Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum captured the imagination of Associate Professor of Old Testament Joel LeMon. Featuring Knights Templar, Kabbalists, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and other “Hermetic conspirators,” Eco’s thriller explores a group of bored intellectuals who find the occult greatly entertaining until they become entangled in it. The story raises enigmatic questions: Does the world make sense or not? Is there an order? Is there a special wisdom shared across the ages and throughout the world? LeMon discovered that like the intellectual protagonists, the more time you dedicate to these questions, the more tempting it is to see connections between things that may or may not be related. “Eco toys with the idea of this temptation—and with us—along the way.”
Rex Matthews, associate professor in the practice of historical theology, recommends Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, a sequel to her 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall. Both historical novels—which Matthews says he’s reading for fun—delve into the life of Henry VIII through the eyes of his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.
Associate Professor of Preaching and Ethics Ted A. Smith reports that he “inhaled” Pulphead, a collection of essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan, adding that Sullivan’s essays on reality TV and Christian rock are the best he’s read on these subjects. “The essays read like short stories, and Sullivan himself flickers in and out of them,” Smith writes. “He’s a great companion. He notices every detail. He sympathizes without condescending. And if he’s long past what he calls his ‘Jesus phase,’ he can’t quite not believe.”
Steve Tipton, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Sociology of Religion, recommends Michael Sandel’s 2012 bestseller, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. In a society where everything is for sale, Sandel posits, money regulates access to such basic goods as healthcare, education, safe neighborhoods, and political influence, thereby eroding the idea of public goods and a cohesive social fabric. Sandel forces the reader to consider what matters most, which Tipton says comes down to “true love, the priesthood of all believers, and the self-government of all citizens.”
Need something to clear your head before sleep? Anthony Briggmann, assistant professor of the history of early Christianity, reads C.S. Forester’s classic Horatio Hornblower series in order to “lose himself” and wind down from serious thinking. What would otherwise keep him awake? His other recent reads, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West by Mark Lilla, Rethinking the Trinity & Religious Pluralism by Keith Johnson, and The One, the Three, and the Many by Colin Gunton.
Professor of Theology and Ethics Noel Erskine journeyed through the pages of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Black In Latin America, which spans the 16th through 20th centuries and examines the nearly 12 million Africans whose forced sojourn across the sea took them not to the United States but to countries south of the border. Erskine recommends the informative read as a historical discovery of the true beginnings of the “African American Experience.”
Maryse Condé’s 1984 novel, Segu, was “profoundly moving” to Emmanuel Lartey, the L. Bevel Jones III Professor in the Practice of Pastoral Theology,Care, and Counseling. Set in late 18th century city-state Segu (modern-day Mali) and following the story of a local tribe family, this work of historical fiction “transports the reader to a tremendously fascinating time in the history of Africa…and deepens one's understanding of current conflicts in the region as well as the nature of the inter-religious, political, and cultural struggles played out continually among peoples in many other parts of the world,” Lartey says. Next up is Condé’s sequel, The Children of Segu, and then Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, which is retold in the oral tradition by famed national storytellers of African culture and history.
Each January, Candler’s pastor/theologian-in-residence, Don Harp reads Leslie Weatherhead’s The Will of God, and he urges all pastors to do the same. Calling the book “a classic,” Harp says it offers “the best help I know in dealing with difficult matters that occur among the church membership.” Also due for a repeat performance: Reach for the Summit by the legendary former coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols, Pat Summitt, whom he says has long been a hero of his. Memorable quote: “There is more in you than you know.”
Best-selling author Barbara Brown Taylor shared these picks with us while she was in residence as the McDonald Chair this fall. It’s a mixed bouquet designed to stir the spirit, the intellect, and the imagination.
I have been reading Merton for so long that I do not know how I missed this volume—a breviary of prayers for Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Dark drawn from Merton’s writings in more than thirty of his other books. It is edited by Kathleen Deignan, whose introduction is as lovely as what follows it.
This book is for the class I taught at Candler fall semester, “The Other Jesus: Seeing Jesus Through the Eyes of the World’s [Other] Great Faiths.” Siddiqui is professor of Islamic and interreligious studies at the University of Edinburgh, with longtime interest in Christian-Muslim engagement. Her book is the best introduction I know to the central figure of Jesus in Christianity and Islam.
After a lifetime of writing luminous short stories, Munro had just announced her retirement from publishing. Then she won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature, which she said might cause her to “reconsider.” Runaway is one of fourteen collections of her stories, each more revelatory than the last.
—Barbara Brown Taylor