing is gripping. The thought is subtle. This is a book to read many times over. If you're feeling adventurous, try working your way through Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins's excellent edition of Julian's Middle English. It's not as hard as it might sound, and it will give you an even deeper appreciation for the vibrancy and virtuosity of Julian's prose.
A World Transfigured by Philip Sheldrake
Philip Sheldrake’s work on mysticism is not your average historical look at the mystics: rather, Sheldrake breaks down the central tenants of the mystic journey, the ways each mystic pursues these facets uniquely, and calls for us each to embrace our own mystic lifestyle. Sheldrake argues that in leaning into our own mystic paths and embracing God within ourselves we experience a turn to social action, a call to care for our neighbors, in whom we can newly witness God. This accessible read is a refreshing approach to the subject of mysticism, perfect for an introduction to the subject or as a new lens to the tried-and-true.
Arius: Heresy & Tradition by Rowan Williams
I recently stumbled across a copy of what some have called Rowan Williams’ magnum opus, the 1987 book Arius: Heresy & Tradition, and it immediately found a place on my shortlist of summer reading. Grappling with what is often viewed as the “archetypical Christian heresy,” Williams reconsiders Arius commitments and concerns with surprising results, arguing that far from being an innovator or someone willing to play fast and loose with Christian theology in order to arrive at a more conceptually plausible doctrine of God, Arius was more accurately a theological conservative whose concern was first and foremost to defend the free and personal character of the Christian God. Williams’ willingness to rethink and reframe Arius’ concerns and his responses to them poses an important question to us all, namely how “certain kinds of traditionalism transform themselves into heresy.”
Inciting Joy: Essays by Ross Gay
Ross Gay always reminds me, whether in prose or poetry or prose poems, how to pay attention to the world at hand—how to affirm my joys and the world’s joys held hand-in-hand with suffering. Joy is something that is always there.
The Carrying by Ada Limón
Ada Limón’s 2018 collection, The Carrying, is a thought-provoking and existential consideration of living. Packaged in conversational and neatly-crafted prose, Limón writes of her own concerns with death, political strife, grief, and infertility. Despite this, her poems manage to find a persistent hope, grounded in the steadiness of nature and a belief that there is something greater worth living for. Limón’s suggestion that we might each carry both small and great joys with us, despite all that appears to be going wrong in our world, makes The Carrying a timeless read. This collection is a delight to hit pause with during the summer months and to reconsider all that is spiraling around us.
Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? by Bruno Latour
Latour’s 2004 essay feels even more contemporary than the date would suggest. One of the architects of the critique of science as merely one discourse among others, in this piece Latour is beginning to worry about the consequences of this movement he helped build. Latour sees our “post-fact” world at least a decade before it hit with full force. This essay always calls me back to the value of constructive intellectual work and warns me against the excesses of a good idea run amok.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron’s guide to creative recovery has been circulating for some time, and has been credited with the flourishing careers of artists like Elizabeth Gilbert and Martin Scorsese. Cameron’s work stands on the idea that we were all made to be creators: as we were created by the Great Creator, artistry is in our inherited nature and need only be nurtured within each of us. Written for readers of all faiths and belief systems, Cameron’s book offers pithy essays and prompts designed in a 12-part format to help you “get out of the way” and allow God to start creating through you.
Food for the Mind & Soul
Candide by Voltaire
If you like Don Quijote or Forrest Gump, you will enjoy Candide. This novella showcases French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s talent for hiding a philosophical treatise in a hilarious romp of a story. Our young hero Candide and his mentor sidekick Prof. Pangloss find themselves on a quest for love, success, and meaning in life. Along the way, they face calamities and hardships armed only with optimism. Packaged in a set of satirical and often jaw-dropping adventures, this extended reductio ad absurdum criticizes war, sexual mores, politics, religion, colonialism, and philosophy itself. Scandalous in its time, Voltaire concludes with insights into living a flourishing life.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
We largely live in great unawareness of the worlds around us, and Peter Wohlleben’s work helps to lift the veil a little bit. It is important to take the meshwork of trees, woods, and forests seriously, and not only for the similarities to human communities and togetherness that we might find.
Tinto de Verano (#1) by Elvira Lindo
This is the first of a three-volume collection of the popular columns of Elvira Lindo in El País reflecting on vacation time spent with her husband and family. This busy Madrileña humorously shares her successes and failures at slowing down and enjoying the pleasures of the Spanish countryside. She reveals that a life that is going well in many ways, does not automatically make you happy. Her journalistic prose style is accessible to intermediate readers of Spanish.
(This collection is composed in Spanish.)
Sounds Wild and Broken by David G. Haskell
David Haskell celebrates life’s songs. From the NYT review: “Haskell has given us a glorious guide to the miracle of life’s sound. He has helped us hear. Will we listen? Will we heed the alarm calls of our fellow travelers?”
Como Agua Para Chocolate / Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Peppered with recipes, Laura Esquivel’s debut novel of magical realism presents us with a protagonist who is on the verge of boiling over. Tita is torn between the strict vocation demanded by her mother and her heart’s forbidden desire—her sister’s husband. Tita pours her simmering feelings of love, duty, and rebellion into her cooking with mysterious results.
(This novel is available in both English and Spanish.)
Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World, 1914–1948 by Ramachandra Guha
There's no such thing as a definitive account of a life like Ghandi's, and there's no such thing as a biography without an agenda. That said, Guha's careful research and straightforward storytelling make this book a superb way of encountering and being challenged by Ghandi as teacher, leader, and fallible human.