add to wish list, rinse, repeat
August 3, 2007 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Recommendations for books about religion & theology - phenomenology of, anthropological, sociological, etc.

Please give me suggested reading (classics, contemporary, novels, personal favorites) that deal with the discussion of religion/theology and god(s), more from the approach of what these kinds of insitutions fulfill in humankind. I realize, but am open to all kinds of suggestions!

(ps:) i'm beginning a MTS at divinity school soon, and am so excited, yet feel a little overwhelmed about wanting to read this and that and more and add every single book that deals with these broad ideas to my Amazon wishlist... so would like to narrow it down to what/why people think something is a good read

(ps part deux:) i will concentrate my degree in focusing on islam and women, but for now, very much open to discussion of religion (big ones, little ones, living, dead and all) that is less about scripture and rules, but an emphasis on the humanity of belief systems.
posted by raztaj to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can't go wrong with Durkheim, William James, C G Jung, and maybe a little James Frazer when you get around to it.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:30 AM on August 3, 2007

First and foremost, you should purchase James C. Livingston's Anatomy of the Sacred. It is the text that I come back to, as a student of Religious Studies, again and again and again.

You may also find Joseph Campbell's The Hero with A Thousand Faces of interest.

Secondly, I encourage you to pick up almost anything by Mircea Eliade.
posted by numinous at 11:31 AM on August 3, 2007

Perhaps a little too cultural history for you, but Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic is a tour-de-force.
posted by Abiezer at 11:39 AM on August 3, 2007

Specific Eliade: The Sacred and the Profane.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:41 AM on August 3, 2007

Also Max Weber's work - particularly The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

On a (much) lighter note I really enjoyed Karan Armstrong's books, especially The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness. :)
posted by gleea at 12:02 PM on August 3, 2007

Feuerbach the philosopher first popularised the idea that God was a projection of mankind. I think he invented the modern notion of reading Christianity allegorically but from within, as a believer. Don't know which book to recommend, but a quick look at Wikipedia will probably tell you.

And I'm a huge fan of a little piece by Wittgenstein, Notes on Frazer's Golden Bough. A very humanizing and sympathetic look at religion as a whole from the outside.
posted by creasy boy at 12:04 PM on August 3, 2007

It's critical that you read Confessions of St. Augustine.
posted by solongxenon at 12:07 PM on August 3, 2007

The two works along these lines that I've read are (1) Max Weber's "The Sociology of Religion," which is 85 years old now, but still in print because it is a classic in the field. Dated, certainly, but work a look even still; (2) Peter Berger's "The Sacred Canopy" if you read and appreciated Berger and Luckman's "Social Construction of Reality," you can see quickly where Berger is going with this, but it quite insightful nonetheless. It's 40 years old, which I guess means I need to see what's been written in my lifetime and get updated. But those should be representative of major turns in the field, if you want to go that deeply into it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:15 PM on August 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the suggestions! Any others, I'm all ears. Many thanks.
posted by raztaj at 12:52 PM on August 3, 2007

Are you interested in the phenomenology of Islam, from an anthropological point of view? Or the study of phenomenology from an anthropological point of view related to the rise of Islam and the influence of primitivism and animism in the Arab Peninsula?
posted by parmanparman at 12:54 PM on August 3, 2007

I'd highly recommend Dan Dennett's Breaking the Spell is more or less exactly along those lines (although coming from a self described "Bright" ad not particularly scholarly)... but, I am a bit of a fan.

Forgive the crappy link, I'm on a cellphone...
posted by cosmonaught at 1:13 PM on August 3, 2007

Here, you can ask for Varieties of Religious Experience to be sent to you by email, or use RSS, to read it in bite-size parts of your choosing.

I just received segment 1 of 212 a few minutes ago.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:18 PM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks also, to ibmcginty (awesome link!) & parmanparman for the suggestions!

Cosmonaught - I'm definitely interested in all of the above. Not what I intend to do my thesis (and perhaps eventual PhD) in, but I have a special interest in the development of Islamic reform in Arabia, and the pre-existing influences... having been enculturated into the faith--but not so much now (!).

Those are dangerous ideas for Muslims to talk about, but I find heresy is interesting...
posted by raztaj at 2:01 PM on August 3, 2007

I haven't read it, but Hitchens' "God is not great" may be of interest, in terms of religion's effect on humanity. I have liked some of Hitchens' other work, so it may be worthwhile.
posted by DarkForest at 3:18 PM on August 3, 2007

For an old-school anthropological take, try Bronislaw Malinowski's Magic, Science and Religion. I've never read the essay straight through, but recommend it based on the bits and pieces I have read.

For a PoMo anthropological take, check out James D. Faubion's The Shadows and Lights of Waco: Millenialism Today. A little bit dense, but I found it rewarding.

Good for you for keeping an open mind at this stage of your studies. Taking a broad, comparative approach will (from the perspective of this anthropology grad student, anyway) be more rewarding than focusing myopically on your intended dissertation topic. Happy reading!
posted by splendid animal at 9:35 PM on August 3, 2007

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