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Religion in culture and history

Variety of Religions

World Religions: An Introduction by Charles R. Monroe. Some Amazon reviewers didn't like it, but I found it worth my time to read through its 400 pages. 

The World's Religions by Huston Smith. Readers might find this book a better bet than the Monroe book above. It devotes about equal space to the major religions with an even handed sensitivity.

A History of God by Karen Armstrong. This was a best seller. Rather than a panorama of the world's religions, she looks at the different belief systems from a spiritual perspective.

Encyclopedia of Gods by Michael Jordan. Catalogues 2500 gods with short descriptions. It makes you realize how belief in a god or gods prevailed through civilizations throughout the world.

Sacred Origins of Profound Things by Charles Panati. It's a fascinating collection short histories of things like the custom of holding hands in prayer, the origins of  holidays and observations, biblical phrases etc.

Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icon & the Meanings Behind Them by Hans Biedermann.

Sacred Sexuality: The Erotic Spirit in the World's Great Religions by Georg Feuerstein. Includes Christianity, Judaism, goddess worship, Taoism and Hinduism.


The Harpercollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism by Richard P. McBrian & Harold W. Attridge.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church by E. A. Livingstone, F. L. Cross, Elizabeth A. Livingstone.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, Geoffrey Wigoder.

The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions by John Bowker.

Jewish Encyclopedia Link

Catholic Encyclopedia Link

Crimes and Persecutions

Holy Horrors by James A. Haught. Chronicles the grim spectacle of religious persecution from ancient times to the present. Includes religions around the world as well as government complicity.

The Dark Side of Christian History by Helen Ellerbe. A short historical tour to show how the Christian Church ahs brutalized millions in an attempt to control and contain spirituality. 

Holy Homicide by Michael Newton. A mostly modern case history of homicides committed in God's name. Among others, it covers famous cases such as the Klu Klux Klan, Heavens Gate and terrorism before 9/11.

Sex, Dissidence and Damnation by Jeffrey Richards. Looks at the life of heretics, witches, Jews, prostitutes, lepers and homosexuals in the Middle Ages and discovered the Church's obsession with controlling sexual practices. A Second Coming was coming and adults were expected to lead godly lives.

The Inquisition of the Middle Ages by Henry Charles Lea. This is an important section of a three-volume work A History of the Inquisition of he Middle Ages. The author's works on the Inquisition have become the definitive source for any student of the topic.

Demon Lovers: Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief by Walter Stephens. The crises was in reconciling the sacraments with the physical existence of demons.

 Witchcraft in Europe, 1100-1700: A Documentary History by Alan C. Kors & Edward Peters. A well narrated historical account from original sources.

The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber by John Swain. Torture was practiced as a matter of course in ancient times. Explains some of the methods.


Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs through the Ages by Eugen Weber. An historical tour from ancients of the West and the Orient to the twentieth century.

Prophecies: 4,000 Years of Prophets Visionaries, and Predictions by Tony Allan. Covers religious and non-religious prophecies from around the world.

Temporal History

Early Christian Heresies by Joan O'Grady. Covers Gnosticism, Marcionites, Montanists, Manichaeism, Arianism, Nestorians, Pelegius and the Church of Rome. A short book.

Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance by H. A. Drake. Uncovers the political motives behind Constantine's conversion and the rivalry between political and religious factions. 

Augustus to Constantine by Robert M. Grant. Covers the Roman-controlled Judea at the beginning of the Roman empire to when Christianity became the official faith of the Roman empire.

When Jesus Became God by Richard E. Rubenstein. An expert on religious conflict reports on the debates of religious leaders and politicians, and the struggles of commoners during Christianity's early years.

Medieval Heresy by Malcom Lambert. For those who want to learn about the heresies that arose from the year 1000 the time of Luther. Written from an historical perspective with lots of narrative detail.

The Barbarian Invasion by Richard Fletcher. Explains how Christianity spread to Europe with the breaking up of the Roman Empire. Written from an historical perspective with lots of narrative detail. 

God Against the Gods: The History of War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsh. Argues classical polytheism was tolerant of different beliefs. It was monotheism "that introduced the terrors of "true belief" with war, martyrdom, inquisitions and crusades. Covers its beginnings in Roman history.

Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries by Ramsay Macmullen. Explores the influences of paganism and Christianity upon each other. Argues that Christianity did not obliterate paganism, but embraced and assimilated it.

The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century by Roland H. Bainton. A comprehensive study of a critical time in Christian history.

The Faith: A History of Christianity by Brian Moynahan. It's a lot to cover in one book, but he does a decent job. Covers Jesus and Paul, martyrs, heretics, Rome, Augustine, Islamic invasions, Crusades, Calvin, wars, witch-finders, slavery, printing, Reformation, America, Darwin, missionaries and more.

Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism by Philip Benedict. Everything you want to know about the life of John Calvin, his theology and the history of Calvinism.

A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson. My personal complaint with Johnson is his attention to too much detail. 

A History of Jews by Paul Johnson. He is a touch apologetic.

Theology in America; Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War by E. Brooks Holifield. This is probably the most thorough book you can find on the subject.

Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church by Michael S. Rose.  A critique on how radical liberalism and homosexuality infiltrated the modern American Catholic Church.

Origins of Religion

The Golden Bough: The Roots of Religion and Folklore by James G. Frazer. A classic first published in 1890. An anthropologist examines the early development of religious superstitions and customs.

Theories of Primitive Religion by E. E. Evans-Pritchard. Covers psychological and sociological theories.

The Origin and Evolution of Religion by Albert Churchward. Describes early religions from around the world with emphasis on Egypt.

The Origins of Pagan and Christian Beliefs by Edward Carpenter. Argues that the religions were based on nature worship, fertility, totem-sacraments and eucharists.

Popes and Saints

Lives of the Popes by Richard P. McBrien. A great reference work of all the popes. Describes the best and the worst, how they are elected and how they are removed.

Sex Lives of the Popes by Nigel Cawthorne. There are some very juicy stories in this book. Takes an irreverent look at the many escapades.

The Bad Popes by E. R. Chamberlin. Covers seven popes in the 600 years leading into the Reformation. Some of them were corrupted by power.

The Popes: Histories and Secrets by Claudio Rendina. This is a thick book which covers all the popes from Saint Peter to John Paul II.

The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism by David I. Kertzer. 

Saints Preserve Us: Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You'll Ever Need by Sean Kelly & Rosemary Rogers. Takes an irreverent look at Saints from A to Z. It's a good read.

Aquinas's Shorter Summa: Saint Thomas's Own Concise Version of His Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas.


The Confessions of Saint Augustine

City of God

Augustine of Hippo: A Biography by Peter Brown

Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia edited by Allan D. . A collection of his life, writings influences and thoughts.


The core of the problem is that under Islam there can be no separation of church and state. In my opinion, American efforts to secularize the Middle East by military means are doomed to fail. Some of these books like to stress the Koran's passages on hating infidels; I remind readers that the Bible is equally larded with hate. I think it is more accurate to identify this so-called 'war on terror' as a religious war: Christianity and Judaism verses Islam. This mess didn't begin with the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It began with Israel in 1948.

The Qur'an Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. I found this Koran the most readable and best laid out of others I've examined.

The Sword and the Prophet: History, Theology, Impact on the World by Serge Trifkovic. Condemns Muslim extremism but argues that American foreign policy has served to further their cause.

Extreme Islam: Anti-American Propaganda of Muslim Fundamentalism edited by Adam Parfey. Pays lavish attention to extreme Islam. 

Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith by Robert Spencer. This is another screed that argues Islam is a threat to America.


Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith. One of the best books on explaining the divide between theism and atheism. Explains reason verses faith, refutes arguments for God and discusses ethics.

What is Atheism? by Douglas E. Krudger. A well argued primer of the issues that separate theism and atheism. Explains atheism, discusses Bible weakness and refutes many of the arguments for God.

Why Atheism? by George H. Smith. Defends reason, freethought and personal liberty. Review historical roots of unbelief and advances philosophy as an alternative. Also covers the ethics of belief.

The Atheist Debater's Handbook by B. C. Johnson. It's a good book for study, but not the definitive works.

Why I am not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects by Bertrand Russell. The great philosopher makes his case against Christianity. 

Bertrand Russell on God and Religion edited by Al Seckel. More essays on the subject.