On Living by Kerry EganAlthough hospice chaplain Kerry Egan works with people who are experiencing their last days and hours, this inspiring yet down-to-earth memoir focuses on life. Relating what she's heard from her patients, she portrays them as storytellers whose first interest is their families, who recall their earlier lives, and who sometimes express heartbreak and has regrets. Egan also confesses that what she hears from the dying has promoted her own healing from sorrow and pain. Filled with quotations from her conversations, On Living offers testimony to the power of life even at the point of death. Of the many patients she's listened to, she concludes, "Always, they taught me something."
The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning by Harry FreedmanThe Bible has been translated into more versions than any other book, and interpreting the scriptures for general readers has sometimes led to remarkable conflict and even bloody violence. In The Murderous History of Bible Translations, author and Aramaic scholar Harry Freedman traces this history, starting with the early translation of Hebrew scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint). He discusses how translation that was usually intended to make the scriptures widely accessible was often driven by sectarian agendas. This engaging and accessible survey opens a fascinating window onto the Bible's history.
Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary by Joe JacksonThe best-known book about the Lakota Sioux healer named Black Elk is Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt, which adapts Black Elk's spiritual vision into English, but which isn't a biography. In Black Elk, author Joe Jackson presents the first comprehensive account of this Lakota holy man, who was present at many of the crucial events in Native American history: as a fighter at Little Big Horn, a leader in the traditionalist Ghost Dance movement, and -- perhaps ironically -- a performer in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. In this "major contribution" (Publishers Weekly) to the subject, Jackson brings Black Elk to life in the context of world history.
Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis by Mark K. ShriverWhen author Mark Shriver was asked to write a book about the newly elected Pope, he embarked on a pilgrimage to trace the roots of the Jesuit priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio who became Pope Francis. In this engaging and thoughtful portrait, Shriver recounts interviews with Bergoglio's novice master, Argentinian friends and colleagues, political critics, and poor people with whom Bergoglio kept in touch once he became a cardinal. Confessing his own doubts about the church after his parents' deaths, Shriver also expresses hope for the church's renewal under the new pope. For another accessible biography of Francis, try Austen Ivereigh's The Great Reformer.
Genghis Khan and the Quest for God: How the World's Greatest Conqueror Gave Us... by Jack WeatherfordThough Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan's conquering armies were merciless to those who resisted, Khan's techniques for uniting his conquests into the largest empire in history were based on tolerance. In addition to promoting justice and peace (after the bloodshed was over), he allowed his subjects to practice their religions without restriction. Drawing on recently discovered documents, anthropologist Jack Weatherford also finds that Khan became a student of religion in his later years, learning from the peoples he had conquered. Though Genghis Khan and the Quest for God doesn't minimize Khan's bloodthirstiness, it presents a more peaceable aspect than history usually acknowledges.
The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith by Matthew BowmanIn The Mormon People, religion professor Matthew Bowman provides an accessible and thorough history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Founded by Joseph Smith after he received visions of a new revelation of Christ appearing in ancient North America, the Mormon Church has survived brutal persecutions that drove its members continually westward, finding opposition wherever they tried to settle. Although its teachings consist of an especially American blend of Catholic liturgical formality and Protestant evangelical zeal, few outside the LDS community know much about the faith. If you're curious to learn more about the "distinctively American riddle of Mormonism" (Booklist, starred review), be sure to check out this book.
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad by Lesley HazletonThe Prophet Muhammad was orphaned as an infant and brought up in Bedouin society by his wet nurse. As a teenager he learned business dealings as an agent for his uncle's caravans. Biographer Lesley Hazleton attentively traces Muhammad's life from infancy to death, relating his marriage to Khadija, a much older widow, his mystical experiences in quiet meditation, and the great revelation that was transcribed as the Quran. Without glossing over the violence that marked the new religious movement, The First Muslim details Muhammad's political skills and the personality and character that impressed his followers. Library Journal calls this a "balanced, readable" introduction to the prophet's life.
Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity by James J. O'DonnellReligion in the Roman Empire during the first four centuries A.D. assumed that there were many gods. People were devoted to their deities but also tolerant of different beliefs. The early followers of Jesus asserted a strange, novel idea when they claimed that their God was the only one. In Pagans, Georgetown University scholar James O'Donnell offers an easy to follow tour of ancient Roman religions preceding Christianity. He also explains how Christian doctrine began to drive out polytheism and eventually dominated Western religion. Though it's packed with historical scholarship, this book "employs the classical texts with irony and irreverence" (Kirkus Reviews).
Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson... by Joseph TelushkinRabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson founded a Jewish community in Brooklyn that grew into a highly influential worldwide movement. Schneerson attracted devoted followers who promoted his teachings and created the Chabad-Lubavitch organization; he also advised world-renowned figures such as Ronald Reagan, Menachem Begin, Yitzchak Rabin, and Bob Dylan. In Rebbe, Rabbi and historian Joseph Telushkin offers an anecdotal and impressionistic portrait of the powerful teacher who some thought would be the Messiah. He also includes a chronological outline of Schneerson's life. Publishers Weekly calls this an "admiring but honest look" at the man and the organization he set in motion.
Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious... by Steven WaldmanIn Founding Faith, Steven Waldman, the co-founder and editor in chief of Beliefnet.com, clarifies the U.S. Founders' intentions in establishing religious liberty. He says that the Constitution was meant neither to favor a "Christian nation" nor to require a secular state. In this challenge to people on both sides of the American debate over the meaning of the Constitution's "establishment clause," Waldman explores in detail the history of its background and the religious beliefs of its authors. If you're interested in the "separation of church and state" question, don't miss this thoroughly documented, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book.
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