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 a fun 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.
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 I Use for Everything”
By Oluwatomisin Oredein
Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk
The depth of questioning theo-logics and theo-political boundaries found in Williams’ work is unmatched. Williams asserts critical inquiry not only a staple of sound womanist theological and ethical praxis, but as a necessity of doing systematic theology well and even at all. Her intersectional approach invites Christian theology to engage likewise.
Emilie Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil
The systems that create and reinforce oppressive political structures rest upon the social perceptions and treatment of certain persons and personhoods. In her foundational work, Townes unveils the logic of such systematic choices and thus challenges theological and ethical guilds to consider the problems of black populations symptomatic of the larger and global histories and stances of all persons.
Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Introducing African Women’s Theology
For Africans, the politics of a particular embodiment must include a systematic theological approach that accounts for African experiences, African conceptions and problems of/with/around the body, and African thought. Counting African women’s standpoint as critical, Oduyoye offers a rich account of what African theology – including its Western influences and iterations – must attend to in order to offer a holistic theology that keeps all peoples fully in view.
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
The perspective of a colonized person of color makes Black Skin, White Masks a requirement of political inquiry of any sort. Fanon speaks not only with psychoanalytic certainty and cultural challenge, but with a passionate timbre; his fiery tone adds a dimension to this classic work that re-centers the voice attending to the throes of colonized personhood. Fanon asserts a contextual lens as the only space through which to understand not only another, but also, one’s self. Theology and its political workings would do well to pay attention to this manner of intellect and boldness.
Nayyirah Waheed, salt.
In salt., a thoughtful book of poetry, we see how cultural literatures are the foundations of beliefs. And such beliefs create standards and policies, moral systems that frame the world we are accountable to. Waheed underscores how place, space, race, gender, sexuality, spirituality, philosophy, and cultural identity speak in the same register and when mapped out in words, inspire theological finding that only sacred texts can invoke. salt. reminds us that folklore, proverbs, and wisdom texts and sayings invite a necessary form of cultural nuance to serve as a prime lens through which we wrestle with divine questions.
Oluwatomisin Oredein is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. Her interests include African women’s theology, Womanist theology and ethics, black theology, critical race theory and postcolonial thought.
“Five Books I Am Reading, Re-reading, or Planning to Read”
By Leonard Curry
Judith Butler, Senses of the Subject
This collection of essays, written over a span of approximately 20 years, comprises some of Butler’s most lucid prose about the relationship between the subject and subjectivation, the affect and affectivity. I am personally excited about the kinds of understanding it may foster for examining sense-experience, subjectivity and the psyche, as well as the possibilities for, and the necessary belatedness of narration.
Lewis R. Gordon, ed., Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy
Lewis Gordon is going to get me through my qualifying exams! I am interested in what could be called “Black Existential Philosophy” and, aside from some novitiate explorations of Fanon, this text is my starting point. Global in scope, with a return to the particularities of the United States, Lewis brings together several essays that cover the black struggle with nihilism, existence, liberation, and freedom.
Ellen T. Armour, Signs and Wonders: Theology After Modernity
Armour is an insightful, sharp, and precise thinker, writer, and scholar, and in this text, those qualities are on full display. Re-covering events such as hurricane Katrina and the consecration of Gene Robinson in the early 2000s, Armour shows how our current moment is both indebted to modernity while simultaneously showing signs of its demise. I am especially interested in the turn to the haptic, to her particular execution of genealogy that thinks and links together ability, race, gender, sexuality, environment, and more, and in the conversation that this text demands to have with others like Willie James Jennings’s The Christian Imagination and J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account.
Nancy Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability
This text is a classic for disability theology. I am mining its resources to think about the relationship between sexuality and disability, as well as how a black scholar of disability might think the intersections more cautiously. Does political expediency run roughshod over intersectionality? And what does Eiesland teach us about “holding our bodies together” while using sexuality as a resource? While disability has gained considerable complexity over the decades since this text was written, I return to it, in a sense, to do my first works over.
Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study
This text is two years older than me! While its concepts have been widely discussed and used in various fields, I have never read the text. This summer (or Fall, or Winter), I’m looking forward to digging in. Similar to the new understanding that I gained after Higginbotham’s proffered articulation of the “politics of respectability,” in Righteous Discontent, I’m certain that diving into this text will give me a much more nuanced understanding of the meaning and utility of the concept of “social death” and, consequently, the pervasive conjurations, hauntings, and afterlives of the concept and it’s issue.
Leonard Curry is a 4th year PhD student at Vanderbilt University in the area of Ethics and Society where his research focuses on the emergence of objects for thought and role of Christianity in modern and post-modern conceptions of race and sexuality. An ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, he is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and holds both the Master of Sacred Theology (STM), and a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degrees from Yale Divinity School, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MA) from Christian Brothers University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (BA) from Rhodes College. Leonard loves the moon, music, and art, and finds sparks of the divine in flashes of creativity.
“Five Books I Love in Chicana/Latina Feminist Theology”
By Lauren Frances Guerra
María Pilar Aquino, Daisy L. Machado, and Jeanette Rodríguez, A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice
I love this book. It should be required reading for anyone interested in Feminist discourse and Latinx theology. This book provides an excellent introduction to the topic of Latina Feminist Theology with articles from a broad range of scholars.
Nancy Pineda-Madrid, Suffering and Salvation in Ciudad Juarez
Pineda-Madrid addresses the urgent issue of feminicide in Ciudad Juarez while unpacking its soteriological implications. It is an excellent engagement of theological concerns as they are concretely connected to the lived experience of violence and continued suffering of women in Juarez.
Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology: Theological Perversions in Sex, Gender, and Politics
Althaus-Reid provides an important critique of Latin American Liberation Theology from a Feminist perspective. This Argentinian theologian speaks quite candidly on the intersection of gender, sexuality, and poverty. Her approach is the antithesis of “vanilla” systematic theology and it is refreshing.
Michelle A. González, Sor Juana: Beauty and Justice in the Americas
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is a well-loved Mexican poet and author. In her book, Cuban-American theologian Michelle González presents a wonderful portrait of Sor Juana as a Feminist theologian. González unpacks Sor Juana’s theological insights through the lens of theological aesthetics.
Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
I would be remiss not to include Gloria Anzaldúa on this list. Her book addresses Chicana identity and the negotiation of life lived on the margins. I am deeply appreciative of her insights not only as an artist but as a person she wrestles with her own spirituality.
Dr. Lauren Frances Guerra is currently a lecturer in the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is of Guatemalan-Ecuadorian descent and an active member of the Roman Catholic Church. Her current research interests include U.S. Latinx Theology, Chicana/o Studies, and Theological Aesthetics.
“Five Books that Shaped Me”
By Shadaab Rahemtulla
Before providing the below list, I should emphasize that the written word, while clearly playing an important role in shaping who I am, has not, by any means, played the defining part. Lived experience, particularly as a Muslim and a person of color, has been the most consequential factor in conditioning how I relate to my surroundings and, hence, to myself. This accent on social context is borne out in my choice of titles below.
Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm XThis memoir is probably the most influential book in my life. I recall vividly the strength, power, and sense of belonging that coursed through my brown veins when I first read it. Malcolm X’s life, character, and courage, as a Black Muslim living in a racist society, continue to inspire and embolden me. Ultimately, I think this book had a lasting “de-individualizing” effect: namely, it helped me to realize that my own feelings and experiences as outsider were not isolated, that I was not simply a “frustrated, angry individual.” This book validated my own life experiences, helping me to discern that I was a member of a broader, colored community in a world built on exclusion.
This book revolutionized my understanding of “Islam.” After reading this work, I never saw “Qur’anic commentary” (tafsir) – or, for that matter, any Islamic text – in the same way. What this work taught me is that one’s social context – in Wadud’s case, her subject position as a woman in a patriarchal society – is a completely legitimate, valid, and indeed necessary source of Qur’anic interpretation and of religious knowledge production in general.
Christopher Rowland., ed., The Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology
This is the text that introduced me to liberation theology and to the key frameworks and methods that have now become central to my thinking, such as praxis, the preferential option for the oppressed, and the “who” question. That is, who benefits from a certain understanding and practice of religion and, conversely, who loses? Whose (privileged) experiences get to become “the norm” and whose experiences are rendered “abnormal”? In sum, who is the interlocutor of theology: the affluent or the marginalized?
William L. Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East (3rd ed.)
This book is a critical, historical survey of the Middle East, focusing on the past two hundred years. It made a lasting impact on me as an undergraduate student for two reasons. Firstly, it showed the fundamental role that colonial powers, particularly Britain and France, played in dividing and conquering the region, laying the seeds for many of the problems that now exist, from the Israeli occupation of Palestine to domestic dictatorships to the phenomenon of “sectarianism” between Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims. Secondly, and more broadly, this book revealed to me the power of history as a discipline, that is, how we can make sense of the present (and thus challenge that present and work towards a qualitatively different future) only through understanding the past.
Andrew Bradstock and Christopher Rowland (eds.), Radical Christian Writings: A ReaderThis profound collection of writings, bringing together radical Christian thinkers from the ancient world to the present time, enabled me to understand that behind the history of any dominant, establishment religion lies a “counter history,” a plethora of past voices that the powerful have consigned to the margins, the shadows. One of the tasks of the liberation theologian is to unearth those voices, discerning in the fragments an alternative, radical “tradition” that can challenge the existing one.
Shadaab Rahemtulla is Assistant Professor at the University of Jordan’s School of International Studies. A Canadian Muslim of Indian descent, he is the author of Qur’an of the Oppressed: Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam, published by Oxford University Press.
“Five Books Essential for Constructing a Womanist Ethic of the Erotic”
By Courtney Bryant
Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
My focus on the role of the erotic in social, personal and political progress is inspired primarily by Audre Lorde’s “Uses of The Erotic,” found in this book. It provides a womanist philosophical lens for the function of the erotic in the lives of the oppressed.
Kelly Brown Douglas, The Black Body and the Black Church: A Blues Slant
In addition to addressing the ongoing challenge that the Black church has with accepting diverse bodies and bodily practices, Kelly Brown Douglas provides thought-provoking analysis of the theo-ethical implications of erotic practices alive in black women’s communities and the African theological traditions from which these practices spring.
Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom
Copeland’s investigation of the black female body is rich with historical and philosophical insight. Moreover, as a Catholic Moral Theologian, Copeland grounds her work within the context of the Christian Church and the role the body plays in Christian relationality.
Karen Baker-Fletcher, Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective
Dancing with God offers a pneumatological lens to human relationality and the ways in which flesh and Spirit collaborate in both mundane and sexual erotic encounters. Baker-Fletcher offers a womanist perspective on traditional Christian doctrine as she explores a womanist interpretation of the Trinity.
Emilie Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil
This is required reading for understanding the importance of intersubjectivity in the construction of our social order. It attends to the significance of language and the impact of our contexts on our sense of reality. Townes’ concept of “The Fantastic Hegemonic Imagination” has become a touch point for formulating strategies for constructive steps forward in the pursuit of liberation
Courtney Bryant is a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University’s Graduate Department of Religion. She is currently working on her dissertation, Erotic Defiance: A Womanist Ethic of Political Agency, in which she explores the role of the erotic in the work of liberation. The project aims to continue to cultivate a robust understanding of the erotic that includes, but exceeds the sexual, while situating the erotic as a resource for moral agency within the context of Christian theology and ethics. She currently resides in Richmond, VA, where she is a visiting lecturer at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
“5 Books in the Affect Theory Starter Pack”
By Donovan Schaefer
Every other day someone asks me for suggestions about how to get into affect theory. Part of what makes the answer so difficult is the richness of the field (not least because there are significant differences in method between thinkers inspired in the main by Spinoza and Deleuze and those drawing more directly on feminism, phenomenology, and affect psychology). Narrowing it down to five books feels like chopping off toes, but this is one way of building an onramp into a deep, fast-moving field.
Michel Foucault. History of Sexuality, Vol. I
Foucault is in the background of all contemporary affect theory, and not just because he’s a major tributary into queer theory, one of the main sources for work on affect. Foucault’s exploration of power in History of Sexuality, Vol. I doesn’t see power as an imposition on a unified self from the outside, but as forces working through bodies and defining our relationships. Affect theory picks this up and runs with it, starting with bodies as something fundamentally other than sovereign liberal subjects.
Silvan Tomkins, Shame and Its Sisters
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and her colleague Adam Frank dove into the 1000-plus pages of Tomkins’ 4-volume, multi-decade magnum opus Affect Imagery Consciousness to curate this selection of excerpts. It’s a trove of ideas—some failed experiments, some dazzling in their untapped promise—organized under chapter headings corresponding to specific affects such as Interest, Joy, Shame, Fear, and Anger.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling
Sedgwick draws the link between Tomkins and Foucault in the first chapter of this collection of essays, showing how the “analytics of power” in Foucault’s sense can be gracefully fused with an attention to affect. She also reprints her introductory essay to Shame and Its Sisters alongside writing on shame, paranoia, and pedagogy. “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay Is about You,” for instance, transformed conversations in literary theory and neighboring fields by pulling attention to the affective orientations of critique itself.
Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion
Ahmed’s work has explored affect from a dizzying diversity of angles. Cultural Politics of Emotion, along with two essays she published in 2004, “Affective Economies” and “Collective Feelings,” put forward her broadest statement of method, emphasizing the way that affects “circulate” between bodies, forming racialized communities in the process. Later work on affect and race, nation, sex, and experience makes constant reference to this period of Ahmed’s research.
Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects
Stewart draws on a different strand within affect theory—the Deleuzian tradition that frames affect in terms of intensities rather than emotions—but shares the resonant interest in power, compulsion, and the non-verbal dynamics of life. Her theoretical reflections are spliced between the short ethnographic hot takes that make up most of the book. The result is a profoundly instructive exploration of how affect jolts through American media, culture, politics, and religion at the level of bodies.
Donovan Schaefer is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, he was a departmental lecturer in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford. His research connects religion, affect, science, and secularisms. His first book, Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power, was published in 2015 by Duke University Press.
“Five Books that a Non-Religious American Indian Scholar Regularly Assigns to Religious Studies/Theology Students”
By Tink Tinker
Barbara Mann, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas
Mann’s project is the reclaiming of the feminine in Indian traditions. She demonstrates how euro-christian colonialist writers— anthropologists, historians, missionaries, et al—have persistently erased the centrality of the female from her own Seneca and other Native traditions.
Coulthard really takes Charles Taylor to the woodshed—from a Native perspective—on issues of identity and the politics of recognition. Obviously, from the title, Coulthard builds on the foundational work of Frantz Fanon. And U.S. folk will learn a lot about Native Peoples in Canada along the way.
Because, really now, we all are. We can complain about enlightenment discourses shaping the academy, but it still shapes the language all of us use every day—and not just in the academy. In essence, this is a sustained historiography, built around Scott’s analysis of C.L.R. James history of the Haitian revolution. Scott argues that history in the modern world tends overwhelmingly to be written in the modality/genre of romance. We would be better served, he would insist, if histories were written in the genre of tragedy. That much, American Indians can readily affirm.
Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest
An oldie but goodie. A very sophisticated treatment of Race and Gender as very different but thoroughly if complexly articulated (inter-connected) categories. In two decades teaching a theory seminar titled “Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality” no other book has succeeded in messing with the minds of my master’s degree students as much as this one. And that’s what teaching ought to be about.
Vine Deloria, Jr., God Is Red: A Native View of Religions
If you only read one book by a Native author, this ought to be the book. While the book details the upheaval in Indian communities caused by the invasion of Christian european folk hungry for land and new economic resources, Deloria also traces some of the clear distinctions between euro-christian thinking and Native traditions. Especially the difference between spatial and temporal thinking.
Tink Tinker is the Clifford Baldridge Professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions at Iliff School of Theology.
“Five Books that Flip the Script on Disability and Faith”
By Catherine Webb
Jean Vanier, Becoming Human
While this book is small, it speaks directly to assumptions people hold about the value inherent in those who are considered different. By approaching humanity as both broken and beautiful, readers see Vanier’s heart for communities that embrace each person’s weaknesses, gifts, and vulnerabilities, and see these as valuable sources of strength.
Thomas Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality
While Nancy Eiesland’s The Disabled God tends to be the go-to book on disability theology, Reynolds takes a broader perspective, which is inclusive to all people, making it a volume worth reading. Drawing from Disability Studies, theology, and personal experience, this book provides perspective on the problems inherent in the cult of normalcy and the need to reconsider how we approach disability from a theological perspective.
People with disabilities are often considered less than human and on the outside of religious life. This book asks readers to reconsider their definition of human, and explores disability within religious contexts in such a way that assumptions we did not know we had made are brought into the light and examined.
Nancy Eiesland and Don Saliers (eds.), Human Disability and the Service of God: Reassessing Religious Practice
This edited volume presents an opportunity for readers to reassess their religious practice through considering four areas: interpreting texts, theological reflection, interpreting culture, and practical theology. The fourteen authors bring their perspectives together in such a way that one gets a diverse look at how disability is constructed in religious communities and how we might do a better job of interpreting it.
A mix of practical advice and solid research, this book is a helpful resource for leaders of faith communities, regardless of religion, or how many resources a congregation has. When religious leaders ask me how they can create more inclusive faith communities, this is the book I hand them.
Catherine Webb is a PhD Candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research explores the intersection of faith and disability, with a focus on trainings available for religious leaders in the area of disability.
“Five Books that Keep the Magic Going”
By Matilde Moros
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Del Amor y Otros Demonios/Of Love and Other Demons
This novel brings together religion, class, gender, race, sexuality in the Spanish speaking Caribbean and defines love as a demon, not demon. It is especially helpful in magical realism meaning making for my Spanish speaking South American Caribbean feminist ethics of resistance and resilience.
Eduardo Galeano, Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina/The Open Veins of Latin America
This text is history, pain, power, and rebellion woven into one magical reality. It is maybe not so much magical realism, but creative truth telling, weaving the story-telling techniques into hard-to-tell ‘underside of history’ realities.
This memoir kept me mesmerized with the details of the erotic and passionate tales of a woman comandante of the Nicaraguan Revolution. As a poet, commander of the utopian, yet real, magical struggles of the twentieth Century Latin America and beyond, Belli captures the simultaneous quests of feminist struggles in revolutionary times.
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
I read this novel in high school, as I was learning English, isolated as a young Latina arriving to the U.S. South, and it changed my life. This was the first magically real novel I read in English, by an enchanting wordsmith and a truth teller of how racism is internalized and oppression lived by young girls. It is particularly helpful with the construction of blackness in the Americas, the repression lived internally because of our common colonial and damning history of violent race-making.
Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
This classic text is key in introducing brown queer theory from Lainx and Latin American feminist, and highly intersectional perspectives. All the magic of exposing the open wound and providing a recipe for healing and writing is loved by all my students. The first time I read La Frontera, I thought that finally I was part of a community in the U.S., where one is made to feel an outsider at all times.
Matilde Moros, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her dissertation on the twentieth century Afro-Venezuelan feminist political figure, Argelia Laya, focused on resisting “the economy of rape,” a term specific to her work on challenging and resisting misogyny and rape culture. She teaches the methods of “testimonio” as counter-narrative to the violent constructions of gender and sexuality and their intersections with race and class, especially in a “transfrontera” [transboreder] decolonizing context.
“Five Non-Theological Books I Love and Which Helped me Think Better About the Nature and Purpose of Politics”
By Luke Bretherton
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
While I disagree with some of the key distinctions Arendt develops in this book it is a vital text by one of the twentieth century’s greatest political thinkers who herself experienced first-hand some of its most tumultuous history. So much of what Arendt wrote has a direct connection to the contemporary moment but this is the place to begin an engagement with her seminal vision of political life.
Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals
Less read than his later Rules for Radicals, but more important, this book is more narrative driven and grows out of Alinsky’s work in the notorious Back-of-the-Yards district in Chicago. It vividly depicts and analyses what it takes to generate transformative change through putting people and their existing ways of life first. The book opened my eyes to a rich tradition in the US of non-statist democratic thought and practice that was, at the same time, deeply critical of capitalism.
Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision
This is the magnum opus of one of America’s greatest democratic theorists. It is a masterly survey of political theory from Plato onwards, which, at the same time, articulates Wolin’s own vision of a non-statist, anti-capitalist and agonistic democratic politics.
Grace Lee Boggs, Living for Change: An Autobiography
A key collaborator of C. L. R. James, from the 1930s onwards Boggs helped develop a non-statist and democratic vision of communism. She went on to be directly involved in black nationalist and then black power politics in Detroit alongside her husband, James Boggs. The book synthesizes the personal and the political in poignant ways while at the same time being a primer in radical leftwing politics in the US. She displays a remarkable and relentless self-criticism of the varying political positions she held that is deeply instructive.
Bernard Crick, In Defence of Politics
A leading British political theorist, Crick was active in Labour Party politics, debates about Scottish independence and curating the legacy of George Orwell. First published in 1962, Crick kept revising the text so that it subsequently ran to five editions. Much beloved by community organizers, and rich with historical examples, the book sets out a constructive and accessible account of politics, while at the same time exhorting its readers to keep faith with the messy and time-bound nature of politics as the negotiation of a common life and the primary means of countering all forms of domination.
Luke Bretherton is Professor of Theological Ethics and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. His most recent book is Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship and the Politics of a Common Life (Cambridge University Press, 2015).