At one time this year, I was reading everything I could get my hands on concerning poverty; at another, several dystopian novels over the summer; and I finished the year with a lot of grad school reading. Of all the books I read, the following 10 are the ones I am most proud to have read.
10. Richard King, Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and "The Mystic East"
In my Interrogating Religion class we learned about the deconstruction of the category of religion, tracing its genealogy and questioning its validity. King’s book was one of the texts we read. It tells the story of the creation of the concept of religion in India and offers a lot of insight on the colonialization behind the creation. In addition to being historically eye-opening, King is incredibly insightful philosophically. A master work of post-colonial study, King’s book is definitely worth the read.
9. Shūsaku Endō, Silence
Martin Scorsese is currently making a movie of this book, and after reading it I could not be more excited. It is an incredibly powerful portrayal of the struggles of a missionary in Japan who discovers just how complicated the issue of denouncing one’s faith becomes in the fray of persecution. Moving and poignant, it’s a short read but not an easy one.
8. John Caputo, The Insistence of God: A Theology of “Perhaps”
I’ve got to say, I struggled with this one. At times, I was highlighting whole paragraphs for pages, and at other times I was getting ready to throw the book across the room for being too damn confusing. Caputo is not in any sense an easy theologian to read. While an exhausting read, it is still a worth-while one. Caputo adapts Derrida to theology in compelling ways, and creates dialogues, entertains concepts, and makes claims that promise to surprise conventional theologians. Caputo is an excellent postmodern theologian. He has to be reckoned with—and he’ll give you a run for your money too.
7. Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty
I was originally nervous about this book because it was endorsed by The Wall Street Journal and The Economist, but after a couple chapters I realized how valuable a book it is. It stands in the middle of debates in economics between people who follow Jeffrey Sachs’ positivism and William Easterly’s harsh criticism of development experts, and asks, “Sure, but what works?” This work should be the beginning of on-the-ground, case-by-case studies that seek to know the problems natives actually have and the best way of going about aid, in ways that actually benefit those in need. It is a very strong work, and an important one for those interested in poverty issues.
6. Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence
Thomas Oord is one my favorite contemporary theologians. He isn’t afraid to challenge old ways of thinking, but also isn’t simply a nay-sayer. His thoughts come from conviction, are relentlessly concerned with actual human experience, and offer new insights to old questions in a time when it seems like everything has been said a million times, and even simultaneously. I look forward to Oord’s future work, and am glad to see his work is gaining the popularity it deserves.
5. Roberto Sirvent, Embracing Vulnerability: Human and Divine
A lot has been written on the problem of human suffering, but little (in comparison) has been written on divine suffering. What we have in Sirvent’s work is a theologian engaging just this, discussing the complexities that come along with such a concept, and the criticisms of theologians who defend the doctrine of divine impassibility. In an age that (rightfully) refuses to let the old questions of suffering go, Sirvent’s theology is an important contribution. (Also, I heard there’s a great review of the book in the recent issue of the Wesleyan Theological Journal ;)
4. William Easterly, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor
It is often claimed that the U.S. is the frontrunner in providing foreign aid. Look at us—we’re so wonderful, we help the world so much. Trouble comes, however, when one looks closely at the form in which this aid comes. The history of American foreign aid, as offered by Easterly, is imperialism disguised as philanthropy, experts following self-interested agendas in the name of development. The importance of Easterly’s work for those studying development simply could not be overstated.
3. Karl Barth, On Religion: The Revelation of God as the Sublimation of Religion
I fell in love with Barth when I read On Religion, consisting of sections from Church Dogmatics, with a helpful and thought-provoking introduction by Garrett Green. It was in this work where I found that Barth is a true master of suspicion, along with Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Here, his capacity for relentless criticism is displayed in its fullest form. Christian theologians today still have not reckoned fully with Barth’s insight here, and they would do well to study this work closely.
2. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness
I originally started this book in January, but I had to take a break after being so broken up by what I found inside it. This was one of the hardest books I’ve ever had to read. Alexander speaks true when she says a human rights catastrophe is occurring on our watch, and she details that catastrophe in a most convicting and mortifying way. This might be the most important book of our time. It should be read by anyone with a conscience.
1. George Orwell, 1984
I’ve always had trouble reading fiction for some reason, but this summer I decided I wanted to read several dystopian novels. One of the first I read was 1984, and it was never topped. I need say little about how awesome it is, since its imaginative brilliance speaks for itself. One of the greatest books I’ve ever read.