To help us launch the Political Theology Network, we asked scholars working at the intersection of religion and politics to share five books that inspired them. The “Books We Love” series offers an enjoyable way to introduce readers of “Political Theology Today” to books that have influenced their favorite authors. It also features book recommendations from important thinkers whose work may not be familiar to the blog’s regular visitors.
We’re honored to share the second installment of “Books We Love” below. The first installment can be found here. Future installments will come each week until the end of the month.
Roberto D. Sirvent is Associate Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University. He is the co-author with Duncan Reyburn of God, Gods, and Throwing Like a Girl: A Political Theology of Sport (Cascade Publications, forthcoming) under contract) and Embracing Vulnerability: Human and Divine (Pickwick Publications, 2014).
“Five Books Published in 2017 that I Want to Read”
By Carrie Tirado Bramen
Pankaj Mishra, Age of Anger: A History of the Present
At a time when the politics of cruelty are experiencing a renaissance, Mishra’s timely book reminds us how prejudice and viciousness flow from economic dislocation that runs from the eighteenth century to today. He offers a symptomatic reading of anger, one that looks at how the individualism and self-interest promoted by capitalism can all too easily slip into “manic tribalism” and “nihilistic violence.”
Kathryn Lofton, Consuming Religion
Lofton’s first book is a compelling study of Oprah as a religious icon and her newest book continues to explore the intersections of contemporary religion with popular culture and capitalism. Lofton combines erudition with a witty and engaging writing style and I look forward to reading how questions of desire are fundamentally religious questions, whether that desire involves the Kardashians or Goldman Sachs.
Óscar Martínez, A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America
Martínez is one of the great journalists writing today. His first book The Beast courageously and powerfully details the journey of Central Americans struggling to reach the U.S.-Mexican border on top of the trains that begin in southern Mexico. His second book looks more closely at the history of violence in Central America that has fueled this mass exodus.
Roxanne Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
I have been following Roxanne Gay’s book tour for Hunger and the horrific and humiliating interviews and encounters she has had to experience in her travels. Body fat seems to be the last bastion of sanctioned discrimination, fueled by middle-class moralism and what Leslie Fiedler aptly called the “Cult of Slimness.”
Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Snyder’s short book seamlessly integrates historical examples into a strategy for resisting authoritarianism today. What intrigues me most about his argument is the central role face-to-face sociality plays in building vital networks of solidarity that will challenge political and economic structures of power.
Carrie Tirado Bramen is the author of American Niceness: A Cultural History (Harvard University Press, August 2017) and The Uses of Variety: Modern Americanism and the Quest for National Distinctiveness (Harvard University Press, 2000). Her article, “Niceness in a Neoliberal Age,” is forthcoming in the journal Public Culture (Spring 2018). She teaches in the English Department at the University at Buffalo and serves as Director of the UB Gender Institute.
“Five books That Keep Me Going”
By Aminah Beverly McCloud
Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic
I found this text intellectually engaging and sweeping in scope. Though I must admit I disagree with some of the author’s conclusions and assertions, the mental workout is just great as I try to remember the thoughts I had about Islamic subjects when taking them in grad school.
This is really a contemporary argument about how the study of Islam and the uses of its sources have been somewhat compromised. It is a fresh and needed take.
Refreshing and a reminder of how we got where we are today.
A daunting and shocking reconsideration of slavery from awesome historical research.
There is no one book but many mystery-thrillers which have come to dominate the popular market with Muslim protagonists, victims and various takes on Islam by authors such as James Patterson or Tom Clancey.
Aminah Beverly McCloud is Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago.
“Five Books I’m Recommending to All My Friends”
By Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst
Sylvester Johnson, African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy and Freedom
I have assigned this book, convinced my colleagues to read it, and urged my friends to assign it in their classes. Johnson masterfully weaves the histories of race, religion, colonialism, imperialism, and democracy into one narrative. It is a complicated and challenging but gorgeous read.
I preordered this book what seems like ages ago, read it immediately, and marked it up aggressively. Aydin’s latest takes on the ubiquitous phrase and history of “the Muslim World,” and it feels more relevant than ever as global rhetoric continues to trade on notions of a unified Islam and “Muslim world.”
Audrey Truschke, Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King
Audrey Truschke’s work on Indian history is superb—and her latest book has elicited controversy and hate mail. This book challenges deeply held, often nationalistic, notions that Emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658-1707) was a religiously motivated tyrant. Her careful work is a readable and necessary volume for students and scholars of Indian religious history.
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy
Much has been made recently about the state of the university, wehtehr for-profit or non-profit. This book is a must-read for any of us who work in higher education, work with college students, or think about education.
Sarah Eltantawi, Shari’ah on Trial: Northern Nigeria’s Islamic Revolution
While this book has quite a lot that regional specialists will find meaningful for their own research, Eltantawi’s book is important to those of us working on colonial and postcolonial periods, Islamic law, authority and authorizations.
Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Vermont. Her research deals with Islam in South Asia, historiography, and the development of theories of religion. Her first monograph, Indian Muslim Minorities and the 1857 Rebellion: Religion, Rebels and Jihad, is forthcoming with I. B. Tauris press.
“Five Books that Decolonize”
By Gabe Sanchez
Gloria Anzaldúa, AnaLouise Keating ed., Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality
In what would have been Anzaldúa’s dissertation, she explores in much more detail some of the fascinating concepts touched upon in earlier work, including her famous Borderlands/La Frontera. Three important discussions in this work that serve to inform a decolonial theorizing from ‘borderlands’ include issues of in-betweeness called nepantla, the coyolxauhqui imperative to reconcile with contradictions, and the methodology of autohistoría-teoria. This text serves as an example of the critical engagement with ideas and different cosmologies that exemplifies the decolonization of knowledge.
Mignolo’s most recent book, The Darker Side of Western Modernity provides some of the most articulate definitions of major concepts and processes of decolonizing knowledge. Drawing on Quijano’s concept of the coloniality of power, Mignolo seamlessly applies it to systems of knowledge production and philosophy. He outlines how to diverge from Eurocentrism, he presents what could be considered a method of decolonial philosophy, and he explains the path of constructing ‘decolonial options’ as a process with the simultaneous objectives to both reveal the logics of coloniality and develop (an)other knowledge for alternative visions of the future.
Eduardo Galeano, Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World
Upside Down is a sarcastic curriculum for teaching about the absurd violence and inequality of modernization and development projects, although not that sarcastic when the events and processes Galeano describes did in fact happen. Peppered with historical caveats, the book is part of a decolonial method of telling history. It tells of people and identities often silenced from the normalized historical narrative and provides an accessible record of the violence and injustice that comes with ever evolving forms of colonialism.
Enrique Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation
In the context of debates over dependency and world systems, Dussel outlines his vision for developing a theoretical framework of decolonizing knowledge from the exteriorty. From a philosophical departure of what he calls ‘analectics’, Duseel maps out how aesthetics, ethics, semiotics, the sciences, and epistemology and interconnected elements of colonial knowledge. In different cases Dussel calls for a rethinking about the materiality of ideas in society, pointing to its epistemic and material marginalization of the constructed ‘other’, and calling for alternative frameworks of transmodernity and liberation.
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples
Decolonizing Methodologies is an in-depth description of various research methods and frameworks that coincide with the emerging literature on decoloniality. With a focus on indigenous peoples (in this case of New Zealand) this text helps scholars grapple with some of the ethical and research problematics we may face with projects to decolonize that includes indigenous history. Tuhiwai Smith explains how indigenous people are marginalized by research and academic theories and argues for the inclusion of indigenous narratives and perspectives as a first step of advancing decolonization.
Gabe Sanchez is a PhD Candidate in Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies at the University at Albany. His dissertation research focuses on developing methods for decolonizing historical narratives of Latin America and beyond. He has taught undergrad courses at UAlbany in Latin American and Caribbean history and decolonization.
“Five Books I’m Reading in the Summer Sun”
By Thelathia “Nikki” Young
This book is a reminder that neoliberal leaning underwrite the systems of oppression that womanist and black feminist discourse are trying to dismantle. It’s on my list because I am interested in Day’s connections and intersectional perspective.
Sorett’s book does what I want my writing to do: bridge religious perspectives with things thought only to be secular. I am excited about the application of a religious framework to aesthetics and issues that would otherwise sit in a silo or secularism.
Monica Coleman, Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith
I am looking forward to this book because I believe that our stories are liberating. Coleman is able to weave her own narrative with religious discourse, historical criticism, and the experience of mental mental illness.
Ashon T. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility
Who wouldn’t love a book about queerness, blackness, sounds, theology, and philosophy? I’m excited to learn from Crawley about how to make bridges between diverse modes of thought practice.
Mia McKenzie, The Summer We Got Free
I’m re-reading this book, actually. It is a novel filled with the complexity embedded in family connections, hopes, and dreams, and it features the inevitable relationship between queerness, religion, and blackness. I love the way McKenzie requires me to re-create expectations of the family setting with each layer of the story.
Thelathia “Nikki” Young is Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Religion at Bucknell University. Her research focuses on the intersection of ethics, family, race, gender, and sexuality, and she is specifically interested in the impact of queerness on moral reasoning. Nikki’s first monograph, Black Queer Ethics, Family, and Philosophical Imagination, was published in 2016 (Palgrave Macmillan), and she is currently working on two collaborative manuscripts: Introducing Queer Ethics (with Robyn Henderson-Espinoza) and In Tongues of Mortals and Angels: A De-Constructive Theology of God-Talk in Acts and Paul (with Eric Barreto and Jake Meyers).
“Five Books That Helped Me to Think Critically”
By Kendrick Kemp
Gayraud S. Wilmore and James H. Cone (eds.), Black Theology: A Documentary History Vol I and II
This collection gave me a strong starting place to understand the theological framework of Black Theology, and allowed me to construct my own framework to develop a Black Liberation Theology of Disability.
bell hooks, Talking back: thinking feminist, thinking black
bell hooks gave me the permission to own my own story and to have the courage to tell my story as she so clearly had. As a black woman, scholar, and educator hooks encouraged me to start looking at the nuances of one’s life and gave an example of how to balance both the personal and political aspects of public life.
James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
All of Dr. Cone’s books have helped to give me the theological language to talk about my blackness. He not only gave me the license to write about my blackness, he gave me the courage imagine a new theology and to write about blackness from the perspective of a person living with a disability.
James H. Cone, Black Theology and Black Power
Written during the race riots of the 1960’s, Black Theology and Black Power went against the grain of western theology as it stood. By using the black experience, black history, and black culture, Cone read the Bible in an entirely new way, arguing that if God is the God of the oppressed and the marginalized, God must be black.
Dr. Frazier really gave me insight into Black America through the lens of the church and gave me the ability to think critically about the psyche that we carry in the Americas.
Kendrick Arthur Kemp was raised in Upstate NY, Lyons. He earned a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and an MSW from Binghamton University. Kendrick was the founding member and co-chair of the Disability Justice Caucus at Union Theological Seminary. He was also an active member of ADAPT: a national grassroots organization promoting disability rights. While at Union, Kendrick was mentored by Dr. James Cone and Dr. Cornel West. Out of such depths of theological wisdom, Kendrick constructed a Black Liberation Theology of Disability. For more information please go to kendrickarthurkemp.com.
“Five Books I Wish my Students Had Read before Studying Political Theory”
By Paulina Ochoa Espejo
All these books teach lessons about politics that is hard to learn if you only read philosophical tracts.
Miguel de Unamuno, Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr
Written just before the start of the Spanish Civil War, this is a beautiful short novel on the individual experience and the politics of losing faith.
Lev Tolstoi, War and Peace
Everybody knows this book, and they know why it matters. But they should also read it!
George Eliot, Middlemarch
This novel is a wonderful antidote for stupid “intellectuals.” I love how Eliot mocks scholarship that does not require much thought, and does not lead to knowledge.
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
This extraordinary novel is a literary masterpiece written during the worse years of Stalin’s terror. It gives a wonderful account of the tragic politics of the twentieth century, but it is also one of the great philosophical novels of all time (and it is hilarious too!).
Gabriel Garcia Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
A family saga in nineteenth century Colombia: the never-ending war between liberals and conservatives. This is the novel that put Magical Realism on the map, and the magic captures the sense behind the apparent absurdity of real-world politics.
Paulina Ochoa Espejo is an Associate Professor of political science at Haverford College. She is the author of The Time of Popular Sovereignty: Process and the Democratic State (Penn State University Press, 2011).
“Five Truth-Telling Titles on Economic Context”
By Walter Brueggemann
Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History
Beckert shows, in his sweeping history of cotton production (that focuses on the Old South of the US, but not exclusively), that wherever cotton has been produced, it has entailed brutal violence. In many different venues, that violence has been nothing short of slavery.
David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Graeber traces the long history of debt; he shows that moneyed interests, in every age, have deliberately kept the economically vulnerable in debt and therefore subservient. He concludes with the judgment that nothing less than Jubilee can redress this long-term crisis.
James Risen, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War
Risen’s book culminates a courageous career in dangerous journalism. He exposes the moneyed class that dominates national and international governance as ready and committed to permanent war as a way of profiteering. It is greed that hopelessly commits major powers to war.
Saskia Sassen, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy
With rich statistical evidence Sassen exposes the way in which ruthless moneyed interests are slowly and systematically usurping the land, water, and mineral rights of the vulnerable. In the U.S. that usurpation is accomplished by combination of low wages, and predatory loan practices, and regressive taxation, plus incarceration of the poor, Blacks, and poor Blacks.
Taibbi reports on the distorted practice of “justice” by police and the courts in the U.S. In that practice the vulnerable poor are subject to police sweeps and dozens of forms of harassment while the moneyed thrive on white collar crime without restraint. Thus, for example, in the wake of the recession of 2008, there has not been one single indictment of those who manipulated the markets for greedy gain. The justice system is indeed an arrangement of systemic and intentional injustice.
Walter Brueggemann has served as faculty at two institutions in his career: Eden Theological Seminary (1961-1986) and Columbia Theological Seminary (1986-2003). He is currently William Marcellus McPheeters professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia. Brueggemann is the author of over one hundred books.
“Five Hot-Off-the-Presses Books I’m Reading This Summer”
By Andrea Stanton
I’ve been building up a summer reading list for months – there are so many books published recently that promise to reshape our ways of thinking by using evidence to counter myths and misunderstanding. Here are the top five new books on my list:
Aydin’s new book argues compellingly that one of the most typical ways to describe Muslim-majority societies – “the Muslim world” – is historically new and closely linked to the racist structures of domination that characterized the colonial era. Those of us who work in Islamic studies already recognize how inaccurate the phrase is, and Aydin’s probing study gives us the tools to explain why, and suggest better alternatives.
Caliphate talk has come back into vogue over the past three years, since the June 2014 declaration by the so-called Islamic State. But its claiming by extremist and Islamist groups has meant that it’s hard for people today – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – to accurately understand what the caliphate meant to Muslims in the past. This is an exceptionally timely book, and suggests the importance of understanding the ways that concepts evolve over time – even powerful ones.
O’Brien is the author of the article that my Islam in the US students loved most this spring – as did I. His ethnographic work with Muslim American teenage boys and the complex, creative paths they navigate toward what he terms ”cool piety” is not only innovative, but incredibly well written. I’m eager to read the book for myself, but also because I can’t wait to assign chapters in future undergraduate courses.
Sophia Arjana, Monsters in the Western Imagination
Muslim women in the United States today are bearing the brunt of Islamophobic hostility – but there is a long and unexplored history of the negative roles that Muslim men have played in European stories. Arjana’s groundbreaking scholarship uncovers a genealogy of male Muslim monsters, stretching back to the medieval era, that helps shed light on today’s demonization of Muslims, male and female.
Orit Bashkin, Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel
This book won’t be available until August 15th, but I think it will be worth waiting for. I heard Bashkin speak about her work on Iraqi Jewish history four years ago, and even though most of the details she referenced escaped me, I understood that this was a powerful history we should all know more about. Contemporary Israel is a complex place, where religious, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identities overlap, support, subsume, and erode one another. Bashkin’s book tells the multi-valenced story behind the recent celebration of Iraqi Jewish heritage in Israel, as witnessed by a recent outpouring of films, books, and music, highlighting the modern and very recent construction of a nation-state too often reduced to simplistic assumptions about primordial identities.
Andrea L Stanton is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Denver, and an affiliate faculty member at the University’s Center for Middle East Studies. She obtained her PhD in Middle East history from Columbia University and her BA in religion and history from Williams College.
“Five Brazilian Books and Authors I Love”
By Cláudio Carvalhaes
I decided to only point to Brazilian authors in order to name the writers that have shaped and are still shaping me in many ways. So my list is more about the writers than the books mentioned. It could be any book from these authors. Too bad I couldn’t include Julio de Santa Ana and Richard Shaull. And I left behind three obvious ones: Rubem A. Alves, Paulo Freire and Gustavo Gutierrez.
Jaci C. Maraschin was an influential Latin American thinker who worked in the crossroads of liturgy, theology, politics, art, sexuality and philosophy. He influenced me deeply and is the reason I went to study liturgy and theology. He deserves a book in English with some of his works.
Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation
Ivone Gebara is a fundamental theological voice to understand theology from the South. She shifted my way too male gaze on knowledge, politics, people and things. I tutored for her classes at Union Theological Seminary in New York in 2003 and that semester fundamentally changed my theological perception.
Pedro Casaldáliga, In Pursuit of the Kingdom: Writings 1968-1988
Ok I cheated. Casaldaliga is not a Brazilian by birth. He is from Spain. However, he gave his life to Latin America, mostly to the Nicaraguan and Brazilian people. Perhaps one of the most powerful prophetic voices in our continent. A voice for the voiceless in the heart of Brazil. One cannot not know his life and work.
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, The Relative Native: Essays on Indigenous Conceptual Worlds
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro is an anthropologist. He has lived among indigenous people and is proposing a way of understanding human-kind that goes beyond modernity divide between nature and history. This book is fantastic! Complex but fundamental reading for any political theology!
Nancy Cardoso Pereira, Profecia Cotidiana e a Religião Sem Nome – Cotidian Prophecy and the Religion Without Name
Nancy Cardoso Pereira is perhaps the most important women’s voice from Latin America today. Her work in complex and expansive. She works within the borders of biblical and theological studies, land and political studies, women’s and queer studies. This book is her reading on prophet Elijah and popular religiosity in the book of Second Kings. She has several articles in various books in English but the English speakers need to know more about her work. I am presently putting a book together with some of her critical texts as an introduction to her work.
Originally from Brazil, Cláudio Carvalhaes is currently the Associate Professor of Worship at Union Theological Seminary in New York.