LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Best Books 2015: Religion & Spirituality


witches of america_resizedMcGrath, Alister. The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith, and God. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250077929. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781466890244. REL
In recent years, there have been numerous books on the relationship between science and religion; many have been written by new atheists, who not only reject religion but do so emphatically. McGrath (science & religion, Oxford Univ.) is both scientist and noted theologian, and in his new book, the author participates in this discussion. McGrath’s main concern is that new atheists and others view reality almost entirely through the lens of science. The problem is that science can’t address metaphysical questions that fall outside the realm of empirical research. Thus, he considers these people as reductionistic in approach. One might assume that McGrath is writing an apologetic work, defending the Christian faith against secular opponents. Ultimately, though, the author is arguing for a broader way to interpret reality. He maintains that in understanding the world more clearly, one should draw from multiple academic perspectives, and finds that Christian theology is helpful for providing an overarching framework for such a task. The author keeps the reader’s attention by providing personal examples and absorbing stories. VERDICT Those interested in the relationship between science and faith will find this to be an excellent resource.—John Jaeger, Dallas Baptist Univ. Lib. (LJ 10/15/15)

Mar, Alex. Witches of America. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. ISBN 9780374291372. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374709112. REL
Former “Rolling Stone” editor and filmmaker (American Mystic) Mar deftly weaves in her own story of agnostic searching as she chronicles the various threads of American pagan belief systems, creating a narrative equal parts diary, history lesson, ethnographic study, myth buster, and pagan gossip. After spending time filming the Feri priest Morpheus for her documentary, Mar found herself drawn to a course of study and exploration of the various pagan sects and magical practices, far exceeding the safety of suburban Wiccan covens. Her experiences and observations, some inspiring, some a tad disturbing, are fodder for reflection on what faith and belief actually mean and how they are influenced by cultural expectation and conditioning. The chapter on Satan and the melding of occultism to devil worship in the mind of the public, fueled by a sensationalist media, is an eye-opening expose of the effects of damaging religious ignorance and intolerance. VERDICT A top-notch read for pagans and open-minded seekers curious about the fascinating beginnings of American witchcraft and some of the various directions its form is taking.—Janet Tapper, Univ. of Western States Lib., Portland, OR (LJ 9/15/15)

Meyers, Robin. Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance. Yale Univ. ISBN 9780300203523. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780300213768. REL
Meyers’s (philosophy, Oklahoma City Univ.; Saving Jesus from the Church; The Underground Church) call to action is based on his Lyman Beecher lectures, hosted each year at Yale Divinity School, and given its title this work is a suitably bracing and even fiery summons, what Meyers terms “orthopraxy” (right action). He is inspired in part by the writings of 20th-century Polish poet Anna Kamienska but has little need of borrowed eloquence as he movingly asks for resistance to the tyranny of the self, to orthodoxy, and most especially to the indignities and outrages of militarism and capitalism. The author also calls for and preaches the true Social Gospel; he urges readers to contest the Church’s own staid, repetitive, exclusive status quo, the church as “a boys club, or a heavenly pyramid scheme.” VERDICT Meyers’s ideas might upset and alienate the comfortable yet will also enlighten and inspirit a thoughtful readership of seekers and pastors.—Graham Christian, formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA (LJ 5/15/15)

Nichtern, Ethan. The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path. Farrar. ISBN 9780374251932. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780374711962. REL
Nichtern (founder, Interdependence Workshop; A Declaration of Interdependence) writes that “Buddhist teachings are only meaningful if they positively inform the way we live our lives.” With this in mind, the author makes ancient Buddhist teachings and texts approachable, contemporary, and relevant. Using an informal and engaging style, Nichtern applies the metaphor of a commuter to describe the way people often feel when trying to become more present in their daily lives or feel at home in their minds: as though they are always trying to get to a different place. The content is grounded in meditation practice, although this book will not serve as a how-to guide to meditation. Rather, Nichtern presents the bigger picture as to why such techniques are important to cultivating meaningful and compassionate relationships with self, others, and society in our fast-paced and hyperconnected world. The author provides a helpful list of suggested readings for more in-depth exploration into Buddhism and meditation practice. VERDICT Valuable for readers looking for an introduction to Buddhist teachings as they relate to meditation practice or for those searching for ways to live their lives in the here and now.—Amanda Folk, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib., Greensburg (LJ 2/15/15)

Sinitiere, Phillip. Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity. New York Univ. ISBN 9780814723883. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780814708149. REL
Sinitiere (history, Coll. of Biblical Studies, coauthor, Holy Mavericks) has written a remarkable and trenchant study of Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, the largest Protestant church in the United States, welcoming approximately 40,000 worshipers each week. Following in the footsteps of his late father John Osteen, founder of Lakewood and an advocate of neo-Pentecostalism, or crossing denominational boundaries, Joel is an exponent of the “prosperity Gospel,” a creed that associates enthusiastic faith with joy and success in the present day, almost to the exclusion of any mention of pastoral standbys such as sin or judgment. Sinitiere sketches Osteen’s life and career, emphasizing his early experience as a television producer as well as the implications of being son to a prominent preacher. Osteen’s sunny message has attracted much controversy, not least from other conservative Christians, but his megasuccess, Sinitiere brilliantly shows, says a great deal about the state of religion in America. VERDICT A fascinating, illuminating, and at times disturbing account from a shrewd observer.—Graham Christian, formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA (LJ 10/1/15)