General books of interest

Syndetics book coverA little history of religion, by Richard Holloway.
Richard Holloway begins at the dawn of religious belief and retells, quite succinctly, the history of religion to the twenty-first century. Suitable for those with faith and those without, he accentuates tolerance, mystery, and calmly restores a sense of the value of faith. The discussion covers all of the major religions, and is simple without being simplistic. Evil done in the name of religion is not overlooked. This is an important snapshot to aid understanding different beliefs.

Syndetics book coverLife's too short to pretend you're not religious, by David Dark. Religion is often a forbidden topic in conversation. Some prefer the word "spirituality" which doesn't have quite the same association with ritual, self-righteousness, or hypocrisy. But religion includes the stories that make up a person's values and beliefs. Dark illuminates how thoughts are handed down to us, what we judge to be essential, and argues a convincing case for religion's place in modern society.

Syndetics book coverFlourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, by Miroslav Volf. In this perceptive and thoughtful book, a leading theologian discusses how world religions and globalization have interacted across the centuries, but what ought their relationship to be? How do we judge globalization - how well it enables us to live out our authentic humanity? Despite their flaws, religions remain one of our most powerful sources of moral motivation and renewal. The ongoing process of reform in religions needs to shape globalization to encourage people to flourish at every level.

Syndetics book coverPasswords to paradise : how languages have re-invented world religions, by Nicholas Oster. "Ostler (The Last Lingua Franca) roams across several millennia of world history and delves into precise linguistic shifts looking for clues to how the "missionary religions" of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam have been affected by the new language communities they entered. [He demonstrates how] they may have been altered not only by the imperfect art of translation but by their social, political, and military contexts. ... For those fascinated by linguistic transitions, this impressive study is a feast. (drawn from Publisher's Weekly, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverPutting God second : how to save religion from itself, by Rabbi Donniel Hartman. "Rabbi Donniel Hartman tackles one of modern life's vexing questions: Why are the great monotheistic faiths - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - chronically unable to fulfill their own self-professed goal of creating individuals infused with moral sensitivity and societies governed by the highest ethical standards?" He observes that the primary focus of a relationship with God can distract religious believers from their own traditions' ethics. So he argues that decency toward one's neighbour must always take priority over acts of religious devotion.

Syndetics book coverBeliefs that changed the world : the history and ideas of the great religions, by John Bowker.
"How did Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism come to be the world's dominant religions? Who were the key figures of Judaism? And how are religious beliefs shaping today's world conflicts? This book will answer the key questions about the great religions, from Bahai to Unitarianism, via Jainism, Mormonism, Shinto, and the major branches of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Not only will this book explain what the disciples of each faith believe, but it will provide the reader with a greater understanding of the wider themes of religious and world history." (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverArt + religion in the 21st century, by Aaron Rosen.
"The relationship between art and religion has been long, complex, and often conflicted, and it has given rise to many of the greatest works in the history of art. Artists today continue to reflect seriously upon religious traditions, themes, and institutions, suggesting a new approach to spirituality that is more considered than confrontational. ... Each of the book's ten chapters introduces a theme, e.g. ideas of the Creation, the figure of Jesus, the sublime, wonder, diaspora and exile. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhy can't they get along? : a conversation between a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian, by Dawoud El-Alami, Dan Cohn-Sherbok, George D. Chryssides.
The 21st century is no stranger to conflicts over religious conflict. Islam, Christianity and Judaism all can trace roots back to Abraham so what are the differences? Three men discuss what their faiths teach on the big issues of life, and what can be done to form closer partnerships? How can they get along?

Syndetics book coverSpirituality : a guide for the perplexed, by Philip Sheldrake.
What exactly is spirituality? Is it different from religion? This book is a guide to different spiritualities as areas of study, religiously, historically, philosophically and in the social sciences. It explores the tools used to study spirituality or interpret spiritual classics from different times and cultures. Mostly, themes associated with five major world religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism - are represented, but especially Christian Spirituality from its early days. A useful overview.

Syndetics book cover50 great myths about religions, by John Morreall and Tamara Sonn.
This introduction will get readers thinking about how and why certain myths have arisen, and their continuing influence. It discusses myths about religious belief in general, as well as specific ideas that surround Judaism, Christianity, Islam, atheism, and agnosticism. Each individual myth is accompanied by an explanation of how it arose, and spread, and why the subsequent beliefs can be questioned. All this is underpinned with observations about human nature, and the characteristics that predispose us to create and circulate myths.

Syndetics book coverFields of blood : religion and the history of violence, by Karen Armstrong.
The first part of this sweeping history traces the development of relationship between violence and religion in ancient times - Mesopotamia, India, China, and among the Hebrews. The second part examines the challenges of Jesus and Muhammad to the violence of empires of their times and how Christianity and Islam became distorted as they were legitimised. The third part covers modernity - the idea of separation of religion from the state, secularism, and the battles between religion and secularity in our own time.

Syndetics book coverThe secret language of sacred spaces : decoding churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship around the world, by Jon Cannon.
How are sacred ideals expressed in architecture? From the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, to the Angkor Wat, Cambodia, to the Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China, the key strength of this book is the fantastic photos which illustrate how various religious traditions used design elements to express differing ideas about worship and beliefs, and how those changed over time (or in different locations) within the same faith tradition. Another recent arrival focusing more on design than architecture is Gateway to the heavens : how geometric shapes, patterns and symbols form our reality, by Karen L. French.

Syndetics book coverReligion 101 : from Allah to Zen Buddhism : an exploration of the key people, practices, and beliefs that have shaped the religions of the world, by Peter Archer, MA, MLitt.
"Written in easy-to-understand language, Religion 101 offers a fascinating - and memorable - glimpse at the sacred stories, traditions, and doctrines that have influenced today's most popular religions. From Jesus and the Four Noble Truths to the Buddhist Wheel of Existence, this book provides you with thought-provoking insight into the customs and beliefs of common faiths like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. ... So whether you're looking to unravel the mysteries of existence and meaning, or just want to find out what Kabbalah is all about, Religion 101 has all the answers - even the ones you didn't know you were looking for."--Page 4 of cover.

Syndetics book coverBuddha, Jesus and Muhammad : a comparative study, by Paul Gwynne.
Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad together represent three of the largest religions in the world. There are surprisingly few truly comparative studies, making this insightful book ideal for those pondering the place of religion in contemporary society. Gwynne explores the analysis through key themes - “ political and historical, as well as religious - and this reveals some fascinating similarities and differences.

Syndetics book coverBig gods : how religion transformed cooperation and conflict, by Ara Norenzayan.
Using quantitative studies, cross-cultural examples, and by examining the practices of followers, Norenzayan argues that religions with Big Gods succeed because they expect tangible commitment rites which encourage cooperation and trust, and by default this weeds out the half-hearted. He also considers cooperative societies without God, such as modern Scandinavia, with a majority of atheists where similar cooperative functions are provided by secular institutions.

Syndetics book coverThe science myth : God, society, the self and what we will never know, by Dominique Chu.
"We are in the midst of a culture war between science and religion. In this struggle science portrays itself as the white knight of enlightenment and truth defending humanity against the dark forces of religious fundamentalism, ignorance and gullibility that threaten free thinking and progress. Is there really a fundamental difference between science and religion, as the culture warriors want us to believe? This book takes the reader on an inside journey through science showing how scientific beliefs are made. ..." (drawn from the book cover)

Syndetics book coverSharing Eden : green teachings from Jews, Christians and Muslims, by by Natan Levy, David Shreeve and Harfiyah Haleem ; edited by Lindsay Swan.
"Six green issues, including climate change, energy, and food, are discussed in terms of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious imperatives to care for the world. ... After the faith groups' theoretical concerns with each topic have been stated briefly, a list of exemplary responses already in effect internationally but largely in Britain is provided. Then comes a solid set of suggestions for the reader to consider undertaking, either alone or with his or her congregation. Studded with beautifully reproduced nature photos, this book is quick to read but has much for individuals and groups to digest and consider as options for bringing faith-based responses to environmental care." (drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics)


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