Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

List Of 20+ Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

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Exploring the most influential books in religious studies is equivalent to setting out on a significant intellectual journey because the field of Religious Studies has been deeply shaped by a rich tapestry of scholarly works. These influential publications have been significant in illuminating the complexity of religion, spirituality, and human conceptual frameworks and in providing helpful insights into the diverse and complicated world of faiths around the world.

These publications have had a profound impact on how we understand, examine, and deal with issues of religion and spirituality, from ancient scriptures that form the foundation of the major world religions to contemporary critiques that challenge conventional knowledge. They have sparked discussions, promoted interfaith exchanges, and enhanced our understanding of the many facets of religion.

We can explore these foundational works’ impact on academics, society, and the search for that means by delving into the pages of the most influential books in religious studies. Each work represents a wholly distinctive mindset, a significant contribution, and an enduring legacy in the field of spiritual investigation. Join us on this illuminating journey as we uncover the secrets that have shaped the way we think about faith, from its historical roots to its contemporary significance.

Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

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What Are the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies?

Our knowledge of faith, spirituality, and human belief systems has been profoundly influenced by a wide range of literature that fall under the category of Religious Studies. These Most Influential Books in Religious Studies are an assortment of books that have profoundly impacted the discipline.

These publications, which range from fundamental texts to insightful commentary, have influenced how people talk about religion. Along with more current works like “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James and “The Sacred and the Profane” by Mircea Eliade, they include classics like the Bible, the Quran, and the Bhagavad Gita.

What factors are taken into account while evaluating a book’s impact on Religious Studies?

The impact of a book on Religious Studies is influenced by a number of elements. The extent and depth of its impact on the field are of utmost importance. Books that have influenced religious studies, generated fresh discussions, or presented novel viewpoints are frequently regarded as influential. The book’s durability and ongoing relevance are also crucial. Works that endure over time and across many cultural and religious contexts are frequently considered to be more influential.

The Bible is ranked as one of the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies for a reason, right?

Unquestionably, one of the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies is the Bible, which consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The world’s most popular religion, Christianity, places great emphasis on it, and both Western culture and literature have been greatly influenced by it. The Bible is a cornerstone of religious and cultural studies because, in addition to its religious relevance, its stories, parables, and moral precepts have impacted ethical and moral frameworks for generations.

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How does the Quran fit into the list of the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies?

In Religious Studies, the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, has a significant impact. It is a literary classic known for its eloquence and poetic qualities in addition to being a religious poem. The Quran has shaped Islamic theology, law, and spirituality in addition to serving as a guide for Muslims. It has also been researched and admired by academics from a variety of backgrounds, which makes it an essential component of interreligious discourse and the study of global religions.

How does William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” rank among the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies?

The pioneering examination of religious experiences from a psychological and philosophical standpoint makes William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” stand out among the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies. Published in 1902, this text presented ideas like religious conversion and mystical experiences as well as set the groundwork for the psychological study of religion. For academics researching the irrational aspects of religious practice and belief, it continues to be a key text.

What distinguishes Mircea Eliade’s “The Sacred and the Profane” as a notable contribution to the field of Religious Studies?

“The Sacred and the Profane” by Mircea Eliade is a key book that examines the concept of the sacred in many religious traditions. In order to connect with the transcendent, Eliade’s comparative approach to religion emphasizes the significance of comprehending religious symbolism and ritual. His book is an essential part of the list of the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies because it has had a long-lasting influence on the study of religious symbolism and the understanding of religious rites.

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Which of the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies does “The Tao Te Ching” belong in?

A key text in Daoism (Taoism) is “The Tao Te Ching” by Laozi. It is praised for its deep understanding of the Tao (Dao), which stands for the underlying principle of the universe. This text has a profound effect on Chinese culture and other cultures as well as Daoist philosophy and spirituality. Its principles of harmony, balance, and simplicity continue to be relevant to those researching Eastern faiths and philosophies, earning it a spot among the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies.

The Bhagavad Gita is regarded as one of the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies, but why is that?

The Bhagavad Gita, often known as the Gita, is a 700-verse Hindu text that is a part of the Mahabharata, an ancient Indian epic. It is well-known for its philosophical and spiritual teachings, which explore ideas like obligation, righteousness, and the routes to spiritual enlightenment. The Gita has enormous impact on the study of Indian philosophy and spirituality all across the world, transcending the boundaries of Hinduism. Its status as one of the Most Influential Books in Religious Studies has been cemented by its timeless wisdom and all-encompassing themes.

Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

List Of 20+ Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

From Here Down Is The Full List Of The Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

1. Zealot: Jesus of Nazareth’s Life and Times

By Reza Aslan, 2013.

Aslan is a religious studies student, author, and TV host who was born in 1972. He was born in Iran, but his family was forced to flee to the United States in 1979 following the overthrow of the Shah and the foundation of the Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Aslan grew up in the Californian San Francisco Bay area. He has a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) from Harvard Divinity School. Twelver Shi’ism was the traditional religion of Aslan’s own family, but the author converted to evangelical Christianity as a baby.

Aslan makes the case in this book that Jesus of Nazareth’s announcement of the kingdom of God, as recorded in the Gospels, must be viewed as typically a political agenda for the dominant political forces in first-century Palestine, particularly the Roman Empire and the hereditary Jewish priesthood. The claims made in the ebook were debatable.

2. Different Varieties of Religious Experience

By William James, published in 1902. James (1842–1910) is frequently regarded as the most significant logician that America has ever produced. He is most well-known for having promoted the “pragmatism” school of thought that his friend Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914) founded. One of the key pillars of the multifaceted worldview of pragmatism is the assertion that ideas are closely related to actions and movements and that genuine ideals are those that have a chance of succeeding or being “beneficial.”

While James himself was not a practicing Christian, he developed a deep dislike for the “positivism” of his time—what we now refer to as “scientism”—which sought to undermine religion in the name of science. His main philosophical concern was how to create an intellectually superior public forum for spiritual insight. (See #8 below for further information on this subject.)

James received an invitation to deliver the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1901–1902. The lectures were originally spread out over two academic years, but they were finally finished in 1902 and are now available online under the title The Varieties of Religious Experience.

James examines and analyzes a wide range of non-religious events in this classic book, ranging from the traditional historical (“world”) religions to more localized groups and even tales of individual, personal stories. In this outstanding, one-of-a-kind examination, he blends profound historical, philosophical, and mental insights on all of these various sorts of spiritual manifestations.

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3. An analysis of the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Max Weber, 1905

Famous German lawyer, sociologist, political economist, and historian, Weber (1864–1920). It is difficult to overstate his contribution to the advancement of the social sciences at the turn of the 20th century.

For numerous generations of aspiring German legal, political, and social scientists, Weber’s famous lectures “Science as a Vocation” and “Politics as a Vocation,” delivered to the Free Students Union of Bavaria in 1919, served as a benchmark.

The “disenchantment of the sector” (Weber’s term) refers to Modernity’s major replacement of the traditional religious conception of humanity’s self-knowledge with the modern scientific worldview. This was a major theme of these lectures, as it was in much of Weber’s writing.

However, it should be noted that Weber himself urged that the human sciences should adopt an interpretative, or hermeneutic, approach rather than the causal-reductive approach used in the empirical sciences. He used this distinction between “know-how” (Verstehen) and “explanation” (Erklären) made by Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911).

Here, Weber’s endeavor to understand the ideological and social background of the expansion of capitalism in Europe is what deserves our attention. In particular, he examines the Calvinist belief that material prosperity is an outward sign of divine grace or election, connecting this belief to the notion of tenacity as a high ethical virtue, which Weber saw as the primary driver of capitalism’s great success in northern Europe during the early modern period.

This book, which was first published in German as Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, was translated into English by renowned sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) in 1930. In various later variations, it has been reproduced.

4. An A Biography of God

1995, By Jack Miles

Miles (born in 1942) attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem to pursue a career as a Roman Catholic priest, but he was never ever ordained. At Harvard University, he earned a PhD in Near Eastern languages. He has had a lot of educational posts recently.

Prior to that, Miles worked as an editor for Doubleday and University of California Press for the majority of his career. He has also served as the Los Angeles Times’ book review editor.

Miles has edited the 2014 Norton Anthology of World Religions in addition to writing four volumes, the first of which is the one being discussed here.

The first book of a trilogy, titled God: A Biography, examines the evolution of the concept of God in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures, respectively. From a narratological perspective, Miles portrays God (Yahweh) as a person inside the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in this work.

5. A History of Killing Jesus

By Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, 2013.

O’Reilly, a writer, author, political analyst, and former anchor of a conservative television talk show, was born in 1949. Dugard is a seasoned artist that was born in 1961.

The book under consideration is the third in a series about the assassinations of notable historical figures, following Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot in 2012 and Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever in 2011. The National Geographic Channel also adapted all three books into motion pictures.

The four gospels of the Christian New Testament are used to reconstruct the dramatic events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, who is referred to in this book as Jesus of Nazareth. It provides the story of those events in the form of a simple suspense thriller.

Instead of writing from a firmly Christian perspective, the authors claim that their work is ostensibly produced from a secular point of view. The book received harsh criticism from academic critics for being factually incorrect, even though it was a huge success on a widespread scale and ultimately reached the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Some of its detractors charged that it adopted a sectarian, fundamentalist, Protestant viewpoint.

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6. What the Bible Really Says About God and Sex

By Michael Coogan, 2010.

Coogan (born 1942) teaches Hebrew Bible at the Harvard Divinity School and serves as the director of publications at the Harvard Semitic Museum as well as the editor-in-chief of Oxford Biblical Studies Online.

The author has taught at various different colleges and universities, including Fordham, Wellesley, and Boston College. He is also professor emeritus of non-secular research at Stonehill College. Additionally, he has participated in archeological digs in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Cyprus.

This e-book explores the passages in the Christian New Testament and the Hebrew Bible that debate sexual morality. The typical, default interpretation of Jewish, Christian, and secular students alike is that the relevant passages no longer support a conservative or traditionalist sexual morality. This is how Coogan understands them.

Instead, the author argues that, when properly understood, the cited passages support a contemporary, liberal perspective on sexual morality, including the prevalence of homosexual partnerships and childbearing outside of marriage. The e-book sparked a lot of debate, which accurately captured the political divisions in contemporary American culture about such subjects.

7. No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

Reza Aslan, 2005

The author (see #1 above) takes the reader on a tour of Islamic civilisation in this book, focusing in particular on its theology and jurisprudence. The book is divided into chapters on history and chapters on specific topics, such as a chapter on jihad. According to Aslan’s typical argument, Islam is essentially compatible with contemporary liberal political and social theories.

The author is aware that his interpretation departs from that of most Western academics. He attributes the latter, nevertheless, to Western imperialism’s self-serving tendencies, which may be traced back to “orientalism,” as defined by Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said (1935-2003).

According to Said, Orientalism is the technique of creating manufactured, pseudo-Romanticized images of colonized peoples as uncommon “others,” which European scholars have repeatedly produced to support European colonial supremacy.

Aslan contends that the orientalist mentality has encouraged the misconception of Islamic law (shari’a) as being barbarous. According to the idea of the “conflict of civilizations” advanced by Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008) in his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, this fits in well with the West’s current posture of hostility against Islam.

According to reviewer Reihan Salam, the book has been warmly received both in the West and inside the Islamic world.

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8. From “The Will to Believe”

In 1896, By William James

The lecture titled “The Will to Believe” was delivered for the first time by the author (see #2 above), and it was published inside The New World magazine that same year. The following year, in 1897, the lecture was published as a book in the collection The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy.

James mentioned in his lecture and text that people ought to act on incomplete action all the time. In his later writings, James changed the name of his central idea from “the need to believe” to “the proper to believe,” which he felt turned more in the direction of his meaning than “the need to believe.” Furthermore, acting with self-confidence increases one’s chances of success compared to performing while lacking confidence in one’s own capabilities. Taking all of these ideas into consideration, James came to the conclusion that a belief based on scant evidence is not only possible, but also advantageous. As a result, we are completely within our rights to act in a way that we cannot possibly resist and that is also clearly in our best interests.

James concluded by saying that what holds true for our daily actions also holds true for our religious beliefs. In other words, he argued that spiritual religion is also subject to our right to consideration.

Many further editions of “The Will to Believe” have been reprinted.

9. Phenomenology of Spirit

By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, published in 1807.

One of the most important philosophers in the exceptional German rationalist tradition is Hegel (1770–1831). He became the leading figure in the philosophical movement known as German Idealism, which emerged at the turn of the nineteenth century in response to Immanuel Kant’s (1724–1804) ground-breaking ideas.

Hegel’s close friends, the logician Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854) and the poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), who shared a room with him while they were students, are among the other notable German idealists. There are also the Romantic writers Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg) (1772-1801), Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829), and others.

In short, the German idealists rejected Kant’s realistic postulate of an objective reality behind the appearances and thus beyond the reach of the senses and accessible only to purpose (the noumena), and instead widely popularized his subjective interpretation of the appearances (the phenomena) as largely constructed by the thoughts. In other words, they believed that the phenomenon comprised all of reality and was, therefore, inherently perfect or mind-like.

Hegel made a unique addition to idealistic philosophy with his premise of “absolute idealism,” or “goal spirit” [objektiver Geist], which finds many forms in the minds of fictional people. This absolute idea of spirit is also thought to have a historical component, according to Hegel, who proposed that it advances along the course of cosmic and human history in accordance with the “dialectical” structure he famously proposed, which is made up of a series of three tiers he called “thesis,” “antithesis,” and “synthesis.”

Hegel discusses a number of these levels in the text under discussion, with faith ranking as one of its most important components. This understanding of human spiritual experience as a stage in the development of absolute spirit had a significant impact on later spiritual thought in the 19th century because it served as a kind of middle ground between traditional Christian theism and scientifically motivated materialistic atheism.

Thinkers including German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), Thomas Henry Green (1836–1882), and F. Josiah Royce (1855-1916) lived in the US, and H. Bradley (1846-1924) lived in England. Hegel’s notion of religion has been linked by some students to both the existentialist movement and the “death of God theology” that became fashionable in the middle of the 20th century.

The Phenomenology of Mind, originally published in 1807 as Die Phänomenologie des Geistes, was first translated into English by James Black Baillie (1872–1940), a British moral philosopher, in 1910. This translation has appeared in numerous later editions, and numerous fresh translations, some of which have only recently appeared, have also been published.

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10. Forms of Religious Life: The Elementary Forms

By Émile Durkheim, published in 1912.

One of the most important creators of the sociology technology is Durkheim (1858–1917). He was raised in a long-established, observant Jewish family in France. He has three rabbis in his family: his father, grandfather, and fantastic-grandfather.

The younger Émile received a standard religious education in preparation for his eventual ordination as a rabbi, but he showed an early interest in secular philosophy and science. Durkheim continued to write on the groundbreaking effort to view faith from a systematic perspective that is the subject of this article, yet he never completely abandoned his faith and remained connected to the French Jewish community.

The body of work of Durkheim can be divided into two categories: empirical analyses of specific social phenomena (such as The Division of Labor in Society [1893], Suicide [1897], the most popular ebook), and popular philosophical reflections on the nature of social phenomena and sociological technology.

As the father of sociology, Durkheim is perhaps most known for his insistence on the objectivity of social measurement of truth, as eloquently stated in his famous aphorism, “Social records are matters.”

In the book in question, the author focuses on the non-religious beliefs and practices of various first peoples groups around the world, including Australian aborigines and Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest, and comes to the conclusion that the main purpose of religion is to promote organizational team spirit and brotherly love.

In his essay “So if [the totem animal] is right away the symbol of the god and of the society, is that not because the god and the society are simplest one?” Durkheim more specifically associates religious entities, inclusive of sacred symbols and divinities, with the organization itself.

The work was initially published in English in 1915 under the title Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse and was translated by the classical historian Joseph Ward Swain (1891–1971). It has appeared in numerous later iterations. The translation linked above was updated in 1995.

11. The Encyclopedia of Hinduism

2006, By Constance Jones and James D. Ryan

Jones is a sociologist of religion who focuses on the study of Hinduism’s Western offshoots as well as emerging religious trends. She is particularly interested in the theosophist-mystic religious gurus Jiddu Krishnamurti (c. 1895-1986) and George Gurdjieff (c. 1870-1949).

Ryan is an expert on the Tantra way of life of Hinduism, particularly the traditions of Kashmir Shaivism, Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghose) (1872-1950), and Haridas Chaudhuri (1913-1975). He is also a student of Tamil language and literature. He is drawn to Jainism as well.

Jones and Ryan both teach at the California Institute of Integral Studies, which was established in 1968 in San Francisco with the help of Haridas Chaudhuri.

Their electronic book is organized encyclopaedically by alphabet. Simple concepts, typical rituals, significant historical events, sacred sites, and texts are all common themes for any overview of a world religion, and they are all adequately covered here. It is also described how Hinduism is practiced in places outside than South Asia, such as Bali, East Africa, Trinidad, and the United States.

The fact that the writers have devoted roughly one-fourth of the book to biographical notes on nearly 150 yogis, professionals, educators, and saints—many of whom are largely unknown outside of India—is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of their approach. The volume’s wealth of “lesser-recognized Hindu personalities and ideas that are not correctly protected somewhere else,” according to one critic, was applauded.

Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

12. Jesus Was Misquoted: The History of Who Changed the Bible and Why

2005; By: Bart D. Ehrman

Ehrman is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies (born 1955). He is regarded as one of the foremost New Testament experts worldwide.

Ehrman has written more than 30 books for academic or general audiences, which is noticeably productive. He has detailed his personal journey from becoming a born-again Christian as a teenager, to becoming a liberal Christian as a beginning religious studies student, to arriving at his cutting-edge position as an atheist as a result of his own application of the textual criticism method to the New Testament, both in the book under consideration here and elsewhere.

The primary method taught in academic departments of religious studies is textual criticism, which involves applying a variety of medical specialties to the understanding of religious texts. These fields include, among other areas of study, comparative literary genre analysis, paleography, epigraphy, archaeology, and ethnology.

Ehrman has specialized in using textual criticism to better comprehend the New Testament’s historical context, the personality of the historical Jesus, and the development of the early Christian communities.

Ehrman’s main claim in this book is that the scribes who copied the texts that eventually became the canonical books of the New Testament (the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and Revelations) purposefully changed the original texts to align them with a more conservative political philosophy than that advocated by Jesus himself. This is especially true when it comes to how women act in Christian society.

Although the author’s work has received high praise from the academic community and is frequently assigned in spiritual research guides across the United States, some of Ehrman’s books, including this one, have drawn harsh criticism for things like “having an awl to grind” and a lack of originality.

13. Why I Don’t Follow Islam

1995, By Ibn Warraq

The pseudonym of an Indian-born, once Muslim author is Ibn Warraq (b. 1946). The man’s true identity is unclear.

The name “Ibn Warraq” is a reference to the theological skeptic Ab s Muammad ibn Hrn al-Warrq (889-994 AD), who lived in the ninth century. Many other Arabic authors throughout history who feared persecution for their publications have utilized the moniker “Ibn Warraq” as a pen name. The title is sort of “son of the scribe.”

In what is now the Indian state of Gujarat, Ibn Warraq was born into a Kutchi household. Kutchi is a language related to Sindhi. Being Muslims, the family moved to Pakistan in 1947, the year after he was born, during the brutal and tumultuous division of India into independent, majority-Muslim and majority-Hindu states.

Ibn Warraq claimed that when he was younger, he independently learned Arabic with the goal of learning the Qur’an. His father wanted to send him to an English boarding school, but his grandma insisted he study at a madrasa. Later, Ibn Warraq attended the University of Edinburgh to study Arabic and philosophy under the tutelage of renowned scholar of Arabic literature and culture, W. (1909–2006) Montgomery Watt.

Ibn Warraq taught for five years at the top faculty in London after graduating from college. After that, he and his wife relocated to France, where he worked odd jobs and ran a restaurant for a while. He has claimed that the “Rushdie affair” in 1989 was what spurred him to write a great song.

Indian-born author Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) wrote The Satanic Verses in 1988, which many devout Muslims viewed as blasphemous. The resultant international uproar resulted in the book being outlawed in many Muslim nations, and the Iranian president Ruhollah Khomeini (1900–89) issued a religious edict (fatw) the next year that set a bounty on Rushdie’s head. Rushdie was forced to go underground as a result, where he spent many years under constant police surveillance.

Ibn Warraq claims that these incidents forced him to question his own spiritual principles, which ultimately inspired him to write this, his first book. Due of this, he has published eight further books on Islam and its verbal conflict with the West.

The article “Why I Am Not a Christian,” written by the well-known English truth seeker Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), is referenced in the title of this book, Why I Am Not a Muslim. Full-frontal criticism of Islam as a religion and political culture is made in the ebook. It includes broad judgments of the fundamental incompatibility of Islamic civilization with Western-style individual rights and liberal democracy in addition to commonplace arguments against the veracity of Islamic doctrinal claims (which could equally well be applied to other religions).

The book received a lot of reviews, many of which were positive particularly from European critics. The author has come under fire from a variety of reviewers and pundits, each for his unduly polemical tone and failure to distinguish between mainstream Islam and Islamism (Islamic fundamentalism and political extremism).

In 2020, a revised edition of Why I Am Not a Muslim will be published online.

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14. The Religions of the World

1958, By Huston C. Smith

Smith (1919–2016) was generally regarded as the dean of religious studies in the US. He was born in China to American Christian missionaries, and he lived there for his first 17 years of life.

Smith moved to the United States to pursue a better education, earning his Ph.D. and a bachelor’s degree from Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri, in 1940. From the University of Chicago, in philosophy, in 1945.

Smith initially focused on the studies of Vedanta (Hinduism), Zen (Buddhism), and Sufism (Islam), but he later acquired knowledge in all of the major world religions. He held academic positions at many esteemed institutions throughout the course of his long career, including Washington University in St. Louis, MIT, Syracuse, and UC-Berkeley.

The global’s Religions, which was first released in 1958 as The Religions of Man, has long been the most widely read overview of the major global religions available. In non-secular studies publications all throughout the United States, it is frequently assigned as a mandatory text. S ..

The book includes chapters on Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity as well as what the author refers to as “primal religions”—the faiths of the world’s first peoples.

Several copies of the book have been reissued; the most recent was in 2009.

15. The Power of Now: A Handbook for Spiritual Awakening

By Eckhart Tolle, published in 1997

Tolle was born Ulrich Tölle in 1948 in a small German city in the Ruhr Valley. He has claimed that he was a depressed child who had estranged parents, experienced bullying in school, and had to play in some of the bombed-out ruins of post-war Germany—a constant reminder of the suffering and destruction brought on by the heinous conflict that had ended just before his birth.

The young Ulrich came here to sign up for Tolle’s father after his mother and father were divorced and he left to Spain. However, he stopped going to high school and began studying intensely on his own, focusing on astronomy, literature, and other languages.

When he turned 19, Tolle relocated to London and worked as a language instructor for three years at a language school. He then enrolled at the University of London, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree while studying philosophy, psychology, and literature. Then, he applied to Cambridge University’s PhD program but ultimately decided against it.

According to Tolle’s writings, he experienced “almost unbearably” severe anxiety, fear, and sadness throughout this time in his life and turned mostly to religion or non-religious thought for answers to his questions about the meaning and purpose of life.

One night in 1977, when he was 29 years old, all of this changed. That evening, he had an epiphany, or inward change, which he later realized to be the disappearance of his aware ego and the effective return of his inherent “presence” or being. The beyond and destiny had vanished from his “marvelous” sense of deep serenity, and his pure presence had just discovered the universe in the gift of the present now, free from want or criticism.

To others, including his own family, Tolle appeared to be a careless “bum” or perhaps deranged; however, he spent the following several years dozing off on the floor or on park benches while living in a country of “deep bliss.” In honor of the outstanding medieval German spiritual Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1328), often known as “Meister Eckhart” [Master Eckhart], he changed his initial name from Ulrich to Eckhart at this time.

Some of the students Tolle had instructed during his time at Cambridge started to learn of his transition in the meantime. Eventually, they started looking for him. He then began his career as a non-religious teacher and counselor.

Tolle relocated to Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1995. He published The Power of Now, a significant points run of only 3000, two years later. Unexpectedly, the book became a success, ultimately making Tolle a key figure in the emerging New Age spirituality “mindfulness” movement.

Since 1997, Tolle has released five DVDs, a children’s mindfulness book, a picture book, and four additional books in addition to The Power of Now.

The Power of Nowt, which I reprinted in 2004, has sold over 3 million copies in North America and has been translated into at least 33 languages.

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16. The Myth of Persecution: How the First Christians Made Up a Martyrdom Tale

By Candida Moss, 2013.

Moss, an Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham and a student of non-religious studies, was born in the United Kingdom in 1978. She specializes in research on the New Testament.

This book makes two claims: (1) that the persecution and martyrdom of Christians by Roman and Jewish political and religious leaders served as a unifying force within the early Church and provided a rallying point for the outside world; and (2) that martyrs were given a high social status among early Christian groups. The author asserts that early Christians were urged to greatly embellish their narratives of persecution and martyrdom for those reasons.

For instance, according to Moss, the persecution of the earliest Christians became dependent on reputable Roman imperial policy at some point over a limited period of little more than 12 years, contrary to the common notion that Roman authorities had long-standing animosity toward Christianity.

She concludes by saying that most early Christian accounts of martyrdom are unreliable and should not be taken at face value. The ebook has received numerous reviews and is up for debate. One of the main complaints of detractors is that Moss’s thesis is overstated and that the author is being ideologically forced.

17. The Book of John’s Revelation: A Narrative Commentary

By James L. Resseguie, 2009.

J. Resseguie was born in 1945. New Testament professor in the Russell Bucher Chair at Findlay, Ohio’s Winebrenner Theological Seminary. Resseguie graduated with an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1972 and a PhD from Pasadena, California’s Fuller Theological Seminary in 1978. He is a Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained minister.

Prior to the one under consideration here, Resseguie had published four educational books that all examined extraordinary aspects of the New Testament from the hermeneutical perspective known as “narrative criticism” or “narratology,” which includes such fundamental ideas as “defamiliarization,” literary “point-of-view” analysis, and “reader-response” principle.

The author of this e-book analyzes the book of Revelation using his narratological methodology. Resseguie emphasizes literary characteristics including rhetoric, style, symbolism, narrative, setting, point of view, and characterization as she reads the book line by line, helping the reader to understand the text’s meanings and averaging out their knowledge.

This ebook is both accessible and academic. As a result, it is ideally suited to lay readers, pastors, college students, and teachers.

Most Influential Books in Religious Studies

18. Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose in A New Earth

2005; By Eckhart Tolle

Eight years after the initial release of his ground-breaking book The Power of Now (see #15 above), Tolle released this ebook, which belongs to the list of the most influential books in religious studies.

Tolle first restates many of his claims from his earlier book, namely that people can achieve deep inner peace and joy by letting go of past conflicts as well as worries and goals for the future, and by focusing their pure presence, or being, at the calm and dispassionate contemplation of the world in the present moment. Tolle continues by expanding his field of vision from the troubled individual consciousness to the troubled collective awareness of the industry as a whole.

Finally, he demonstrates how practicing mindfulness can help us overcome negative, other-directed emotions like envy, jealousy, resentment, rage, and concern in addition to our own personal anguish and grief. Why is that important? Because once those negative, other-focused emotions are subdued, the practice of mindfulness can begin to take shape, allowing the entire planet to trigger the process of psychic recuperation.

19. Hinduism’s unifying doctrine: identity and philosophy in Indian intellectual history

By Andrew J. Nicholson, 2010.

At the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook (also known as Stony Brook University), Andrew J. Nicholson holds the position of Associate Professor of Hinduism and Indian Intellectual History.

This e-book investigates the historical origins of the idea of “Hinduism,” which is regarded as a coherent system of doctrines and practices shared by all of the many and quite numerous religions and philosophies indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, as well as one of the most influential books in religious studies.

The book also has a significant meta-level, historiographic purpose. Specifically, the author tries to draw a middle ground between some contemporary Indian students who insist that Hinduism’s roots extend back to the beginnings of civilization itself and some European “submit-colonial” theorists who claim that Hinduism is a synthetic notion machine “constructed” by nineteenth-century Western “orientalist” students.

More specifically, Nicholson assesses the idea of a number of Indian scholars who believed that the various traditional religious and philosophical systems of the subcontinent—including Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga, in addition to the cults of Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti—comprised a single device of beliefs and practices. These scholars lived from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. These scholars liked to describe these structures as several rivers pouring into the singular, amazing ocean known as Brahman (ultimate reality).

Nicholson believes that these students from the medieval and early modern periods are depicting Vedanta as a force that unites all the many Indian traditions. Additionally, he asserts that their artwork opened the path for contemporary proponents of the final unification of all major world religions, particularly Swami Vivekananda (Narendranath Datta) (1863–1902), Mohandas K. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) and “Mahatma” Gandhi (1869–1948).

Finally, Nicholson critiques how modern educational discourse on Indian religions and philosophies has been warped by European philosophical conceptual dualities such as monism/dualism, realism/idealism, theism/atheism, and orthodoxy/heterodoxy.


20. Ramakrishna’s life and teachings are explored in the book Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic.

By Jeffrey J. Kripal, 1995.

Kripal, who was born in 1962, is the J. Texan Rice University’s Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought, wrote one of the most influential books in religious studies. Along with the one below attention right now, Kripal has written nine notable instructional books, co-edited five academic anthologies, and published a number of academic studies.

Ramakrishna (Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya), a Bengali mystic and saint who lived from 1836 to 1886, is profiled in the book Kali’s Child. Based on Kripal’s PhD dissertation, which she wrote at the University of Chicago under the guidance of renowned indologist Wendy Doniger (b. 1940), the book suggests conceptual connections between tantric principles and Ramakrishna’s tantric practice and those of Western psychoanalysis.

In short, the book aims to establish the author’s straightforward argument that Ramakrishna’s teaching exemplifies a profound relationship between human sexuality and spiritual pleasure.

At first, Kali’s Child received appreciation from students studying Western non-religious traditions. However, the book was swiftly attacked by enraged Ramakrishna devotees in India for what they perceived to be its erroneous interpretation of their saint’s life and work. In India, they sparked a cyclone of high-profile dispute among public intellectuals, politicians, and others. Even pressure was used to the Indian Parliament to forbid the e-book, but the efforts were unsuccessful.

Additionally, students from Europe and India offered their opinions on the contentious public debate. The author published a new edition in 1998 that included various comments to his detractors in the field of education.


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