Office of Religious and Spiritual Life

ORSL Recommended Readings

Oberlin College
Office of Religious and Spiritual Life
Recommended Readings
by area religious leadership

Father Basil Stoyka (Orthodox Christian)

Everyday Saints and Other Stories, Archimandrite Tikhon
Open this book and you will discover a wondrous, enigmatic, remarkably beautiful, yet absolutely real world. Peer into the mysterious Russian soul where happiness reigns no matter what life brings.

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, trans. by Olga Savin
These are the English translations of 19th-century Russian works, recounting the narrator’s journey as a mendicant pilgrim across Russia while practicing the Jesus Prayer. It is unknown if the book is a literal account of a single pilgrim, or if it uses a fictional pilgrim’s journey as a vehicle to teach the practice of ceaseless inner prayer and communion with God.

The Orthodox Church, Timothy Ware
A clear, detailed introduction to the Orthodox Church, both for Christians and all wishing to understand this faith and culture. 

Jacques Rutzky (Buddhist)

The Way of Mindfulness, Soma Thera
This book presents an excellent foreword by Soma Thera, a Theravada Buddhist Monk, that is worth reading in and of itself.  The Satipatthana Sutta is then presented in an easily readable translated form. The last section of the book is the word-for-word translation of the sutta.  This book has been a companion in my meditation practice for the last 45 years. It is a must for those interested in a deeper understanding of the primary meditation practice taught by the Sakyamuni Buddha 2500 years ago and is as relevant today as it was then.

The Way of Non-Attachment, V. R. Dhiravamsa
This book is easily readable for the beginner (without the knowledge of the Pali language) as well as advanced students of Vipassana (Insight/Mindfulness) meditation. It is written for the present day, the present moment, and provokes a meditator’s curiosity inward.

The Experience of Insight, Joseph Goldstein
If I were beginning my practice and was presented with only one book to guide my practice, a book that was both deep in wisdom, applicable to my life, and straightforward in tone, this would be the book!

Maysan Haydar, PhD 

The World’s Religions, Huston Smith
If you were a child in the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s, you may remember the “Childcraft” series. They were the children’s accompaniments to the World Book encyclopedias. Volume 8 had a wonderful series on the beliefs of nine major religions, told from the perspective of a child. Huston Smith’s classic primer encapsulates the same wonder and kinship across cultures, but for grown folk.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
I re-read this book every year. Besides its monumental importance within the history of American history and American Muslims, it is also the chronicle of the moral arc of a great and good man.

Muhammad, Martin Lings
This biography of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad is based on early sources, and is written in an accessible narrative. Lings was a student and friend of C.S. Lewis, and his gifts for showcasing the vitality of a message mirror his mentor’s.

Living and Dying with Grace: Counsels of Hadrat Ali, trans by Thomas Cleary
These are collected sayings by Islam’s fourth caliph and Muhammad’s nephew, Ali. Brilliant, resonant, and succinct, these wisdoms can be oft-revisited and have something new to offer every time.

Pastor Laurence Nevels, Sr. (Christ Temple Apostolic Church; Pentacostal Christian)

Jesus the Ultimate Ology, Johnny Andrew James
Written by one of the finest Apostolic Apologists, this book champions the crystal clear truth of oneness theology. Throughout his entire life, Johnny James has made Jesus the object, subject, and project of his preaching and teaching through his ministerial career. In this masterful edition he confirms the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the ultimate study topic.

The Origin of Pentecostalism, by C. L. Hardy
In this book, the author takes a look at a subject that has been ignored by many of the mainline scholars. Written to Christians of all faiths, this book is not a tool for caustic criticism, but rather a tool for spiritual growth and enlightenment. Book Link

The Seymour Papers, Rufus G. W. Sanders
At last, real full-length material of one of the most influential and most neglected figures in American religious history. The principal advantage of Sanders’ work on Seymour exists in its thorough contextualization of Seymour’s existence as an African-American in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Prof. Amanda Schmidt (Baha’i)

The Bahá’í Faith: Emerging Global Religion, William S. Hatcher and J. Douglas Martin
This book is written to be a text for a comparative religion course and so it introduces the Bahá’í Faith in a systematic way appropriate for people simply interested in learning more about the religion. 

Century of Light, Bahá’í International Community
This statement reviews, in the context of the Bahá’í Teachings, the profound changes that the world underwent during the 20th century and their relationship with the emergence of the Bahá’í Cause during the same period. I love it's positive take on world events during the 1900s. Free PDF

Bahá’u'lláh, Bahá’í International Community
This is a brief introduction to the life and writings of the Prophet-founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u'lláh. This is a great introduction to the Bahá’í Faith from a more historical perspective rather than focused around themes and individual beliefs. Free PDF

Rabbi Megan Doherty (former director, Oberlin Hillel)

Texts to the Holy, Rachel Barenblat
One of my favorite Jewish poets writes love poems to a beloved. Or perhaps to The Beloved? However you understand them, these poems are relatable and real and full of gorgeous paradox.

Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
In this book, Goldstein introduced me to Jewish worlds and philosophical ideas I hadn't encountered (or maybe hadn't understood) before. It's also just a really good story.

Surprised by God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion, Danya Ruttenberg
It's a memoir of a very specific set of times and places (Jerusalem. San Francisco in the late 90s. A particular meditation hall.) An intro to Jewish mindfulness practices. A deep dive into Jewish theologies. And a fierce, feminist journey into the heart and soul of Judaism.

Rabbi Shlomo Elkan (Oberlin Chabad)

Toward A Meaningful Life, Rabbi Simon Jacobson
Toward a Meaningful Life gives Jews and non-Jews alike fresh perspectives on every aspect of their lives - from birth to death, youth to old age; marriage, love, intimacy, and family; the persistent issues of career, health, pain, and suffering; and education, faith, science, and government. We learn to bridge the divisions between accelerated technology and decelerated morality, between unprecedented worldwide unity and unparalleled personal disunity.

Positivity Bias, Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson 
Through a mix of nature, nurture, social conditioning and free will, we each possess a personalized lens that frames, forms, clouds and distorts the way we see ourselves and the world around us. In order to live in the most meaningful and effective way possible, each of us needs to continually assess and adjust the default frames we have developed. In Positivity Bias, we learn that life is essentially good; that positive perception is applicable and accessible to all; that it derives from objective, rational insight, not subjective, wishful imagination, and that positive living is a matter of choice, not circumstance. An inspiring and life-enriching tapestry woven from hundreds of stories, letter, anecdotes, and vignettes - Positivity Bias highlights how the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, considered the most influential rabbi in modern history, taught us to see ourselves, others, and the world around us. 

Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl  
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning"), holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

Rev. Erica Saunders (Peace Community Church; Baptist Christian)

The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Walter B. Shurden
In a time when the word “Baptist” has taken on baggage of hatefulness and bigotry, this classic text reminds me of the radical origins of Baptist identity in the freedoms of individuals and congregation to interpret the Bible; of souls to relate to God without control by clergy, creed, or government; of the local church to organize itself; and of everyone to worship (or not) without interference by the government.

Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians, Austen Hartke
I return again and again to this book, written by a bisexual trans man, for its vision of a Church shaped by a reciprocally affirming relationship between Christian scripture, theology, and the lived experiences of transgender people of faith.

Bipolar Faith, Monica A. Coleman
This powerful and vulnerable spiritual autobiography from one of the leading Womanist theologians chronicles a journey to live faithfully with bipolar II and discover a new and liberating vision of God.

Rev. Greg Stark (formerly of Christ Episcopal Church; Episcopalian Christian)

My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman
I first read My Bright Abyss the summer before I went to seminary, and I've returned to it in passages over the years. Wiman examines not so much the question of theodicy, or the problem of evil and suffering, as he does the questions of living with a body that suffers. In other words, it's not the "why" of suffering that interests him, but the difficulty of being present to that suffering, our own and others. Runners up: Close to the Knives by David Wojnarowicz and Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr.

Poems and Prose, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.H. Gardner (editor)
It is torturous to narrow down any book recommendations when it comes to poetry. I chose this one at the expense of so many others because Hopkins' poetry (or what he did not destroy) expresses both the glorious peaks and the despairing valleys in his own life of faith. "Hurrahing in Harvest" and "No worst, there is none" are two of my faves, and I would also encourage using (from the Penguin Classics edition), "From 'The Principle or Foundation: an address'" and "From 'Comments on The Spiritual Exercises'" as meditations for journaling. Runners up: Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong and The Wild Iris by Louise Glück.

Poetics of the Flesh, by Mayra Rivera
Challenging, forceful, and exciting, Poetics of the Flesh calls me back and raises new issues for me each time I read it. Is it biblical studies? theology? poetry criticism? post-colonial criticism? Yes. Mayra Rivera invites us readers to reflect on the ways language and flesh and spirit commingle. I'd recommend anyone who wants to discover new ways to articulate their faith to read this book and join in their own interdisciplinary pursuit. Runners up: God and Creation in Christian Theology by Kathryn Tanner and Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman.

Rev. Mary Grigolia (Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship)

When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron
From a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, I hear it echoing many UU themes: trust in life itself, the depth of the heart which is compassion, trust in one another and in ourselves to flow with all that is arising and falling away, calling ourselves beyond our narrow clingings and beliefs.

The New Republic of the Heart, Terry Patten
From an inter-spiritual, Integral Spirituality perspective, it calls us to wake up spiritually to the "wicked complexity" of the problems facing the human family, and to be aware of the inner (self-awareness) work needed to participate as change agents in a global culture that revolves around trust and accountability to an ethos of mutuality, co-creation.