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.
We’re honored to share the fifth installment of “Books We Love” below. The first installment can be found here, the second one here, the third one here, and the fourth one here. We hope to publish more installments of “Books We Love” periodically over the next few months, either in the form of individual posts or small group posts.
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 in my Amazon Cart….I Swear I Will Buy Them all Someday”
By Abimbola Adelakun
This book interests me because of its narration of early Christianity and its objectionable features. When it was first published a year ago, it cost $28. The cheapskate that I am, I tucked it away in my Amazon cart expecting the price to fall. Now that the eBook version costs $12, I think it is time to buy it. Or, I might wait a bit longer.
Michelle M. Wright, Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology
My professor thinks every Africana scholar should read this book. I agree. I just need an uninterrupted 12 hours to myself, so I too can catch up with the rest of the academia.
As someone who grew up wearing second-hand clothes, I feel I should read this book. Somehow, I have not been able to summon enough motivation to read it beyond the obligation to confront my past life.
Nimi Wariboko, God and Money: A Theology of Money in a Globalizing World
I found this book when I was working on a proposal on Pentecostal prosperity theology. I read excerpts to prepare the said proposal and I decided I would buy the whole book. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected, and the book has not left my Amazon cart since then.
Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
Clicking “buy” on this book means buying other books in my cart as well. I do not want to push the other books to the limbo (aka the “save for later” list) so I keep dillydallying while everybody else in the world reads this remarkable book.
Abimbola Adelakun recently obtained a Ph.D. in Performance as Public Practice in the Department of Theatre and Dance, the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests include Pentecostal rituals and performances in Africa, Pentecostalism as performance, Africana culture, and dramatic literature. Abimbola is a recipient of several awards. They include the University of Texas Outstanding Graduate Student Award, the 2016 Mellon Summer Fellowship at Harvard, and the AAUW (International) award.
“Five Books Written After 2005 that have Transformed the Way I think about Writing”
By Sheila Otieno
Emilie Townes, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil
Dr. Townes has a way of painting a picture with her words. These painted pictures evoke memory and cognition, as though she were explaining a photographic image. When Townes describes a time and a place, one can almost imagine people milling about and even smell the air around them.
Mark C. Taylor, The Theological and The Political: On the Weight of the World
Dr. Taylor’s work was my induction to postmodern theological writing. It was exciting, brilliant and colorful all at the same time. I can remember vividly thinking: “Wow! Is it possible to construct beautiful words that hold this much depth?” Taylor’s book answered: “Yes.”
Joe Winters, Hope Draped in Black
Dr. Winters makes reading philosophy truly enjoyable. The marriage of culture, method and prose in his deeply thoughtful work results in a fruitful burst of literary exegesis. His is writing that speaks to lovers of literature, while also academically deciphering the obscure corners of aesthetics in a way that one would never have imagined unless one encountered it.
Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics and Black Feminist Theories of the Human
Dr. Weheliye is a visionary thinker in articulating issues surrounding race, ideas of the human and discourses on biopolitics. His writing style guides heavy hitting conversations to a deeper level, invoking immersive confrontation with the dangerous reality faced by black and brown bodies every day.
Dr. Marshall Turman is not only unapologetically womanist, she is also boldly intuitive, writing with a keen and insightful bravery. Her words leap from the page and announce themselves beyond their theological structure and remind the audience that neither their author nor her message can be ignored. Writing like hers reminds me that theology does not belong only to the chosen few.
Sheila Otieno is a rising second year PhD student at Boston University’s School of Theology, is passionate about Ethics and Religion and what emerges when the two rub up against one another. She is especially interested in African Religions and the moral traditions within them that continue to inform contemporary African social ethics.
“Five Books that Wow’d Me”
By Wonhee Anne Joh
Kim offers a critical interpretation of the Cold War logic and unsettles what she terms ‘America’s exceptionalist (inter)national “identity politics.”’ Kim’s work was important for me as I articulate the co-constitutive and coterminous relations between Asian American and Asia particularly the relation between Korea and Korean America. Contrary to the ‘in search of the American Dream’ narrative foisted upon and self-styled by many Korean immigrants, Kim argues the Cold War was and continues to be a project of imperialism forging gendered racial formation in Asia which made possible, among other dynamics, migration. Most significant for me is learning through her extensive research, the depth of Cold War politics and its aftermath today. I appreciate this move toward Critical Cold War Studies.
Similar to Spivak’s critical work on A Critique of Postcolonial Reason where she examines the ‘masters of suspicion’ who formed what she termed ‘axiomatics of imperialism,’ Rifkin interrogates three canonical literary texts to make a case for what he terms ‘settler common sense.’ While heralded as progressive texts by many settlers past and present, a critical reading of these texts indicate to what extent they foreclose the ways in which settler colonialism was benefitting the readers as well as permeate the writers’ world. Rifkin makes connections between these classic texts and contemporary queer ethics and politics to challenge some of our liberal assumptions of ideals such as freedom and justice. I found this book critical in making the connection between militarized settler colonialism and its on-going colonial and militarized imperialism today.
Animacies engages with queer theory, affect theory, disability studies and environmental studies with race and gender studies to examine those connections of toxicity and animality which converge with race, sexuality, disability, environment and marginalized communities. Chen argues that animacy ‘tugs’ at the ‘categories of race and sexuality out of their own homes.’ This work was incredibly helpful to me who have been struggling with and living with and through chronic illness as female person of color. Her interrogation of what is ‘life’, living/nonliving, human or not, often conjoined with sense of ‘animate’ and ‘animation’ was enriching and empowering. Mix in analysis of race, queer theory and the forms of life often protected and not protected in our world, particularly in the U.S. one can begin to see forms of radical uneven ways in which biopolitical management take place so seamlessly.
The dangers faced by migrants crossing the US-Mexico border are not random, capricious nor senseless. Rather The Land of Open Graves is emphatic that the life-taking dangers, including all the dangers fraught in the Sonoran Desert, are all part of strategic federal plan. Even the geographic terrain into which migrants are forced to cross then are seen to be in service to the killing machine. While the US Border Control disguises and packages narrative of deaths in the desert as ‘environmental disasters’ and blames the desert for migrant deaths, their goal nonetheless is to make invisible how the US Border Control has strategic classes border access into one of the most dangerous places along the border for migrants to cross. De Leon engages with anthropology, new materialisms, history of militarized violence into the ways in which even environment becomes an extension of brutal biopolitical management of particular peoples. Reading this in tandem with Elizabeth Povinelli’s Geontologies helped to radically shift my growing interest in environmental studies, colonialism and on-going imperial violence.
Maria Josefina Saldana-Portillo, Indian Given: Racial Geographies Across Mexico and the United States
Indian Given examines the geo-graphing of colonization that produced and produces racial cartographies of the Mexico-US border and offers a trenchant critique of racial formation “of The Mexican as mestizo, of the Mexican American as white, of the Anglo-American as citizen, of the Mexican Indian as exceptional, of the U.S. Indian as anachronism” through and in which borderlands continue to function as representational space in the colonial and national imaginaries of both Mexico and the US. This research was yet another eye-opener for me as I continue to articulate the borderlands as geographic lines in the ground that served to carve up imperial presence and reach even today through imperial global militarism. In particular this work was helpful to begin thinking about the racial geographies of transpacific Asia and Asian American constructed through militarized violence and coerced alliances that have taken root in the national imaginaries of, e.g., Korea and the US since the Korean War.
Wonhee Anne Joh is Professor of Theology and Culture at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and an Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Religious Studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University.
“Five Books I’ll Read As Soon As I Submit My Dissertation”
By Jennifer Owens-Jofré
Joshua Dubler and Vincent Lloyd, Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the Abolition of Prisons
Dubler and Lloyd’s forthcoming book will analyze the ways in which religion has supported mass incarceration, as well as argue for the necessity of prison abolition in the United States. After having listened to Lloyd present on this topic twice this year, I am curious to learn more about the nature and the tenability of the proposal these two authors will make.
Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
Davis’ 2005 text demonstrates how inextricably tied the creation of a just society is to the abolition of the prison system. As the movement for prison abolition gains traction in progressive circles, the arguments scholar-activists like Davis make become even more pressing for theologians and scholars of religion to engage.
Jacqueline M. Hidalgo, Revelation in Aztlán: Scriptures, Utopias, and the Chicano Movement
Hidalgo argues that communities with collective experiences of displacement draw on sacred texts as a means of creating and challenging their sense of home. Grasping such dynamics has the potential to enrich my understanding of the role of religion in the Chicano movement, an understanding that is increasingly important as faith-based community organizing around issues like immigration becomes more vital for Chicanas/os, Latinas/os, and other minoritized communities in the United States.
Elizabeth Kryder-Reid, California Mission Landscapes: Race, Memory, and the Politics of Heritage
Kryder-Reid promises to paint a rich portrait of the gardens of the California missions, contested “sites of forced labor, romantic nationalism, racial formation, indigenous experience, and religious devotion.” Kryder-Reid’s text may contextualize the work of Junipero Serra, OFM, whom Pope Francis canonized in 2015, an act that has brought controversy to some corners of the academy, as well as to some ecclesial communities. I look forward to seeing what insights Kryder-Reid might have to contribute to such debates.
Linda Martín Alcoff, The Future of Whiteness
Written in 2015, Martín Alcoff’s text discusses the durability of whiteness, arguing that half of the US American population has rejected notions of white supremacy and that levels of integration at that time were higher than they ever have been. Reading this piece of her work will enable me to look back at how a leading scholar on race assessed whiteness before the 2016 presidential election, and I hope to glean ideas that could help us better understand the current socio-political landscape.
Jennifer Owens-Jofré is a doctoral candidate Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Her Area is Interdisciplinary Studies, and she has an Allied Field in Systematic and Philosophical Theology. Jennifer’s dissertation outlines the contours of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe at a Latinx Catholic parish in the greater Los Angeles area and identifies implications of that devotion for Mariology and ministry.
“Five Books that Make me a Better Reader of Dogmatic Theology”
By Michelle C. Sanchez
Louis Mackey, Peregrinations of the Word
Anselm’s ontological argument is fundamentally an argument for the reliability of language. This and other insights from Mackey’s beautiful and incisive readings of Latin medieval theology remind contemporary readers that questions driving Christian theology have often been rooted in deeply human, general questions—questions about the power, integrity, and limits of language; how meaning attaches to ordinary things; and how language positions you in relation to what exceeds your grasp.
Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty
When someone starts using language to cut and define time itself, watch out: a power play is unfolding. Davis’s draws from the early modern juridical archive to demonstrate how the construction of “modern sovereignty” co-created both a ”medieval feudal” past and, ultimately, an “other” to be colonized. The larger lesson is that the uncritical use of periodic categories obscures the complexity of historical data. What treasures await when one approaches old theological texts as complex bodies that might just spring back to upset the imposed strictures of their “historical period”?
James Cone, God of the Oppressed
When the words of scripture and tradition are being spoken, it matters who is speaking. If meaning relies on context—on how teaching is materialized, carried, and recast by living bodies occupying complex intersections of social power—then there is no dogmatic theology that is not already political theology. If Jesus’ social location is intrinsic to the meaning of Jesus’ words and actions, then constant socio-political structural analysis is central to the hermeneutical task.
Giorgio Agamben, The Signature of All Things
What does it mean that theology and politics share so many conceptual resemblances? Must we conclude that one domain is parasitical on the other, or that one domain gradually became the other? Agamben’s essays on method recall the much older theory of “signatures.” Discourses resemble and affect one another because they generate constellations of signs that can share resonant shapes—and, as such, place concrete particulars in relation to other concrete particulars without presuming a mediating universal category. The urgent question is not whether something is essentially political or theological, but how a particular signature shapes the thinking and acting of those who engage it.
Judith Butler, Giving An Account of Oneself
Narratives do not reveal hidden truths, but perform a subject before the address of another. In addition to presenting one of the most rich and compelling takes on ethics as responsibility to the other, Butler reminds readers that every discourse comes to life as a response. Not only does this illumine much of what is at stake, say, in old debates over predestination; it also invites readers of theology to ask who or what called our theological texts to life. A work of theology, then, is not a set of claims; nor is it merely a transcripted conversation. It is a living record of the concrete subjects that have been performed in concrete circumstances by means of the narratives that a tradition has made available.
Michelle C. Sanchez is assistant professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School, where she teaches courses on the legacy of the Protestant Reformations, Calvin and later reformed theologies, theology as moral and written practice, the political-economic dimensions of the doctrine of providence, and theological responses to suffering. Her work on the ritualized dimensions of Jean Calvin’s writing was recently published in Journal of the American Academy of Religion. She is also completing her first book, which examines the role of reading and writing in Jean Calvin’s theological pedagogy and his particular strategy of world-reform.
“Five Books That Set Me Free”
By Nikia Robert
W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk
I recall my 6th grade class trip to Burlington, Vermont to meet our pen-pals. My mother was a chaperone and one evening she took me into town for dinner. I remember the stares, slow motion and stigma of being Black in Burlington. Every move magnified. The scraping sound of my fork amplified. I was in a socio-cultural fishbowl. For years, I wrestled with this internalized feeling of otherness; of how I perceived myself versus how others perceived me. As a young adult reading The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois’ conception of dual consciousness accorded me a framework to understand my experience of being Black in the purview of the white normative gaze. It gave prose to my introspections of dualities burdened by an existential crisis. When Du Bois prescribed the perennial problem of the twentieth century as the color line, it reflected my warring soul of being Black and transient – moving betwixt and between oppression and power, otherness and normativity, Harlem and White America. This self-awareness proved formidable for my becoming and liberating.
James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power
As a Black college student navigating a hostile racial climate on a predominately white private affluent campus, Black Theology and Black Power gave voice to my vulnerabilities. Cone’s candor awakened in me a revolutionary spirit where I found expression that validated my introspections, frustrations and struggles of being outcast and oppressed. This led to a deeper pursuit for affirming truths of liberation. As a result of reading Black Theology and Black Power, I found within me a willingness to assume the risks of faith that required radical resistance. I learned that Black power and Black religion were inextricably linked to Black liberation. This seminal book made an indelible mark on my faith, formation and fight for freedom. As a result, I found salvation in a Christian faith that prioritizes emancipation through God who is on the side of the oppressed. This emphasis on liberation remains at the core of my theology, scholarship and activism.
In seminary, I was introduced to Grant’s Jesus – a Black Woman who acts in solidarity with Black women to confront the tridimensional experiences of sexism, racism and classism. Grant challenged the patriarchy of Black Theology and the racism of White feminism. She constructed a womanist theology that extended liberation to the struggles and salvation of Black women. Courageously, Grant asked the question: “Is Jesus a White racist and a male sexist? (Grant, 190).” This inquiry prompted an interrogation of patriarchal structures of oppression in religious and secular spaces from the Church to the academy and preempted a figurative search in my “mother’s gardens.” In this garden, I found self-worth and self-esteem as a Black Christian woman bestowing faith in a Black female divine. Thus, because of womanism I see the essence of my womanhood as a reflection of God. This awakening is liberating and life-sustaining.
Delores Williams, Sisters In The Wilderness
In Sisters In The Wilderness, through the lens of biblical Hagar, I found validation in my experience of growing up with a mother who struggled to single handedly provide for her children with minimal resources to survive. Williams helped me to understand the deep-seated history of oppression rooted in voluntary and involuntary surrogacy. She challenged me to interrogate sacrificial theologies and the meaning of the cross for the bodies of Black women. Reading Sisters In The Wilderness helped me to evolve from a naïve faith in a God of the oppressed to a matured acceptance of a God who is not always a liberator. Subsequently, I wrestled with a fundamental belief in the blood that never loses its power to a deliberative suspicion of a cross that does not always save. As an extension, the soteriological significance of Sisters In the Wilderness deeply informs my formation, faith and frames my research to examine the criminalization of Black women who courageously develop survival strategies to secure wholeness and quality of life amidst the wildernesses of a carceral state. Sisters In The Wilderness set me and my soteriology free to imagine the saving potentiality of human agency among Black women who, “muster the courage to survive when survival gave no promise (Williams, 50).”
Mark Lewis Taylor, The Executed God
When sitting in a Christology course with Dr. James H. Cone at Union Theological Seminary, I read Crucifixion by Mark Hengel. Almost instantly, I began to see the correlation of crucifixions as a religious-political punishment that resembled the scapegoating of Black bodies to the prison industrial complex. While this seemed like a cogent connection, it was not yet a popular idea. I therefore struggled to convey the argument to my professors in ways that were accepted as academically viable. In response, I turned this scholarly discovery into a research project and it became a Master’s thesis. In my research, I was introduced to The Executed God. Reading this book was an affirming “Aha” moment. Importantly, The Executed God pointed to Jesus’ state sanctioned execution as a theater of counter-terror that is crucial for mobilizing resistance to Lockdown America. This connection between Jesus’ cross and the carceral state was a defining moment in my thinking. Resonantly, Taylor provided the language and framework I needed to ground and guide my research. In this direction, I am interested in the theological underpinnings of punishment to derive a liberation theology for lockdown America.
Nikia Robert is earning a PhD in religion at Claremont School of Theology with a focus on theological ethics and public policy. Her primary research interest examines the theo-political underpinnings of punishment and the carceral state through the framings of race, gender and class. She is a native New Yorker currently living in Southern California with her husband and three children.
“Five Books on My Intersectional Summer Reading List”
By Michelle Voss Roberts
“Intersectionality” names discourses about how multiple types of power and oppression function in people’s lives. As a white feminist theologian and a would-be activist, I’m among a group of people who most need to be awakened to these dynamics. So here are some of the books outside my own standpoint and discipline that I am reading this summer to enlarge my framework.
Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality
Two of the major movements that excite me—Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March on Washington—are built on the premise of intersectionality. However, that concept and its employment in those movements are coming under fire from various angles. I want to know: How do some of the foremost proponents of intersectionality define and mobilize it at this moment in time?
Remember the “bathroom bill”? The North Carolina political situation and my students’ fluency with a range of gender expressions and sexual orientations have me rethinking how I speak, write, and teach about gender at WFUSD. Serano pointedly explains both how my feminism does—and perhaps does not—equip me to be a cissexual ally.
Christopher J. Lebron, The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea
Because the activities and message of Black Lives Matter tend to come to the rest of the public in polarized and polarizing fragments, Lebron helpfully connects the movement to earlier Black activists and writers in order to develop a clear and nuanced political philosophy. I have been recommending this book to, well, just about everyone.
Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip
I’m revisiting this book in order to teach my “Theology and Disability” course in the fall. Kafer’s political model of disability challenges ideals that may be dear to the reader’s heart, including a future free of disability, individualist fantasies of the “supercrip,” and popular views of nature and the natural.
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice
This book seems like the outlier on the list, but I have always been intrigued by the proposition that a nondual metaphysic can activate compassionate presence and action in the world. As Bourgeault spirals deeper into this proposition, and as I experiment with some of the practices she proposes, I may be starting to understand what she means. Could the temporary suspension of the “small I” identities, which are central to intersectionality, actually help people to be more receptive to intersectional critique and effective at coalition building?
Michelle Voss Roberts is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Theology at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She trains a generation of religious leaders who approach religious diversity, gender, race, sexuality, and disability with curiosity and respect. Her scholarship creates new inroads into theological doctrines through collaboration with other scholars (Comparing Faithfully: Insights for Systematic Theological Reflection) and award-winning works of comparative theology (Dualities: A Theology of Difference; Tastes of the Divine: Hindu and Christian Theologies of Emotion). Her theological anthropology, Body Parts, will be published this fall by Fortress Press.
“Five Books My Iraqi Students Love”
By Edith Szanto
Adam Hanieh, Lineages of Revolt
This book traces the changes in the political economy over the last few decades and thereby
contextualizes the Arab Spring.
Amira Bennison, The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire
The Great Caliphs counters the assumption that Islam represented a radical break from classical antiquity. Bennison discusses political development, urbanization, social differentiation, trade, and science in the early ‘Abbasid era.
Olivier Roy, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah
The Islamic revival is often falsely portrayed as a backlash against modernity and westernization, rather than a consequence of ongoing processes. Roy explains that neo-fundamentalists are marginalized second-generation immigrants, rather than literalist believers. As Islam spreads across the globe, religious and cultural change occurs in tandem with social changes.
Kecia Ali, Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam
Kecia Ali elaborates how Muslim jurists in the formative period conceived of marriage as similar to slavery. In keeping with hierarchical and patriarchal notions common among pre-modern Muslim elites, just as masters were seen as superior to slaves and Muslims as superior to non-Muslims, the husband was viewed as superior to the wife.
This work analyzes the importance of landownership and class in the study of the Middle East. Al-Khafaji argues that what unites most Middle Eastern political leaders is the fact that most of them were (and continue to be) wealthy landowners.
Edith Szanto is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. Edith received her PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto in 2012. She is currently completing her manuscript of Twelver Shi‘ism in contemporary Syria. Her new project examines popular religion in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Five Books that Made my Mind Toward Theological Critique of Capitalism”
By Jung Mo Sung
Franz Hinkelammert, The Ideological Weapons of Death: A Theological Critique of Capitalism
This is the first liberation theology book that makes a thoughtful theological critique of capitalism using the concept of “fetish” – of commodity, money and capital – as the spirit of institutions and the market.
Franz Hinkelammert, Crítica de la Razón Utópica (The Critique of Utopian Reason)
This book shows how every social theory needs a utopian concept and utopian horizon as transcendental condition to evaluate social reality and to propose a utopia to legitimize the dominant institution, e.g. a totally free market in neoliberal capitalism. (Available in Spanish, Portuguese and German).
Hugo Assmann and Franz Hinkelammert, A idolatria do Mercado (Idolatry of the Market)
This is the one of most important books on theological critiques of capitalism. It analyses the endogenous theology of market ideology and the relationship between theology and economy. (Available in Spanish, Portuguese and German).
René Girard, Violence and the Sacred
The understanding of the relationship among desire, violence and the sacred, that this book provides, is fundamental to understanding how capitalist society manipulates consumption desire, violence against social scapegoats, and how the market is seen as sacred.
Juan Luis Segundo, The Liberation of Dogma: Faith, Revelation, and Dogmatic Teaching Authority
To rethink the role of theology in a global neoliberal society it is important to rethink the notion of dogma and of revelation.
Jung Mo Sung is Professor at Graduate Program in Religious Studies, Methodist University of São Paulo, Brazil. He is the author of Desire, Market and Religion; Beyond the Spirit of Empire (with J. Rieger and N. Miguez) and other books.
“Five Books on (Political) Philosophy in Medieval Islam”
By Shatha Almutawa
Al-Farabi, Book of Religion (Kitab al-milla)
This treatise by the tenth-century philosopher Al-Farabi lays out the Second Teacher’s understanding of prophecy, kingship, and philosophy, and how the three must intersect for the creation of a virtuous city. Al-Farabi builds on the idea of the philosopher-king which appears in Plato’s Republic.
Written around the same time as Al-Farabi’s Book of Religion, Ikhwan Al-Safa tackle the problem of politics indirectly in their treatises. However, they assert that in order for humanity to gain greater understanding of the world in which they live, and also of themselves, they need to gather the knowledge of all peoples, regardless of religion or ethnicity. They advocate for bringing together the knowledge of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and Greek polytheists. They combine all these ideas in creative and colorful ways that show that science and religion can co-exist, and so can the various peoples of the world. Interspersed in these epistles are quotes and passages from Plato’s Republic, interpreted creatively and built on by this secret society.
Ibn Tufayl, Hayy ibn Yaqzan
This twelfth-century fictional tale tells the story of Alive son of Awake, who may have been spontaneously generated on an island where he was raised by a deer. He discovers Aristotelian philosophy by observing the world, and creates his own religious rituals, mirroring those of Sufi Islam. The ending of the book presents Ibn Tufayl’s political theology, borrowing from and building on Al-Farabi’s thought.
Dimitri Gutas, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture
In order to understand the influence of Greek thought on Muslim philosophers, such as the three above, read Dimitri Gutas. He presents a clear exposition of how the Arabs first encountered Greek thought, why they decided to translate all Greek secular works into Arabic, and how they succeeded in this enterprise in the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries.
Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima
The work of Islam’s most important sociologist, The Introduction of Ibn Khaldun presents ideas about all aspects of Islam and politics, as well as the author’s critiques of various schools of thought. Ibn Khaldun’s ideas are surprisingly modern and strikingly familiar. His theories are attractive and influential, and resonate with undergraduate students.
Shatha Almutawa is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Willamette University. She received her PhD in Muslim and Jewish intellectual history from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
“Five Books on My Nightstand”
By Nyle Fort
James Baldwin, James Baldwin: Collected Essays
Baldwin articulates, with brutal clarity, the glory and doom of what it means to be human and to fight for a life worth living in the face of a death-dealing democracy.
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul
Race books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me describe black suffering without offering a way out. Glaude does both. The revolution of values he calls for in his new book may be this country’s last hope.
Robin D.G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: Black Radical Imagination
The most important question freedom-fighters can ask and answer is what kind of world we want to build. Kelley’s history of the black radical imagination demonstrates just this. His is a story of the global struggle to remake the world and ourselves in the service of the work.
Scripture is a battleground. The same bible slave masters used to justify slavery is the same bible enslaved Africans used to imagine freedom.
Toni Morrison, Beloved
Morrison’s novel illustrates what I take to be the best of the African American tradition: a reckoning with the nastiness of American life and, yet, a refusal to let white supremacy have the last word. As Baby Suggs tells her granddaughter, Denver: “Know it, but go out in the yard.”
Nyle Fort is a minister, activist, and Ph.D. student in religion and African American studies at Princeton University.