Mar. 19, 2014
Ever wonder what theology scholars read in their spare time? Candler faculty share what's currently on their bookshelves.
Luke Timothy Johnson, R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, has been rereading the novels of Amy Tan and Louise Erdrich. Johnson says that for him, the appeal of these award-winning authors stems from their “close attention to specific cultures (Chinese-American and Indigenous American) in transformation.”
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.”