Following Jacob Prahlow and Brian LePort‘s Top 10 lists, I figured I would post my own. 2015 was a good year for reading: 84 books total! Not bad, especially considering I got married, finished my BA, and started graduate school. An eventful year to say the least.
I like to divide my year’s top books into two categories: innovative books that opened new questions for me on topics I know little about, and influential books that are part of my scholarly interests and contribute to my development as a thinker.
- Religions of Rome: Volume 1: A History by Mary Beard
Beard’s book is a dense, magisterial survey, accompanied by a second volume that collects primary sources on Roman religions. I particularly like how Beard reviews the sources on different aspects and time periods of Roman religion, to give an idea of where our evidence comes from and each source’s strengths and weaknesses. She also gives a convincing argument that Roman religion prior in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE was not waning and falling away to make room for Christianity
- Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor by S. R. F. Price
Price’s book is old (late 1970s), but he makes a convincing case that the imperial cult in Rome was not mere top-down political propaganda, but often an intimate part of peoples’ personal devotion. His focus is on the Hellenistic era, making this particularly relevant for understanding early Christian language of kingship.
- Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective by Amina Wadud
Wadud, a prominent American Muslim scholar and advocate for womens’ expanded role in Islamic leadership, argues that the Qur’an is not patriarchal, but has been interpreted so by centuries of male interpreters. I ultimately disagree with her conclusion, but her prophetic tone really began a conversation over 20 years ago in this book, and she gave me a lot to think about.
- Jesus in the Talmud by Peter Schäfer
Schafer’s book looks at Jesus’ depiction in the Talmud through the lens of anti-Christian polemic. Before I took a course in rabbinic literature this fall, I had never studied Talmud, so this book was a fascinating entry-point into that world of scholarship.
- The Im-possibility of Interreligious Dialogue by Catherine Cornille
After staring at this book on my shelf for a couple of years, I finally read it for a class in Christian-Muslim Dialogue. Cornille examines the role of virtue in interreligious dialogue and clarifies what aspects make up an ideal dialogue.
- The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters by R. S. Sugirtharajah
This is my third book by “Sugi,” who always writes witty and intelligently. Sugi is prominent in the field of postcolonial biblical interpretation, and gives me a lot of ideas on how to read scripture in an interreligious context.
- Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide for Interreligious Education by Judith Berling
Berling’s book describes how to guide people in to understanding other religions, as a balance between incorporating the students’ perspectives and engaging other religions on their own terms. This pedagogical book is useful for anyone studying religion, whether in an interfaith context or a comparative religion context.
- Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi
Qureshi is a Muslim who converted to Christianity, and his book was a very interesting portrait of his (de)conversion and Christian arguments against Islam. I really appreciated his tone of charity and kindness toward Muslims even though he disagrees with the central doctrines of their religion.
- The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew– Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
This book, co-authored by three women (Muslim, Christian, and Jew), is an excellent model for what interfaith can look like on a local, personal, non-scholarly level. Really enjoyed.
- Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Jon D. Levenson
Levenson, a Hebrew Bible scholar, elucidates traditions about Abraham in all three Abrahamic faiths, then argues against the use of the word “Abrahamic” and contemporary efforts to make Abraham a symbol of commonality. I like how he intelligent brings out major differences between the religions, and how Abraham is construed quite differently in all three.
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Like most prophets, Malcolm X sounds like someone who would have been very hard to get along with. But his autobiography was amazing, and really helped me understand a dimension of the Civil Rights movement that we didn’t learn as much about in school.
- The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy Seal by Eric Greitens
After a top-notch Ivy League education and job offers from top aid organizations, Greitens joined the Navy Seals out of a conviction that protecting the vulnerable of the world through force was the best way to help others. I really admired this intelligent man’s reflections on how the heart and the fist must work together.
- Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Gail Steketee and Randy O. Frost
Coming from a family of hoarders, the mental illness has always fascinated me. This book, co-authored by a social worker and a psychologist, really dives into the mindset of hoarding, and what works to fix the problem (hint: city clean-ups don’t do it).
- How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill
My wife loves this book, and I read it on our honeymoon. Cahill writes really well about Irish monks’ role in preserving classical texts at a time when classical civilization had fallen apart and the rest of Europe was in the “dark ages.”
Other Achievements in 2015:
- I got married! This is surely the top item of the year. I can’t even begin to describe how much my wife enhances and supports me in every area of my life.
- I got into graduate school and got the funding I needed to attend.
- I (re-)started my job at Santa Clara University Archives & Special Collections, and showed our edition of The Saint John’s Bible to several classes and community groups, growing my skills in teaching and deepening my appreciation of scripture.
- I finished my first research assistant job, helping my professor publish a critical edition of a scroll of the Book of the Twelve from Qumran. I also began working as a proof-reader for Theological Studies. This January I start another job, helping a professor put together a guidebook for students of Biblical Hebrew.
- I finished several diverse writing projects, including my first peer-reviewed article on Buddhist-Christian dual belonging, an article coming out soon derived from my senior thesis on Herakles in Buddhist art, an opinion piece at Religion Dispatches, and a book note forthcoming in Theological Studies.
- Life changes really took a bite out of my reading productivity for the year. I got married at the end of August, and for the weeks leading up to the big day, I got very little reading done!
- Graduate school actually lowered my reading productivity. Professors like to assign articles and book chapters, neither of which count toward book reading.
- Similarly, language classes also don’t count. For example, in the spring I took a Greek reading course in the Iliad. Obviously, we didn’t finish it in Greek in 10 weeks, and by mere quantity of text we actually moved very slowly compared to if we had read the epic in English.
Goals for 2016:
- Rather than aim for another 100-book quota that I know I won’t meet without reading lots of fluff, my goal for 2016 is to read one major work in my academic field each month — and give it a long, thoughtful review.
- I would like to join Jennifer Guo in reading the entire Greek New Testament in 2016, following Wallace’s reading plan.
- I would like to finish my Biblical Studies Reading Challenge.
- As for blogging, I would like to submit a substantive post to the Biblical Studies Carnival every month.