The graphic novel Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson hooked Assistant Professor in the Practice of History of Religions and Multifaith Relations Deanna Womack from the start. The story’s shape-shifting superhero is teenager Kamala Khan, who struggles with her Pakistani Muslim heritage and the desire to transform into the blond, fair-skinned original Ms. Marvel. Praising Adrian Alphona’s captivating illustrations and Wilson’s sharp and relevant storyline, Womack says, “The overarching message resonated with me most: When it comes to American identity, there should be no imposed paradigm of normalcy.”
Scholar-in-Residence Marie Marquardt recommends Cristina Henríquez’s novel The Book of Unknown Americans, which also addresses identity in the United States. It’s the story of the Rivera family, immigrants who come to America to get help for their teenage daughter, who has sustained a traumatic brain injury. The Riveras’ connection with other immigrant families and their struggle to find belonging while also yearning for the place they call home makes it, Marquardt says, “an important story for our time that brings a depth and richness to the idea of being American.”
Gregory C. Ellison II, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, delved even farther back through the annals of history and race with his pick, The Coming, Daniel Black’s novel that, Ellison says, “poetically chronicles the undying spirits of enslaved Africans in the Middle Passage.” Black, a professor in the department of African-American Studies and History at Clark Atlanta University, weaves a powerful story of the horrific capture and sea voyage of thousands of Africans in the voices of those who lived it.
Assistant Professor in the Practice of Practical Theology and director of Candler’s Women, Theology, and Ministry Program Ellen Shepard had high praise for Amy Greene’s novel Long Man. It’s the story of a woman in the fictitious town of Yuneetah, fighting the Tennessee Valley Authority to save a river and its surrounding land for her toddler daughter. “This book reminds the reader of the beauty, strength, and passion that lies within people and creation,” Shepard says.
Thomas W. Elliott, Jr., assistant professor in the practice of practical theology and Methodist studies, shares that he often returns to Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership for spiritual inspiration. According to Nouwen, leadership cannot function apart from community, a definition contradictory to modern society’s view that successful leadership is contingent on the individual. “In a day when so much of our leadership culture in the church and the world emphasizes control, power, and efficiency, Nouwen is a healthy reminder of my need for contemplative presence, not just greater competency,” Elliott says.
First published in 1997, Sallie McFague’s Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature recently resurfaced for Associate Professor of Religious Education Jennifer Ayres. In it, McFague, a former dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, crafts a Christian spirituality focused on nature as humans’ primary encounter with the divine. “This book is important for religious leaders and educators in particular because it asks not only what the Christian should do in response to our environmental context, but also who we should be,” says Ayres. “When we cultivate a loving eye toward the earth, we develop a different relationship not only to God’s world, but to God.”
Jehu Hanciles, D.W. and Ruth Brooks Associate Professor of World Christianity, recommends Introducing Asian American Theologies by Jonathan Tan, who explores the development of these theologies in North America, including the Asian immigrant experience since the mid-nineteenth century, the nature of Asian American Christianity, and themes that appear across traditions and denominations. “Asian Americans are contributing to the transformation of both American society and the American church,” Hanciles says. “Their growing presence and wide-ranging experiences, rooted in immigration and transnational existence, not only represent new forms of Christianity, but allow fresh contributions to theological discourse.”
Assistant Professor in the Practice of Ethics and Society Letitia Campbell has also been reading about race in America, and was moved by two books with Emory ties: Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society by Joseph Reiff 80T 92G, and history professor Joseph Crespino’s In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution. “Together, these books have been a powerful reminder that our movements toward racial justice have been advanced steadily by people of great creativity and moral courage. They have deepened my appreciation for the many unsung people and everyday decisions that are part of the larger civil rights story.”
Two for One
Two faculty members—and millions of others across the globe—heartily recommend the same book: 2015 National Book Award winner Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Noel L. Erskine, professor of theology and ethics, read Between the World and Me alongside Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. Both books take the form of letters penned by father figures to their sons—Paul to Timothy with final instructions on living and preaching the gospel, and Coates to his teenaged son Samori on being a black man in America. Though separated by twenty centuries, Erskine notes that each writer evokes similar life touchstones. “Resources in the struggle to birth a better world are faith, family, friends, and awakening to a new consciousness that transcends fear. Both letters are required reading.”
CC by: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Associate Professor in the Practice of Sociology of Religion and Culture Nichole Phillips also felt the power of Between the World and Me—so deeply, in fact, that she made it a reading assignment in her class on African American religion and culture. “Given the strain in the relationship between police and ethnic and racial minorities, specifically the black community…this is required reading about black death. It is written well in form and style, but the subject matter is challenging and raw.”