Religion and Spirituality | August 2013

Spiritual publishing, and the reading that one hopes will follow, can be a remarkable mirror of a moment. This season we find the words of man-of-the-hour, the new pontiff before he was pope, but we also discover serious, devout, and scholarly engagements with the world of the New Testament. As marriage equality comes to the fore in the news, we have a chance to confer on spiritual issues with established gay writers Frank Browning and Richard Rodriguez. We watch as scholars and devotees Jeff Ourvan, Brad Warner, and Gregory Shepherd resituate Buddhism in contemporary contexts. The implicit freedoms and hopes of the 1960s and 1970s have not wholly disappeared, as a new publication from Ram Dass suggests—and the hot new “faith” of atheism takes the microphone with scientist PZ Myers.

Library Journal Reviews starred reviewOurvan, Jeff. The Star Spangled Buddhist: Zen, Tibetan, and Soka Gakkai Buddhism and the Quest for Enlightenment in America.Skyhorse, dist. by Norton. 2013. 224p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781620876398. $24.95. REL

Attorney and literary agent Ourvan has written an endearing field guide to the major sects of Buddhism in this country: Zen, Tibetan, and Soka Gakkai International, in which he himself was a senior leader for a time. At once a slice of memoir and an informal but well-researched history of Buddhism’s remarkable and growing success in the United States, Ourvan’s brief account touches upon personalities, events, and doctrines. VERDICT An accessible history of modern Buddhism in America, Ourvan’s book fills a crucial gap, and deserves to attract many academic and nonacademic readers.

Library Journal Reviews starred reviewWatson, Francis. Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective. Eerdmans. 2013. 624p. bibliog. ISBN 9780802840547. pap. $48. REL

Watson (Research Chair in Biblical Interpretation, Durham Univ.) has impeccable credentials as a scholar; his specialty has been the Pauline writings, but he is also a careful textual scholar. His latest—and immense—book is an outstanding examination of the four canonical Gospels (and some others). Watson allows for, and even promotes, the noncorrelations and complexities of these texts; look out for an excellent study of the “four creatures of the Apocalypse” in the earliest Christian art—and that’s just a sideline. VERDICT This brilliant work is likely to be a touchstone in early Christian studies for years to come; essential for academic and seminary libraries and an ornament to the scholar’s study.

Library Journal Reviews starred reviewRodriguez, Richard. Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography. Viking. Oct. 2013. 235p. ISBN 9780670025305. $26.95. REL

Rodriguez (editor, Pacific News Svc.) has long been something of a darling among readers for his memoirs Hunger of Memory and Days of Obligation , books that touch with unusual eloquence on his rich experience of his Mexican heritage, his sexuality, and his negotiations with politics and culture. This latest work, stemming from a piece he wrote for Harper’s in 2008, is about his difficult confrontation with both God and the experience of emptiness; Lance Armstrong, Mother Teresa, and others make appearances as well. VERDICT Engaging and readable, this highly personal and candid discovery of the fullness of God in the silence of life’s deserts may not offer anything new to spiritual seekers but will delight Rodriguez’s fans.

The following titles are reviewed in the August 15, 2013 print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.


Bergoglio, Jorge Mario. Pope Francis in His Own Words . New World Library. 2013. 137p. ed. by Julie Schwietert Collazo & Lisa Rogak. ISBN 9781608682485. pap. $12.95. REL

Chapman, Allan . Slaying the Dragons: Destroying Myths in the History of Science and Faith. Lion UK, dist. by Trafalgar Square. Aug. 2013. 256p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780745955834. pap. $16.95. RE L

Robbins, Vernon K. Who Do People Say I Am? Rewriting Gospel in Emerging Christianity. Eerdmans. Aug. 2013. 256p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780802868398. pap. $25. REL

Wright, N.T. The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. HarperOne: HarperCollins. Sept. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780062230508. $22.99. REL


Browning, Frank. The Monk and the Skeptic: Dialogues on Sex, Faith, and Religion. Soft Skull. Oct. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9781619021839. pap. $15.95. REL

Shepherd, Gregory. A Straight Road with 99 Curves: Coming of Age on the Path of Zen. Stone Bridge. 2013. 180p. bibliog. ISBN 9781611720112. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611725483. REL


Dass, Ram with Rameshwar Das. Polishing the Mirror: How To Live from Your Spiritual Heart. Sounds True. Aug. 2013. 130p. ISBN 9781604079678. $21.95. REL

Millis, Diane M. Conversation—The Sacred Art: Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction. Skylight Paths. 2013. 180p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781594734748. pap. $16.99. REL

Myers, PZ. The Happy Atheist. Pantheon. Aug. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780307379344. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780307907455. REL

Schneider, Nathan. God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet. Univ. of California. 2013. 270p. ISBN 9780520269071. $34.95. REL

Warner, Brad. There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places. New World Library. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9781608681839. pap. $15.95. REL



  1. Religion is an institutional response to the raw, unmediated human experience of what Carl Jung called the “Numinous”—the power or presence of a divinity. Spirituality or spiritual experience is usually understood (in the West) to mean that third area of human existence viewed as a part of its totality,i.e; mind, body and spirit. The word “religion” comes from the Latin “religare” which means to connect. … as in coming together as a group. Spirituality, to me, has always been about private practice and religion has been the shared celebration of that experience of the Numinous in a group of like believers. Unfortunately, all too often we receive our religious identities in the form of indoctrination before we ever really experience the “Numinous”. This seems a bit backwards to me and it’s probably why some people change their “religion”: later as adults when the spirit develops and matures….like the Apostle Paul said…”in the fullness of time…”