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Most Influential Books

March 21, 2010

I have that “Critical Bibliography” page I update regularly, if you’re interested in seeing the texts that have influenced me. Here I want to mention a few books that fundamentally changed and shaped my views of religion in particular.

First, there was Bruce Lincoln’s Discourse and the Construction of Society. This was THE most influential book on my understanding of religion. I recommend it to anybody and everybody (as I do pretty much any book by Lincoln).

Runners up include Jean-Francois Bayart’s The Illusion of Cultural Identity and David Kertzer’s Ritual, Politics, and Power.

When it comes to the concept of “religion,” I recommend Russell McCutcheon’s Critics Not Caretakers, The Discipline of Religion, and Religion and the Domestication of Dissent. In addition, I highly recommend Tim Murphy’s Representing Religion. There are others who have produced valuable reflections on the concept of religion (such as Richard King, Timothy Fitzgerald, Talal Asad, Gary Lease, etc.), but I think McCutcheon and Murphy take the cake.

I am, of course, highly influenced by Foucault, Bourdieu, Derrida, Giddens, Durkheim, Douglas, Hacking, and others, but when I’m thinking about “religion” in particular, I turn first of all to the books listed above. I recommend them without reservation.

If you’re a non-specialist when it comes to religion, I think these are a great place to start. These books probably won’t be fun—they’re neither easy nor do they tell you what you want to hear—but they’re solid.

(On a side note, let me mention the most influential book I read as an undergraduate: Marc Zvi Brettler’s The Creation of History in Ancient Israel.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Beelzebub permalink
    March 22, 2010 5:27 pm

    Question: being a young person, formerly very interested in an academic career, but now dropped out of college and likely never to go back (financial reasons), at least not with that same intent, though still interested in academic things — can you recommend a place to start with Foucault, or would it be pointless to even try?

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    March 23, 2010 9:14 am

    Hi Beelzebub, I guess my answer would depend on what might interest you about Foucault. If you’re interested in his stuff on sex, I’d have different recommendations than if you’re interested in madness. Overall, I guess I would recommend the “Discipline” section (part 3) of Discipline and Punish and all of The History of Sexuality Vol 1.

    A pretty good secondary text is Michel Foucault by Dreyfus and Rabinow, although if I were you I would skip part 1 and go to part 2 of that book—Foucault’s work before 1970 doesn’t interest me all that much.

  3. larry c wilson permalink
    March 23, 2010 9:19 pm

    Beelzebub: You might also read what A. N. Wilson has to say about the man in “Our Times.”

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