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Ask HN: What is the Finest Ebook on Faith

Ask HN: What is the Finest Ebook on Faith

2023-05-28 10:04:06

I’m an Anglican (Episcopalian) deacon – your question is perhaps slightly problematic, in that “religion” is extremely difficult to define. Westerners (confessional Christians or not) tend to have in mind something that looks a bit like protestant Christianity. Faith traditions intersect with culture and history and everything else.

Brent Nongbri’s “Before Religion” is good on this; he engages with the whole concept of “religion” and pulls it apart; you mention the idea of evolution of religion, which is itself an idea he critiques. You might find it very interesting.

I can’t speak for any other major faith, but if you want a thousand-mile in the sky view of the history of Christianity, Alister McGrath’s “Christian History” is a decent start. You might find short courses being run at a local university or theological college.

And for Islam, I recommend Karen Armstrong’s “Islam: A Short History”. This book gives context to Muhammad as a Man in addition to the influential religion he adapted/created (for most major religions are adaptations, “modernizations” of what came before.)

I’m a big fan of the “Very Short Introductions” series from Oxford University Press. They’re usually brief and gives a wide starting point to a lot of different viewpoints of a subject, useful as a starting point into a topic. Seems there are about 730 books published in the series so far, with a wide range of topics.

I personally have not learn it, however there may be one for faith as properly, “Faith: A Very Quick Introduction” (9780190064679). Then there are a bunch of them round particular topics in faith as properly, browse the record within the Wikipedia article and you will find them.

I’ve learn perhaps ~20 books from the collection and all moreover two or three have been of utmost high quality, so most likely this one is at the least a superb place to begin.

I have had the opposite experience and don’t recommend this series at all. Every book I’ve read from it is either rambling and hard to follow or simply not written for a beginner audience. You’re better off reading the Wikipedia page.

“The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion” by Mircea Eliade and “Eight Theories of Religion” by Daniel Pals aren’t focused on a single religion but provide nice overviews on its history and evolution.

I was surprised at how interested I got in “the history of god”, which covers the 3 big Abrahamic religions.

It’s very informative, I’ve actually learnt a lot of useful things to understand cultural stuff I’m actually encountering often (what does the trinity _means_? Whats do the ancient greeks have to do with Christianity? What’s mysticism? What are Sufis?).

It’s not directly answering the question, but I really appreciated “The heart of Christianity”, which offers an interesting philosophical analysis of the three “interpretations” of Christianity, and which I would think is applicable to a lot of religions.

It’s a huge book and not particularly well-written, but I recommend Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. It helped clarify a lot of things about the modern Western world and our relationship with religion and secularity.

‘How To Read The Bible’ by James Kugel (of Harvard University) is great for Judaism and Christianity. It goes through the history of how the text was interpreted – both critically/historically and how religious people interpret it.

Having done this myself (at least for the Bible) I would disagree with this advice. The texts are very old and were written in the context of a very different culture. There is a lot of important context that the authors assume that a modern reader simply lacks. Without a good commentary a lot of it will just go over your head and some parts will be misinterpreted.

That is a good way to get some ancient wisdom, and sometimes some incidental history, but it’s surprising how little it will inform you about what those religions teach in contemporary practice. I don’t think I could read the Bible and derive from it anything like the range of modern Christian belief and practice.

Zen Buddhism Selected Writings by DT Suzuki is really good. Seeing Zen as an organic mixture of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism and Chinese Taoism which then arrived on the West Coast of the US is really interesting.

Jaroslav Pelikan wrote a five-volume series on the history of Christian doctrine. It is short on sociology, but long on creeds. Really I don’t know enough about other religions to make suggestions.

Keiji Nishitani: What is religion?

See Also

Might be „Religion and Nothingness“ in your translation.

Nishitani describes religion as a phenomenon from the philosophical Zen Buddhist perspective of the Kyoto School.

Yet despite being a several hundred pages long dedicates barely more than a few sentences to reports of personal religious experiences. This is unforgivable in such a book and discredits it as not serious in my eyes.

For Christianity I highly recommend Saint Augustine’s Confessions. It is very readable and the author’s intellect shines throughout.

Edit: I hear very good things about C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity too, but I’ve never read it.

Also there’s always Aristotle. Thanks to him we know there is not really a clear line between theology and philosophy. It’s fascinating to me that an ancient Greek pagan derived a kind of classical monotheism as being philosophically necessary. One may disagree, but I don’t think anyone seriously interested in the subject denies the importance of his contributions.

Others have already suggested the various holy and foundational texts as being worth reading. I’m inclined to agree on account of for thousands of years before printing when keeping a book extant was extremely laborious people from every culture chose some writings as being particularly precious. Surely they had what seemed to them at least to be good reason.

And casting a broader net, reading the myths and stories of the religions can give you a good feel for how believers see it. I’m mostly familiar with Viking and Greek myth, but there is a rich tradition of mythology in the east too. I’ve never made a serious study of the Vedic stories, but I’ve read a few adaptations and there is a lot of interest there too.

Confessions is a bit of a slog and not very accessible IMO. It’s also chock full of bible references that are probably going to fly over your head if you aren’t already deep into Christianity.

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