The best books on Islam and the State, recommended by Ahmet T. Kuru

It’s widely assumed that in the ideal Muslim society there is no separation between religion and the state, but even in some of the earliest caliphates, the secular and the religious were rarely as closely aligned as religious conservatives would have us believe. Here Ahmet T. Kuru, Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University, recommends books that help trace the historical relationship between Islam and the state—and points to strands of secularism that may hold the key to a happier relationship between Islam and liberal democracy.

The best books on Religion in US Politics, recommended by John H. Smith

Religion is deeply bound up with politics in the United States, in a way that is unique in the developed world and among democratic countries. Here Professor John H. Smith, a historian at Texas A&M University, looks at the historical roots of this phenomenon and its contemporary significance.

The best books on Religion in China, recommended by Ian Johnson

China is a religious country with all kinds of faiths being practised across its vast territories—despite Mao’s attempts to eradicate them. The Chinese Communist Party tolerates a variety of religions but continues to grapple with the potential challenge they pose to its authority. Prize-winning journalist Ian Johnson introduces the best books on the complex topic of religion in China.

The best books on Mormonism, recommended by Benjamin E. Park

Mormonism is an entirely home-grown American religion. Nevertheless, as historian Benjamin E. Park explains, it struggled to win social acceptance in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century and that marginalisation profoundly shaped its development and, to some extent, its doctrines.

The Best Augustine Books, recommended by Catherine Conybeare

Christianity has been profoundly influenced by Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE), but the fifth-century North African bishop has impacted almost every area of western thought: philosophy, theology, political theory, linguistics, and rhetoric. His Confessions is one of the most recommended titles on Five Books, but is it really the first autobiography? Professor Catherine Conybeare introduces us to the life, thought, and personality of this controversial yet brilliant figure. She picks the best books to learn more about St. Augustine and explores how he has been unfairly maligned.

The best books on The Bible, recommended by Nicholas King

The Bible is not always an easy read—nor is it always obvious how or where to start reading it. Here, Nicholas King, a Jesuit priest and biblical scholar, chooses five books to help you start getting to grips with what is, arguably, the world’s all-time bestselling book.

The best books on Saint Teresa of Avila, recommended by Rowan Williams

St Teresa of Avila was one of the towering figures of the Counter-Reformation, both as a theologian and as a reformer of the religious life. Here, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, discusses her insights into spiritual growth and prayer, the impact her Jewish roots had on her life and career, and why Bernini’s statue of her in ecstasy is unhelpful.

The best books on Arguments for the Existence of God, recommended by Edward Feser

Is the existence of God incompatible with evil? What is the difference between ‘classical theism’ and ‘theistic personalism’? What is the best argument against there being a God?  From Aristotle through Aquinas to the present, philosopher Edward Feser gives an in-depth look at arguments for the existence of God.

The Best Books for Hanukkah, recommended by Dara Horn

Hanukkah means ‘a dedication’ and the celebration of the Jewish holiday towards the end of every year commemorates the success of the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire and the re-consecration of the Temple of Jerusalem in the second century BCE. Here, award-winning novelist Dara Horn recommends books that speak to the powerful themes of Hanukkah and explains why Jewish people are encouraged to light menorahs publicly around the world.

The best books on Humanism, recommended by Andrew Copson

Humanist ideas are not a recent phenomenon, but have been around for millennia, says Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK. He explains why it’s worth making a positive choice to be a humanist and recommends a great humanist reading list.

The best books on Adam and Eve, recommended by Stephen Greenblatt

Who were Adam and Eve, really? Over many centuries, the origin story has undergone countless transformations. The Pulitzer Prize-winner and Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt chooses five books that explore the history of Adam and Eve, and tells us why the world isn’t ready to leave the narrative of Eden behind

The best books on The Saints, recommended by Simon Yarrow

Heroes are universal to human culture and, in Christian culture, they manifested themselves as saints. Historian Simon Yarrow recommends the best books to understand the saints, from their widespread appearance in late antiquity to their continuing influence in modern America.

The best books on Jewish Vienna, recommended by Brigid Grauman

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Vienna had a vibrant intellectual and cultural life, embraced and at times led by key figures in its large Jewish community. All that would disappear with the rise of anti-Semitism and the Anschluss. Many Jews fled or committed suicide. Others were deported to concentration camps. After the war some went back, but Vienna would never be the same. Here Brigid Grauman, whose father’s family were assimilated Jews from Vienna, recommends books that evoke that poignant, tragic period that ended with World War II.

The best books on Jesus, recommended by Robert Morgan

Jesus was a 1st century Jew from Galilee who had a ministry of teaching and healing. He gathered disciples around him, but was eventually arrested and executed by the Roman governor of Judaea from 26 to 36CE, Pontius Pilate. But what else do we know about Jesus and what is his significance in an increasingly secular age? New Testament scholar Robert Morgan talks us through his favourite books on Jesus.

Meditation Books, recommended by Andy Puddicombe

Two decades ago Andy Puddicombe was ordained as a Buddhist monk. Now back in lay life, he tries to teach the benefits of meditation to the rest of us—most notably through the Headspace app, but also by writing books. Here he chooses some of the books that inspired him, from Japanese poetry to Tibetan philosophy. Not all are meditation books but they are his “old favorites.”

The best books on Jewish Humour, recommended by Ruth Wisse

Ruth Wisse, Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Comparative Literature Emerita at Harvard and author of No Joke: Making Jewish Humour, identifies Tevye the Dairyman as the first standup comic and Sigmund Freud as Jewish humour’s greatest analyst.

The best books on God, recommended by Anthony Gottlieb

The philosopher and former executive editor of The Economist, Anthony Gottlieb, discusses religion and suggests that belief in God only truly declines in a society when economic development brings existential security.

The best books on Atheism, recommended by Susan Jacoby

The main reason for the survival of religion is not a desire to live a better life, but our fear of death, says atheist author and independent scholar Susan Jacoby. Here she recommends five books she considers essential to “understanding the merits of atheism.”

The Best Nietzsche Books, recommended by Brian Leiter

Relativist, atheist, existentialist, Nazi. All have been said of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, some with more reason than others. In 2011, we asked Nietzsche expert Brian Leiter to explain the appeal of the controversial philosopher and to recommend books by and about him. In September (2020) our philosophy editor, Nigel Warburton, asked Brian about some of the latest Nietzsche books, notable works that have come out in the decade since we first spoke to him.

The best books on Witches and Witchcraft, recommended by Diane Purkiss

For centuries, the witch has been an index not only of what we fear most in others, but also what we cannot cope with—the powerfully abnormal, strange and often irrational elements—in ourselves. And the best way to understand the history of witches and witchcraft is to first understand the supernatural, according to Diane Purkiss, Professor at Keble College, Oxford and author of the lauded book The Witch in History.

The best books on Yoga, recommended by Liz Derow

Contrary to its popularization in Western culture, yoga isn’t just a form of fitness: its history is rooted in a long Hindu tradition shaped by great teachers in India. Here we have the best books for those who want to learn more about yoga, recommended by Liz Derow, a longtime practitioner and teacher of yoga in India and around the world.

The best books on Christmas, recommended by Bruce Forbes

Did you know that Santa Claus was a 4th century bishop in what is now Turkey? That Puritans tried to outlaw Christmas? Or Tiny Tim was originally Little Fred? Religious scholar Bruce Forbes recommends books that shed light on Christmas’s pagan past and consumerist present.

Allegra Goodman recommends the best Jewish Fiction

Jewish literature doesn’t have to be written by Jews, says the novelist, but it does have to speak to the Jewish experience. She tells us about the Jewish writing, from Chaim Potok to George Eliot, that means the most to her.

The best books on Being Sceptical, recommended by James Randi

Former magician and internationally renowned debunker of paranormal claims James Randi sharpens his knives against proponents of flim-flam, pseudoscience and the so-called paranormal – and tells us where the creator of Sherlock Holmes went badly wrong. He selects the best books on scepticism for Five Books.