Calvary

Annotated Bibliography on Christianity
(a.k.a. Suggested Additional Readings)

Probably no topic in human history has generated more printed pages than has Christianity. The following list includes a small number of books that appeal to my taste and seem relevant to anthropological views of Christianity.

Page Outline:
  1. The Historical Jesus
  2. The Early Church
  3. The Mythological Traditions
  4. Historical & Ethnographic Variations: (General Histories, Comparative Studies, Asia, Latin America, Anglophone America, Africa, Europe)
  5. The "Scientific Study" of Religion
  6. Miscellaneous Reference


The Historical Jesus

The contemporary sources directly mentioning Jesus are limited almost exclusively to the gospels themselves, which have therefore been picked over by scholars as only sacred texts can be.

A wide range of additional materials become relevant when one seeks to link the gospel accounts to the probabilities generated by the general history, sociology, demography, and so on of the period and place where Jesus lived.

I have listed here books concerned principally with Jesus himself, rather than the early church more broadly. For more on why the Bible is as it is, see Riches in the section on the early church.

BORG, Marcus J.
1994 Jesus in contemporary scholarship.Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International. BT303.2 B586/ 1994.
(Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar —see the next item— and very much a participant in the modern scholarly quest for the historical Jesus. He seeks here not just to chronicle the historical researches of recent scholars but also the significance of these findings for Christian faith.)
FUNK, Robert W. & Roy W. HOOVER
1993 The five gospels: the search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan. BS2553 .S24/ 1993.
(This is the edition of the gospels produced by "The Jesus Seminar," in which, after discussion, a group of scholars voted on the probable historical reliability of various quotations attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Their decisions are, of course, of great interest, as is their aggressively breezy translation, but of interest too are the various introductions, which provide an overview of the textual and historical problems involved in understanding the life of Jesus as an historical event.)
FUNK, Robert W. & the Jesus Seminar
1998 The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. BT301.9 .A37/ 1998.
(This work seeks to do for the actions of Jesus and his disciples what the 1993 work did for Jesus' words. Following the same procedure, the Jesus Seminar of scholars pooled their wisdom to try to decide how reliable each sentence of the relevant scriptures really is. Once again they offended their critics by taking a vote. Both volumes are annotated translations of the texts. Their differing LC call numbers are something of a mystery.)
MACCOBY, Hyam
1973 Revolution in Judaea. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company. BM620 .M3/ 1980.
(This book makes the case that the gospels, over-Hellenized, have misrepresented Jesus' life in an essentially anti-Semitic way, and that he is best understood as an anti-Roman leader of Jewish resistance.)
KNOHL, Israel
2000 The messiah before Jesus: the suffering servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Berkeley: University of California Press. BM487 .K63/ 2000.
(Additional historical material recovered as part of the "Dead Sea Scrolls" includes mention of a "suffering servant." Interpreting the slim DSS material and linking it to a certain Menahem spoken of by Josephus and to other historical sources, Knohl, chair of the Bible Department at Hebrew University, proposes that Jesus was a self-conscious link in a chain of messianic figures.)
SCHONFIELD, Hugh
1965 The Passover plot: new light on the history of Jesus. London: Hutchinson. BM620 .S36. Reprinted as The Passover plot: a new interpretation of the life and death of Jesus. New York: Bantam Books.
(More than any other single book, this controversial and intriguing best-seller brought the problem of "the historical Jesus" to the lay public of the late XXth century. Vilified by conservative Christians, Jewish New Testament scholar Schonfield provides a "best guess" reconstruction of Jesus' life based only on the sources and methods he would use for any other historical figure. If you have never read on this topic, this is a compelling place to begin. Other works by Schonfield will be found in the next section, "The Early Church.")
MOORE, Christopher
2002 Lamb: the gospel according to Biff, Christ's childhood pal. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
(This is not a work of history, but simply a novel in th form of a gospel, putatively composed in the XXth century by a miraculously resurrected childhood pal of Jesus, who tells us about the "lost years," when Jesus and Biff played as children, traveled to southern and eastern Asia in quest of the Wise Men so Jesus could learn how to be a messiah, and returned to Israel, where the story meets the historical gospel accounts. Casual in tone and of course utterly fictional, the work assumes Jesus' messiahship as represented in the gospels and explores how it would have appeared to his irreverent and wise-cracking buddy Biff. This delightful book will no doubt offend the humorless for generations to come. Prior knowledge of the events of Jesus life makes this all the funnier.)

Return to top.


The Early Church

"The early church" includes Jesus' followers and their doings and institutions up until the conversion of the emperor Constantine. As with biographies of Jesus, the history and understanding of the early church evolves as different writers see or seek the relevance of different kinds of sources or different axes of interpretation.

EHRMAN, Bart D.
2003 Lost Christianities: the battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press. BS2840.E4/ 2003
2003 Lost scriptures: books that did not make it into the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. BS2832.E37/ 2003
ESLER, Philip F.
1995 Modelling early Christianity: social-scientific studies of the New Testament in its context. London: Routledge. BS2545 .S55M63/ 1995.
KASSER, Rodolphe, Marvin MEYER, and Gregor WURST
2006 The Gospel of Judas from Codex Tchacos. Washington: National Geographic Society.
(The Gospel of Judas is recently discovered a IInd-century Coptic translation of an early Gnostic manuscript condemned by ancient heresiologists and here made available for the first time in nearly two thousand years. It presents Judas Iscariot as Jesus' favored disciple, the only one of the twelve who understood him, and therefore the only one who could be charged with the mission of bringing about his crucifixion. Although the brief text is damaged, and has more lacunae than one would like, it is a fascinating read. Most of this volume is made up of useful interpretive commentary.)
PAGELS, Elaine
1979 The Gnostic gospels. New York: Random House. BT1390 .P3.
(Pagels is Professor of Religion at Princeton. This best-selling book made the results of the Nag Hammadi manuscript discovery accessible to ordinary readers, and has been a landmark in our reinterpretation of the Gnostic churches. On the down side, it has also probably contributed to the tendency of New Agers to describe themselves as gnostics, misleadingly suggesting a non-existent historical continuity with the Gnostics of antiquity.)
1988 Adam, Eve, and the serpent. New York: Random House. BS2545 .S36P34/ 1988.
(This popular book deals with the evolution of ideas about sex and gender in Latin Christianity, including fascinating material on the prestige of celibacy.)
1995 The origin of Satan. New York: Random House. BS2555.6 .D5P34.
(This work deals with the problem of hate and conflict in the gospels and the sectarian demonization of the enemies of the early church.)
RICHES, John
2000 The Bible: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. BS445 .R53/ 2000.
(This excellent wee book is not a summary or handbook to the Bible, but rather covers the process of canon formation as it has applied to the Old and New Testaments and has surprisingly ethnographic chapters on different ways in which the Bible has been understood at different periods and in different parts of the world.)
RUBENSTEIN, Richard E.
1999 When Jesus became God: the struggle to define Christianity during the last days of Rome. San Diego: Harcourt. BT216 .R83/ 1999.
(From the conversion of Constantine and the end of official persecution in 324 to the propagation of the revised Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381, Christianity was rocked by the issue of "Christology": the relation between Jesus and God. Two extreme positions argued that Jesus was the same as God [the Sabellian heresy] and that he was different from God [the Arian heresy]. At issue was the position of Jesus as a realistic model for erring humans as against Jesus as a whole different order of being. Arianism was probably a majority position in the East, and a confusing near-Sabellianism prevailed in the West. And naturally, behind the theological details lay vicious Roman politics. Rubenstein, a professor of Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs at George Mason University, tells the tale with unusual analytical insight.)
ROBINSON, James M. (Ed.)
1988 (1977) The Nag Hammadi library. San Francisco: Harper & Row. Third edition. BT1391 .A3/ 1988b.
(This is the most accessible presentation of the texts themselves of the Nag Hammadi library, which form the basis for the recent reconsideration of the Gnostic churches.)
SCHONFIELD, Hugh
1946 The Jew of Tarsus: a life of Paul. London: Macdonald.
1948 Saints against Caesar: the story of the first Christian community. London: Macdonald.
1968 Those incredible Christians. New York: Bernard Geis Associates.
1974 The Pentecost revolution: the story of the Jesus Party in Israel, A.D. 36-66. London: Macdonald.
(Also see his 1965 work, The Passover Plot.)
SPONG, John Shelby
1991 Rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism: a bishop rethinks the meaning of scripture. San Francisco: HarperCollins. BS511.2 .S69/ 1991.
(Spong was the controversial and outspoken Episcopal Bishop of Newark; he opposes literal interpretations of the Bible when they led to silly conclusions or impose the mores of past eras on church members today. This book is popular and hortatory, but is based in real scholarship and is an interesting view into the mind of the modern liberal believer. Don't look for an apologia for traditionalism here; Spong is even led to the conclusion that St.Paul may have been gay. I class it with "The Early Church" because it represents a class of modern attempts to understand the spirit and essential message of the early church in a way that is religiously relevant today rather than merely historically accurate, while at the same time insisting upon the relevance of accurate history as a critical tool in doing so.)
STARK, Rodney
1996 The rise of Christianity: a sociologist reconsiders history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. BR166 .S75/ 1966. ISBN 0-691-02749-8.
(The same book appears to have been issued as a 1997 paperback under the slightly different title: The rise of Christianity: how the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the Western world in a few centuries. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060677015.)
(Rodney Stark is one of America's foremost sociologists of religion. In this work, he directly confronts the challenge of applying sociological theory to the early history of Christianity. The work is a bit tendentious, but an excellent introduction to the intellectual issues involved as well as to the history of the church in the Roman world. Students planning their own research will find that the social processes Stark discusses will be relevant to how they think about their research as well. For an abstraction of his theory of religion, see Stark & Bainbridge.)

Return to top.


The Mythological Traditions

I have used this category to class together a few works on the cults of saints, accounts of miracles, and the evolution of iconographic symbolism that is so important in understanding Western art.

Most of this dates principally from between the conversion of Constantine and about the XVIth century, after which the iconographic traditions and saints' cults both decline somewhat.

Christianity in a thousand local variations became the universal folk religion of Europe during this long period, and the stage was set for the expansion of various Christian beliefs into other parts of the world through the substantial missionary activity that began with the age of exploration and continues up to the present.

DUCHET-SUCHAUX, Gaston & Michel PASTOUREAU
1994 The Bible and the saints. Paris: Flammarion.
(This fine handbook of Christian symbolism is widely available in art museums. Noteworthy features include its careful separation of "life and legend" from "representation and iconography" of each of the figures treated and the spellings of cited names in major languages of the European artistic tradition.)
DURHAM, Michael S. (Ed.)
1995 Miracles of Mary: apparitions, legends, and miraculous works of the blessed virgin Mary. San Francisco: Harper. BT650 .D87/ 1995.
(I think this is intended as a coffee-table book, but it is surprisingly comprehensive.)
HABEGGER, Christa Gingery
1987 Saints & non-saints. Greenville, SC: Unusual Publications. BX4655.2 .H23/ 1987.
(Commissioned as a guide to saints by the fundamentalist-Protestant-run Bob Jones University Museum, this anti-Catholic work is unusual in its perspective —it condemns Saint Francis for failing to attack the teachings of the Church, for example, and St. Jerome for being "un-Christian"— but it provides extensive and often refreshingly demythologized detail about the fifteen saints it covers who are often depicted in Western art.)
SIL, Gertrude Grace
1975 A handbook of symbols in Christian art. New York: Collier Books. N8010 .S54/ 1975.
(Of the several books on Christian symbolism in art that I have seen, this seems to be the best bang for the buck. The author seems to have an unusual insight into what questions I want to have answered. I recommend it as a reference book if you don't already have something adequate on this topic.)
WARNER, Marina
1976 Alone of all her sex: the myth and the cult of the virgin Mary. New York: Knopf. BT602 .W37/ 1976.
(This book, by a journalist and freelance writer, is a major and thoughtful collection of Marian lore. If you ever wanted to know about the fate of Salome, the midwife who dared doubt Mary's virginity, this is where you will find out.)
WEINSTEIN, Donald & Rudolph M. BELL
1982 Saints and society: two worlds of western Christendom, 1000-1700. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. BX4659 .E85W55.
(The authors examined the lives of 864 saints in quest of generalizations about the perception and veneration of holiness in this period and about the biographies of people viewed as holy.)
ZIOLKOWSKI, Theodore
1972 Fictional transfigurations of Jesus. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
(The author is interested in the representation of Jesus in literature, especially in this century.)

Return to top.


Historical & Ethnographic Variations

No historical or ethnographic adaptation is ultimately unitary, so this category could in principle include almost everything. I have generally classed here books about Christianity in geographically limited areas, or works that centrally contrast different kinds of Christianity with each other across the world.

General Histories

CHIDESTER, David
2000 Christianity: a global history. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. BR145.2 C425/ 2001.
(This reader-friendly general history of Christianity right-headedly treats the tradition as "an open set of sacred resources" that is differently utilized in different historical and cultural contexts. The first half or so is devoted to the history of the core Christian tradition in the Near East and Europe. The second half covers the expansion of Christianity and its current state in various regions of the world. Although it has a smaller number of running pages devoted to non-European Christianity than McManners, the consistency of treatment and excellent integration gives it an edge if you want to read only one book on the subject. I have used this as a core textbook in some years.))
JENKINS, Philip
2002 The next Christendom: the coming of global Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press. BR121.3 .J46/ 2002.
(The notion that Christianity is declining is viable only if one does not look beyond Europe and North America. Elsewhere, it is rapidly expanding, often not in directions Europeans and North Americans are likely to see as particularly desirable. This provocative volume examines current trends pulling the center of gravity of the Christian world to the Southern Hemisphere. The churches of the new Christian center, the author argues, will probably tend to be conservative on social issues, and more characterized than modern European churches by faith healing, mysticism, exorcism, and charismatic manifestations. In Africa and other regions where Islam is also expanding, increased political conflict may also be anticipated. Oddly, the volume ignores the rapid expansion of Mormonism in these areas, concentrating almost exclusively on Catholics and Pentecostals.)
MARTY, Martin
2007 The Christian world: a global history. New York: Modern Library. BR145.3 .M38/ 2007
Marty divides Christian history into geographical "episodes," which allows him to divide, for example, the first and second African episodes while keeping together the two European episodes (essentially before and after the Reformation). This helps to keep the global nature of Christianity constantly in focus.
McGRATH, Alister E.
2002 The future of Christianity. Oxford: Blackwell. BR121.3 .M34/ 2001.
(Slightly broader in some respects than Jenkins' work listed here, this book points to similar trends in the movement of the center of Christian participation away from Europe and North America to Africa and Asia, and examines the effects of globalization, consumerism, and post-denominationalism. McGrath, a theology professor and the author of several books on theology, also includes extensive analysis of the implications of these changes for academic theology.)
McMANNERS, John (Ed.)
1990 The Oxford illustrated history of Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. BR145.2.086/ 1990.
(This collection is frustratingly uneven in expository quality, and most of the essays are a bit wordy for my taste and tend to miss theoretical issues entirely, but for a one-volume resource, this includes enormous resources for the price.)
WOODHEAD, Linda
2014 Christianity: a very short introduction. Second edition. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press. BR121.3 .W66/ 2014.
As part of Oxford's "short introduction" series, each confined to a little over 100 pages, this book is necessarily short. After an initial consideration of Jesus in history and legend, we get a quick listing of characteristic beliefs and rituals and a very quick overview of early Christianity. The remainder is organized around three general "styles" of Christianity: Church-centered, bible-centered, and mystical. These overlap and intersect, but prove a useful way to envision the general thrust of various institutions and movements across Christian history, including recent developments. The approach is original and allows a very short book to cast a long shadow.

Comparative Studies

CANNELL, Fanella (Ed.)
2006 The anthropology of Christianity. Duram, NC: Duke University Press. BR115 .C8A58/ 2006.
(Similar to the Saunders volume of 1988 —discussed below— this volume includes papers on vernacular Christianity in a wide range of countries, usually in places where missionary activity and colonialism are relevant concerns. Some papers spend more time on the study of anthropological studies of religion that may suit some readers' taste.)
CUMMINS, J.S. (Ed.)
1997 Christianity and missions 1450-1800. Oxford: Ashgate. BV2120 .C45/ 1997.
HEFNER, Robert W. (Ed.)
1993 Conversion to Christianity: historical and anthropological perspectives on a great tradition: Berkeley: University of California Press. BV4916 .C67/ 1993.
(This work derives from a conference on Christian conversion. Most of the papers work under a heavily Weberian shadow, but all are simultaneously ethnographic and theoretically interesting. Naturally it would be indiscreet not to read mine.)
SAUNDERS, George R. (Ed.)
1988 Culture and Christianity: the dialectics of transformation. New York: Greenwood Press. BR115 .C8C85/ 1988
(All papers in this fascinating collection are based on thesis or dissertation work by anthropology graduate students at UCSD. The papers are quite wonderful, and you will benefit by reading them, but institutional loyalty also requires that you read and treasure the book, praising it to all who will listen, even if you don't shell out the actual bucks to pay the publisher's ever more outrageous price to own a copy.)
(By the way, the running text —not the headings— on pages 1 and 117 has been interchanged.)
STARK, Rodney
2005 The victory of reason: how Christianity led to freedom, capitalism, and western success. New York: Random House. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-8129-7233-3.
("Faith in reason is the most significant feature of Western Civilization," argues sociologist Rodney Stark in this book. And he maintains that Christianity, uniquely, made possible the development of science, capitalism, and the modern/Western world through its tradition of seeking to understand God's plan through reasoning and observation of the world because scriptures left much answered. The case is carefully reasoned, well researched, provocative, and politicaly incorrect.)

Asia

AKKEREN, Philip van
1970 Sri and Christ: a study of the indigenous church in East Java. London: Lutterworth Press. BR1235 .A373.
CLARK, Donald N.
1986 Christianity in Modern Korea. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. BR1328 .C53/ 1986.
FLYNT, Wayne & Gerald W. BERKLEY
1997 Taking Christianity to China: Alabama missionaries in the Middle Kingdom, 1850-1950. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. BR1287 .F58/ 1997.
(This prize-winning book concerns not the effects of missionaries upon their mission field, but of the mission enterprise upon the missionaries themselves. Forty-seven Protestant missionaries of similar background in Alabama were transformed by their mission experience.)
MADSEN, Richard
1998 China's Catholics: tragedy and hope in an emerging civil society. Berkeley: University of California Press. BX1665 .M29/ 1999.
(After the triumph of Communism in China, Christians were required to confine their church membership to the Catholic or Protestant "patriotic association," and the Catholic Patriotic Association was required to cut all ties to the Vatican. Thus the Chinese "official Catholic church" is illegitimate from an international perspective, while the locally illegitimate "underground Catholic church" struggles to remain loyal to the Vatican and has considerable international legitimacy. Madsen details this history, but is principally interested in broader contemporary sociological questions about China's evolving religious "scene," its totalitarianism, and its emergent "civil society.")
MULLINS, Mark R.
1998 Christianity made in Japan: a study of indigenous movements. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. BR1307 .M85/ 1998.
(While Christianity in Asia is inevitably associated with foreign missions, it also has spawned indigenous congregations and denominations. This book, by a bicultural sociologist of religion, includes both case studies and theoretical considerations relevant to this development in Japan.)
RUBINSTEIN, Murray A.
1991 The Protestant community on modern Taiwan: mission, seminary, and church. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. BR1298 .P76/ 1991.
SMITH, Carl T.
1985 Chinese Christians: élites, middlemen, and the church in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press. BR1295 .H6S55/ 1985.

Latin America

BARRIOS, Virginia B. de
1997 The cross in Mexico. Mexico City: Minutiae Mexicana. ISBN: 968-7074-37-X.
(Not intended as a scholarly work, this layman's introduction to Mexican popular Catholicism is nevertheless well documented and indexed, and is, in general, the most useful, informative, user-friendly work I have seen on the subject.)
DELLA CAVA, Ralph
1970 Miracle at Joaseiro. New York: Columbia University Press. F2651.J83 D4.
(A provocative study of how the popular response to a small-town miracle generated snowballing economic renewal by attracting visitors and immigrants, with political consequences.)
DOW, James & Alan R. SANDSTROM (eds.)
2001 Protestant Conversion in Mexico and Central America: Anthropological Views (Religion in the Age of Transformation). n.p.: Praeger. ISBN: 0-275-95852-3. Scheduled for publication May, 2001.
GARRARD-BURNETT, Virginia & David STOLL (eds.)
1993 Rethinking Protestantism in Latin America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. BX4832.5 .R48/ 1993.
GOSSEN, Gary H. (Ed.)
1993 South and Meso-American native spirituality: from the cult of the feathered serpent to the theology of liberation. New York: Crossroad Publishing. E59.R38S68/ 1993. Reprinted in paper 1997 ISBN 0-8245-1224-3.
(A fascinating collection of papers, mostly by anthropologists, and mostly on the ethnography and culture-history of Mexican religion, obviously linked to Christianity, but deliberately neither limited to nor focused on Christianity.)
HALLUM, Anne Motley
1996 Beyond missionaries: toward an understanding of the Protestant movement in Central America. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield. BX4833.5 .H33/ 1996.
INGHAM, John M.
1986 Mary, Michael, and Lucifer: folk Catholicism in Central Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press. BX1431 .T55I54/ 1986.
MARTIN, David
1990 Tongues of fire: the explosion of Protestantism in Latin America. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. BX4832.5 .M37/ 1990.
WRIGHT-RIOS, Edward
2009 Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism: reform and revelation in Oaxaca, 1887-1934. Durham: Duke University Press. BX1429.O2W75/ 2009.

Anglophone America

BLOOM, Harold
1992 The American religion: the emergence of the post-Christian nation. New York: Simon & Schuster. BR515 .B58/ 1992.
(Bloom, a literary critic, here seeks to launch a new academic specialty, which he calls "religious criticism." As a religious critic, he does not hesitate to issue obiter dicta without defending them, to cite published works without locating the precise reference, and so on. I find the book annoying, but his concern to see the emergence of a single American religion, oddly balanced between Southern Baptists and Mormons, is interesting, even though as a self-conscious literary critic and hence an Eastern Intellectual he cannot resist linking this development with American politics and a partisan fear that the first President George Bush marks the beginning of a fell series of Republicans in the White House that will bring ruin on the Republic.)
FINKE, Roger & Rodney STARK
1992 The churching of America, 1776-1990: winners and losers in our religious economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. BR515 .F56/ 1992.
KILDUFF, Marshall & Ron JAVERS
1978 The suicide cult: The inside story of the People's Temple sect and the massacre in Guyana. New York: Bantam Books.
O'DEA, Thomas F.
1957 The Mormons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
(O'Dea was a noted Catholic scholar of comparative religion and specifically of the Mormon Church.)
WUTHNOW, Robert
2000 After heaven : spirituality in America since the 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press. BL2525 .W85/ 1998.
(Wuthnow's studies are regarded as classics by most writers today, although they of course have yet to stand the test of time. In this study he presents his findings about American spirituality and spiritual seeking as a cultural phenomenon, seeking to keep the topic separate from the issue of institutional affiliation, treated in his 1990 work.)
WUTHNOW, Robert & John F. WILSON (eds.)
1990 The restructuring of American religion. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. BL2525 .W88/ 1988.
(This work discusses the modern world of American religion, the world of yippies and yuppies and boomers, and all that sort of thing, and what their preferences are doing to religious institutions in the United States.)
ZARETSKY, Irving I. & Mark P. LEONE (eds.)
1974 Religious movements in contemporary America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. BR516.5 .Z37
(Although the underlying data are now a bit dated, this broadly ethnographic and ethnological collection covers more than a score of movements. The editors have divided the essays into eight theoretically-informed blocks, each with a useful introduction.)

Africa

BOND, George, Walton JOHNSON, & Sheila S. WALKER
1979 African Christianity: patterns of religious continuity. New York: Academic Press. BR1360 .A526.
COMAROFF, Jean
1985 Body of power, spirit of resistance: the culture and history of a South African people. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. DT764.R65 C65/ 1985.
(An analysis of XXth-century Methodist missionization and resultant religious revival seen as anti-colonial protest, anti-hegemonic resistance, and so on. An elegant example of post-modern reductionism in religious studies.)
ISICHEI, Elizabeth
1995 A history of Christianity in Africa from Antiquity to the present. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. BR1360 .I75/ 1995

Europe

CHRISTIAN, William A., Jr.
1992 Moving crucifixes in modern Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press. BT580 .S7C47/ 1992.
1996 Visionaries: The Spanish Republic and the reign of Christ. Berkeley: University of California Press. BT652.S7 C57/ 1996
(Christian's work is characterized by a concern with locality and localism, and he sees Catholicism [and religion in general] as importantly evolving within local contexts, occasionally taking forms that outsiders see as revolutionary or doctrinally deviant largely because they have been inattentive to the localisms of which it is a part. In Visionaries he deals with a Basque village suddenly experiencing a wave of apparitions in the 1930s, and details the contexts necessary to interpreting it.)
OZMENT, Steven
1991 Protestants: the birth of a revolution. New York: Doubleday. BR305.2 .O89/ 1993.
(Ozment is an historian of Reformation Germany. The book takes issue with recent writers who tend to minimize the importance of the Reformation, or of Luther, with those who see the Reformation as peculiarly oppressive to women, and with those who would see in Luther's reforms the "fundamental character" of Protestant peoples. It is a responsible and fascinating account of the German Reformation. It is not a general history of early Protestantism.)
TAYLOR, Lawrence
1995 Occasions of faith: an anthropology of Irish Catholics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. BX1506.2 .T39/ 1995
WEIBEL, Deana
2001 Kidnapping the virgin. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Anthropology, UCSD.
(Rocamadour in southern France has been a Catholic pilgrimage center since the XIIth century, but never a major one. Today more money is to be made from tourists eager to see the area's fabulous scenery than from religious pilgrims, creating a tension between the merchants of the town and the ecclesiastical authorities. Playing against this is the use of the shrine by "New Age" believers who interpret the statue of the virgin as a primeval earth mother or who believe the shrine's efficacy to lie in the emergence of hypothetical energy fields at this location. Weibel explores the world of Catholics and their interpretations of the shrine and its pilgrimage as against what she calls "Religious Creatives" and their use and interpretations of the shrine. A wonderful insight into the modern world where traditions become available for people outside them to explore and exploit.)

Return to top.


The "Scientific Study" of Religion

The expression "scientific study of religion" rarely means that the study is particularly sientific in any very strict sense. Rather is suggests that the study is being carried out without reference to the religious beliefs of the investigator,who is seeking to bring to the work the same critical acumen that would be brought to any non-religious topic.

Considerable effort has gone into generalizing about "religion" as an independent category of human activity, an independent institution, or even a university discipline. Much of this has foundered on the inabiity of any strict and concise definition of religion to include the immense range of different beliefs, practices, and institutions and still reflect the normal usage of colloquial spoken English. (Arguably the need to reflect English colloquial usage in technical terms is another sign that something is not all that "scientific" about a "scientific study"!)

Although many scholars assimilate religion into cognition, belief systems, or other more general categories that seek intellectual explication in other ways, the works in this section continue the general tradition of assuming one can meaningfully charaterize "religion in general."

I have in addition classed here a couple of generally comparative works that centrally contrast Christianity with other religious traditions, or that seek to generalize from it to religion in general.

CUNNINGHAM, Graham
1999 Religion & magic: approaches & theories. New York: New York University Press. BL41.C86 1999.
(There is no way to avoid theories of religion if you are going to study religion. This quick overview of social science theories is not directly linked to Christianity, any more than the theories themselves are, but it is a relatively quick read and includes the principal writers that seem most likely to be encountered by anthropologists talking about religion in general. Most of the general theories are not impressive, particularly as a direct basis for the analysis of Christian practice, although derivative ideas have often inspired important studies of greater depth and less scope. For an earlier, group project in a similar vein, see Glock & Hammond. For a far more useful theoretical analysis of religion in general, see Stark & Bainbridge. For a competing overview that includes views from outside the social sciences, see Thrower. For greater depth on each of seven anthropologically relevant theorists and the most telling criticisms that have been leveled against them, see Pals.)
GLOCK, Charles Y. & Phillip E. HAMMOND
1973 Beyond the classics? Essays in the scientific study of religion. New York: Harper & Row. BL41 .G55/ 1973.
(See note on Pals.)
MARTY, Martin E. & R. Scott APPLEBY
1992 The glory and the power: the fundamentalist challenge to the modern world. Boston: Beacon Press. BL238 .M37/ 1992.
(Marty is an influential liberal scholar of modern Protestantism. In recent years he has been a major figure in a multi-disciplinary comparative study of fundamentalism around the world. This work, intended to accompany a PBS series on the topic, is a light once-over, with separate chapters on fundamentalism in different traditions and some general overview remarks. Though an interesting introduction, the book constantly raises and then evades the problem of psychological motivation.)
PALS, Daniel L.
1996 Seven theories of religion. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508725-9. BL41 .P36/ 1966.
(This book is a quick overview of the work of Tylor, Frazer, Freud, Durkheim, Marx, Eliade, Evans-Pritchard, and Geertz —that's actually eight theorists, but Pals argues that it is only seven theories. A strength of the volume is explicit treatment of the most compelling critiques usually made of each of these writers. See the note at Cunningham)
SMART, Ninian
1979 The phenomenon of Christianity. London: Collins. BR121.2 .S57.
(Smart is a specialist in comparative religion. This account of Christianity is one of the most thoughtfully comparative available, although it is less sociological than I would like.)
STARK, Rodney & William Sims BAINBRIDGE
1987 A theory of Religion. Reprinted 1996 New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
(See note on Pals.)
THROWER, James
1999 Religion: the classical theories. Washington: Georgetown University Press. BL51 .T54/ 1999.
(This book is similar to that of Pals, although less directly critical of some of the positions described. One of its strengths is that it covers theories of religion developed by religious believers outside the social sciences, particularly major German theologians.)
TURNER, Victor & Edith L.B. TURNER
1978 Image and pilgrimage in Christian culture: anthropological perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press. BX2323 .T87.
(This is "the" book on pilgrimage in anthropology. There are plenty of issues it does not address, or does not address well, but it has defined the issues for nearly a generation and continues to do so.)
WILSON, Bryan
1970 Religious sects: a sociological study. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. BR157.W54.
(Brian Wilson is probably the most widely acclaimed scholar of religious sectarianism.)
YOUNG, Lawrence A. (Ed.)
1997 Rational choice theory and religion: summary and assessment. New York: Routledge. ISBN: 0-415-91192-3 (paper). BL48.R296/ 1996.
(Rational choice theory is the fad of choice, as it were, in economics and political science at the moment, and is rushing to conquer intellectual terrain in sociology and anthropology as soon as postmodernism is fully buried. What does RCT have to offer to the study of religion? This collection of papers [rendered user-hostile by a particularly illegible use of small type set in long lines] is divided into papers summarizing and papers criticizing this approach to the study of religion.)

Return to top.


Miscellaneous Reference

This category is devoted to listing places to look stuff up. The works are not consistent in their quality, scope, or goals, but all share the property of being useful reference works. Note that most works on saints have been classed above under mythological traditions.

ALLEN, John L., Jr
2002 Conclave: the politics, personalities, and process of the next papal election. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-50453-5.
(This book provides a detailed but quite readable journalistic description of the process of selecting a pope, with special reference to the upcoming selection (of Benedict XVI), since John Paul II was elderly and ailing at the time. The author is apparently on the staff of the National Catholic Reporter. There is no significant theoretical analysis and relatively little long-term historical material, but the book was timely and remains well informed.)
CCC
1995 Catechism of the Catholic church. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47967-0.
(This is an inexpensive authorized English translation from the Latin of the first full (800-page) Catholic catechism in 400 years. If you are planning work with a Catholic population or simply have an interest in Catholicism. This will be ten bucks well spent.)
FREEDMAN, David Noel (Ed.)
2000 Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. BS440 .E44/ 2000.
(There are a great many dictionaries of the Bible to be had. This one is unusually well done as well as being very recent and very large. If this is the genre you want, this is probably the book you want.)
GEORGE, Leonard
1995 Crimes of perception: an encyclopedia of heresies and heretics. New York: Paragon house. BT1315.2 .G46/ 1994.
(George is a freelance writer who collects heresies as a hobby. This is his collection. It is a well-organized and convenient reference for variations in the Christian tradition, although not all of what is listed is necessarily best described as heretical exactly. Indeed the book is much broader than the title implies.)
GRENTZ, Stanley J, David GURETZKI, & Cherith Fee NORDLING
1999 Pocket dictionary of theological terms. Downers Grove IL: Inter-Varsity Press. BR95 .G66/ 1999.
(There are countless dictionaries of theology. The particular advantage of this one is that it is manageably small [122 pages] but includes the terms most likely to be most generally relevant in studying Christianity cross-culturally.)
JOHNSON, Kevin Orlin
1994 Why do Catholics do that? a guide to the teachings and practices of the Catholic church. New York: Ballantine Books. (Originally entitled "Expressions of the Catholic faith: a guide to the teachings and practices of the Catholic church.) BX1752 .J64/ 1994.
(Because the Roman Catholic Church is numerically dominant today and has strong historical continuity with earlier Christianity, it is important to have at least a general understanding of its rites and activities. This book by a pious layman is an extremely readable overview.)
MAGIDA, Arthur J.
1996 How to be a perfect stranger: a guide to etiquette in other people's religious ceremonies. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing. BJ2010 .M34/ 1995.
(This is not a scholarly work, but an etiquette book for Americans visiting religious denominations or traditions to which they do not belong. It might be useful in some contexts.)
MAXWELL-STUART, P.G.
1997 Chronicle of the popes: the reign-by-reign record of the papacy from St. Peter to the present. London: Thames & Hudson.
(This heavily illustrated coffee-table book, in a series with others on Chinese Emperors and other royal lines, is full of helpful maps, tables, and diagrams in addition to its pictures. For the layman, it provides a sweeping history of Christianity as seen through the reigns of the 266 popes of the Roman Catholic tradition. The text describes "how ultimately the papacy has moved in a circle —from self-consciously spiritual office, through embroilment in political power and now, with the turn of yet another millennium, back to its spiritual roots.")
PARRINDER, Geoffrey
1998 A concise encyclopedia of Christianity. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. (More consice —260 pp— than encyclopedic, and a bit idiosyncratic, this is nevertheless an inexpensive and often surprisingly useful reference.)
REID, Daniel G. et al.
1995 Concise dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press. BR515 .C665 /1995.
(This work is an abridged and updated version of a 1990 predecessor by the same author called Dictionary of Christianity in America. It is an extremely useful quick guide to people, groups, and movements in American Christendom, as well as to some technical terms (like "pro nuncio" and "homiletics").
SMITH, Jonathan Z. (Ed.)
1995 The HarperCollins dictionary of religion. San Francisco: Harper. BL31 .H37/ 1995.
(This large and easily available dictionary covers far more than Christianity, but its stress on short articles makes it possible for it to include an enormous range of Christian topics anyway. It will probably not live forever in the hearts of reference work users, but for the time being it is both convenient and up to date.)
WATER, Mark
1999 The Bible made plain and simple. Peabody MA: Hendrickson.
(Intended as a combination introduction and reference work, this small introduction to the Bible is the sort of work that proper scholars particularly loathe: it provides the perspective of a committed evangelicalism rather than dispassionate scholarship, and is unapologetic about seeing God's hand in Biblical narrative. The Old Testament is here portrayed unblushingly as existing to point to the New Testament, for example. Acknowledging that the goals here are not scholarly, the book is still extremely useful as a guide to the Bible as it is lived by modern American Protestants in general and Evangelicals in particular.)


Return to top.