My new reading list


Last week I decided to get real about the patriarchy on my bookshelf after I realized that nearly all the theological and religious books I own were written by men. It started when I shared a list of 10 books that have stayed with me over the years. There was not one female writer among them.

There is no use in men like me claiming to be “allies” or advocates of gender equality if we’re so busy speaking for women that we don’t bother listening to them. If all I am is another voice speaking in their place, then nothing’s really changed, has it? Being an “ally” might make me feel better about myself, but it will accomplish little else until I allow myself to start being shaped by their voices.

So I decide to ask for help… and you responded, big time. I got dozens of suggestions through email, blog comments, tweets, Facebook messages… more than 70 names in total, from all ends of the theological spectrum. Not all of them fit neatly into my original criteria of being theological or religious writers. But all of them are important voices, well worth listening to.

Below is a list of the recommendations people shared. It’s likely I missed a few, but I tried to keep track of all the ones that I saw. The other day, I spent a few hours learning about each author and made note of one or two books by each. (Or three, in some cases where I just couldn’t narrow it down.) If you’re like me, some of the names will be familiar to you; some won’t. Probably 80% of the names below were new to me.

I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to get through the entire list, but I intend to make a start. Namely, with 10 books—a new list of 10 books that I hope will stay with me over the coming years. (I’ll share that list at the end of this post.)

Some of these authors fall safely within my comfort zone. Some are sure to challenge me in interesting and perhaps uncomfortable ways. But that’s the whole point of reading, isn’t it? To step outside your own limited perspective and allow others to shape it, even if you don’t end up fully agreeing with them? How much of our impoverished discourse can be traced to the fact that we tend to hear only the voices that sound like our own?

This is my first small step in trying to change that, in trying not to be as much of an “ally” as a listener. To every one of you who took the time to recommend an author (or several, in some cases), thank you. And if, like me, your reading has felt a bit one-dimensional, I hope you’ll take a moment to peruse the names below. You might find something that sets you on a new journey, that gives you a new perspective…

Religious and theological writers

Karen Armstrong, comparative religion
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
The Case for God

Karen Baker-Fletcher, systematic theology
Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective
Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit: Womanist Wordings on God and Creation

Nancy Beach, church ministry
Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church

Sarah Bessey, writer
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women

Jeannine Brown, hermeneutics, New Testament studies
Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics   

Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity
The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity

Laurene Bowers, UCC minister
Becoming a Multicultural Church

Barbara Brown-Taylor, Episcopal priest
An Altar in the World
Learning to Walk in the Dark
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

Kelly Brown-Douglas, religion
Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective

Diana Butler-Bass, Christian history
Christianity After Religion: The End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story

Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun
The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century

Lynn Cohick, biblical studies
The Story of God Bible Commentary: Philippians

Carlene Cross, writer
Fleeing Fundamentalism

Sarah Cunningham, writer
Beyond the Broken Church

Carolyn Custis-James, writer
The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules
Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women

Mary Daly, feminist philosophy
Beyond God the Father

Lillian Daniel, UCC minister
When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough

Marva Dawn, theology
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down

Denise Dombkoski Hopkins, biblical theology
Journey Through the Psalms

Musa Dube, feminist theology
Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible

Margaret A. Farley, ethics
Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics

Cherith Fee Nordling, theology
Knowing God by Name: A Conversation Between Elizabeth A. Johnson and Karl Barth

Sister Maureen Fiedler, activist
Rome Has Spoken…: A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries

Katie Geneva Cannon, theology
Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader

Beverly Harrison, Christian social ethics
Justice in the Making: Feminist Social Ethics

Rachel Held Evans, writer
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Faith Unraveled
Searching for Sunday

Carter Heyward, Episcopal priest
Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right

Joyce Hollyday, UCC minister
Clothed With the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice, and Us
Then Shall Your Light Rise: Spiritual Formation and Social Witness

Carol Howard-Merritt, practical theology, PCUSA pastor
Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation
Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation

Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, ethics and theology
En La Lucha: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology

Karen Jobes, hermeneutics
Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles
Invitation to the Septuagint

Elizabeth Johnson, theology
She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse
Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God

Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, theology
Refiner’s Fire: A Religious Engagement With Violence

Anne Lamott, writer
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Amy-Jill Levine, New Testament studies
Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi
The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
The Jewish Annotated New Testament

Henrietta Mears, Christian educator
What the Bible Is All About

Sara Miles, founder of The Food Pantry
City of God: Faith in the Streets
Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion

Rita Nakashima Brock, theology and culture
Proverbs From Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us
Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire

Carol Newsom, Old Testament studies
The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations
Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition  

Elaine Pagels, religion
Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

Christine Pohl, Christian social ethics
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition

Kwok Pui Lan, theology
Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology

Rosemary Radford Reuther, theology
Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology

Sharon Ringe, hermeneutics, UCC minister
Biblical Interpretation: A Roadmap

Jane Rogers Vann, practical theology
Gathered Before God: Worshiped-Centered Church Renewal

Sarah Ruden, classical literature, biblical linguistics
Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time

Cheryl Sanders, Christian ethics, Church of God pastor
Empowerment Ethics for a Liberated People
Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission of Women, Youth, & the Poor

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, theology
Democratizing Biblical Studies: Toward and Emancipatory Educational Space

Angela D. Sims, ethics, black church studies
Religio-Political Narratives in the United States

Dorothee Sölle, theology
Dorothee Sölle: Essential Writings

Marti Steussy, hermeneutics
Chalice Introduction to the Old Testament

Elsa Tamez, theology
The Scandalous Message of James: Faith Without Works Is Dead
Bible of the Oppressed
The Amnesty of Grace: Justification by Faith From a Latin American Perspective

Phyllis Tickle, writer
The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

Krista Tippett, broadcaster
Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters—and How We Talk About It
Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit

Maren Tirabassi, UCC pastor
From the Psalms to the Cloud: Connecting to the Digital Age

Emilie M. Townes, ethics
In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness

Renita J. Weems, theology
Just a Sister Away: A Womanist Vision of Women’s Relationships in the Bible
Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt

Sharon Welch, religion and society
A Feminist Ethic of RISK

Delores Williams, theology
Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk

Sister Miriam Therese Winter, theology
Paradoxology: Spirituality in a Quantum Universe

Hildegard of Bingen

Teresa of Avila
The Way of Perfection

Other writers

Hannah Arendt, political theory
On Revolution

Carol Gilligan, psychology
In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development

bell hooks, writer and activist
All About Love
Feminism Is for Everybody
The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Susan Ludvigson, poet
Escaping the House of Certainty

Sue Monk Kidd, novelist
The Secret Life of Bees

Alice Notley, poet
Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2005

Kay Ryan, poet
The Best of It: New and Selected Poems

Cheryl Strayed, writer
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Jean Valentine, poet
Door in the Mountain: New Collected Poems, 1965-2003

Alice Walker, author and activist
The Color Purple

The first 10…

Finally, here are the first 10 books I’m choosing to read from this list. I’ve tried to aim for a mix of authors representing different theological and ethnic backgrounds. I’ve chosen some books that naturally appeal to me, as well as some I might not have picked up on my own. And to honor those who responded to my earlier post, I tried to choose at least one from every list someone was kind enough to share with me. (It helped that there was a some overlap between lists.)

Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Learning to Walk in the Dark An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor
(Late substitution based on multiple recommendations)

A People’s History of Christianity, by Diana Butler-Bass

The Gospel of Ruth, by Carolyn Custis-James

Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, by Musa Dube

Reframing Hope, by Carol Howard-Merritt

The Misunderstood Jew, by Amy-Jill Levine

Saving Paradise, by Rita Nakashima Brock

Paul Among the People, by Sarah Ruden

Sisters in the Wilderness, by Delores Williams

29 thoughts on “My new reading list

  1. You really need to look at a couple of books by Beatrice Bruteau. Holy Thursday Revolution is dense but amazing. A slightly easier read is Radical Optomism. She is a philosopher, sociologist, theologian… I find her stuff powerful an well worth the read


  2. KBF’s Dancing with God is great. I’m currently taking a class of her’s at Perkins. I’d also recommend adding Kathryn Tanner.


  3. Mary Daly moved pretty far beyond beyond God the Father.. but the book is still important. At least one of the works of Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, co-director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont, should be on your list. Perhaps the most accessible is In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer, Chalice Press, 1996. Though she is not a theologian by training, I would also recommend Mary Rose O’Reilley’s The Barn at the End of the World.


  4. Yes, when I look at my bookshelves, male authors predominate. Among the women are Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, a handful of poets and of course the classics; Emily Bronte etc. I’d say 95% male! Is it all down to cultural bias do you think?
    Thanks for checking out my blog.


  5. Madeleine L’Engle, Kathleen Norris, Simone Weil.
    Emily Dickinson was an incredible theologian in her own right.


  6. Hello! I really enjoyed your list. I’m also an Episcopalian and Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my priest’s favorite authors to quote from. I loved, loved, loved, An Altar in the World, and definitely want to reread it. I’ve also read Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith and loved it too. Happy Reading!!


  7. What’s up, Ben!

    Shameless self promotion, but I do actually think you’d enjoy the book I edited – Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical (Cascade Books, 2009).


  8. Wow, Ben. Thanks so much for this list. I’m a seminarian and with a glance at your bio I think we have similar sentiments. I want to save this list for future reference. Something that has really shaped my faith over the past few years has been reading female authors in my spare time (because I agree with the unfortunate reality that they don’t pop up on my seminary reading list often). It’s actually gotten to the point that I had to work really hard to think of a MALE author that I’ve been reading lately that I’d say was actually worth my time (Bill Watterson is an obvious exception). At a quick glance (because I’m at work) I wonder if I might throw out a few names that I’d recommend that have really been impactful to me- take it or leave it- you didn’t leave much room for improvement on your list but I just hope to add to the conversation and share some wonderful women who’ve had a profound impact on my life.

    I hope if you get a chance they prove of some use to you too!

    Flannery O’Connor; Prayer Journals **
    Annie Dillard; For The Time Being
    Barbara Kingsolver; Small Wonders & Poisonwood Bible
    Marilynne Robinson; Gilead**, Home, The Death of Adam
    Kathleen Norris; Acedia and Me

    ** Robinson and O’Connor are the best.**

    Also, just because it’s a small world and to add validity to Hannah Notess comment above- I’d follow her tip. I’ve had one of her poems hanging above the desk for the entirety of my seminary career. Suffice to say, she knows what she talks about and I’m thankful for female writers such as herself who’ve greatly enhanced and enriched my faith.

    Thanks again for this list!


    1. definitely second the Flannery O’Connor – her fiction is impressive too in its insight into the truth of the human soul and of redemption in the face of its darkness.

      been trying to get to Annie Dillard – 2 of her books are residing in the pile next to my night table


  9. Christine Pohl’s “Making Room” is absolutely on my top-ten list, particularly if you are interested in hospitality and its social impact. But for a list such as yours, it may be better to look for female authors who are talking in areas less traditionally associated with women, such as history and theology.


  10. great acknowledgement and impressive follow through, which is often the hardest part when seeing a lack! will definitely be checking out some of the books/authors you listed

    Here for your list are a few more books that immediately popped into my head while I was reading:

    Dorothy Sayers (who was, I do believe, the only female Inkling (hanging out with Tolkien and Lewis and others)) has a couple books on theology and the church AND one on dealing with women as people first, this last one titled _Are Women Human?_

    Karen Swallow Prior – written numerous articles in various publications, plus has written a memoir that explores faith and literature titled Lit in the Soul of Me

    Lauren F. Winner has at least 4 books out about her own walk as well as issues of Christian living

    and outside of theology (etc.), Jean Bethke Elshtain is a great writer to explore in the area of political ethics


  11. I am reading ( upon the recommendation of a good friend) the first text in Sarah Coakley’s systematic theology “God Sexuality and the Self- I am only a third in but it is profound and speaks to a need to reconceptualize desire and gender through a theological lens. The text also brings in a great discussion on the Holy Spirit, aescetics, and contemplative prayer’s role in systematic theology.

    I highly recommend her work

    Sorry to add to your impressive list!

    Let me also endorse Kenda Creasy Dean- her work in Youth Ministry is some of my favorite -namely “Almost Christian”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ok, I haft to chime in as a Catholic. You need to add Alice VonHildebrand, I recommend ‘The Privilege of Being a Woman’ . All the names I recognize of Catholics on your list are of a certain rather radical reactionary type who have “moved beyond Jesus”.

    Sorry to give an opinionated response but of the names who I recognize as Catholics it is rather one sided. (they are the sort who I feel if they were honest would become Episcopalians)


    1. If they did become Episcopalians, I would be only too honored, since that’s my tribe! However, one of the objectives of this exercise is to read women from across the theological perspective—Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant…liberal, conservative, and everything in between… etc. I’m truly grateful to you for adding to the list.


  13. Yes, I understood your objective which is why I chimed in. VonHildebrand is a believing Catholic, adding her balances out the list. Whereas Farley, Chittister et al want very much for the Catholic church to be something altogether different from what she is. I felt it necessary to point this out, even though your reading list was already too long;-)

    Anyway God bless and happy reading.


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