100 Must-Read Novels About Religion

I love to read about other people’s experiences with religion and faith, whether they share my Christian faith, have rejected it, or practice a different faith. Because I’m interested in how people think about God and spiritual matters, novels that take on these topics almost always appeal to me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so I’ve assembled a list of novels that address issues related to faith.

Some of these books feature clergy or devout believers, others are filled with characters who struggle to believe at all. There are books set in religious communities and churches or in futuristic societies built on religious principles. These books address a variety of faiths, including Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. Some are critical of religion, and others treat it as essential to life. I hope that everyone can find something of interest, whatever your particular beliefs are!

The 27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas Ellis

“The 27th Kingdom is to be found in Chelsea, where Aunt Irene lives in a cosy, cluttered ménage with Kyril, her nephew. Their peace, however, is about to be invaded by Valentine, a young postulant sent by her Reverend mother to ‘test her vocation.’”

Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout

“After the tragic death of his young wife, Reverend Tyler Caskey, a New England minister, struggles to hold together his own life, his family, and his town, while dealing with his personal anger, grief, and loss of faith.”

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta

“Ruth Ramsey is the human sexuality teacher at the local high school. She believes that ‘pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power.’ Ruth’s younger daughter’s soccer coach is Tim Mason, a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved. Tim belongs to The Tabernacle, an evangelical Christian church that doesn’t approve of Ruth’s style of teaching. And Ruth in turn doesn’t applaud The Tabernacle’s mission to take its message outside its doors.”

Ambiguous Adventure by Cheikh Hamidou Kane

“Tells the tale of young Samba Diallo, a devout pupil in a Koranic school in Senegal whose parents send him to Paris to study philosophy.”

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

“Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes…Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.”

The Autobiography of God by Julius Lester

“Rebecca Nachman is a Rabbi without a synagogue…Deeply lonely and on the edge of losing her faith, she comes into possession of a Torah, the last relic of Czechowa, a village of Polish Jews who were exterminated by the Nazis. With the Torah, the unquiet spirits of the village dead begin to visit Rebecca. On one visit they leave a manuscript written in Hebrew and titled My Life, an autobiography by God who, like any eager author, is seeking a sympathetic reader.”

Be Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan

“David is Father Anderton, a Catholic priest with a small parish in Scotland. He befriends Mark and Lisa, rebellious local teenagers who live in a world he barely understands.”

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

“A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an enclosed order of nuns. A new bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered.”

The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

“Preston Clearwater has been a criminal since stealing two chainsaws and 1600 pairs of aviator sunglasses from the Army during the Second World War. Back on the road in post-war North Carolina, a member of a car-theft ring, he picks up hitch-hiking Henry Dampier, an innocent nineteen-year-old Bible salesman…During his hilarious and scary adventures we learn of Henry’s fundamentalist youth, an upbringing that doesn’t prepare him for his new life.”

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

“It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea…His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their ‘book of strange new things.’”

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

“In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries…But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them.”

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

“Tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.”

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

“‘On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.’ By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper then embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy.”

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“A passionate philosophical novel set in 19th century Russia, that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia.”

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

“Karim Amir lives with his English mother and Indian father in the routine comfort of suburban London, enduring his teenage years with good humor, always on the lookout for adventure and sexual possibilities. Life gets more interesting, however, when his father becomes the Buddha of Suburbia, beguiling a circle of would-be mystics.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

“In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz.”

Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

“Emma Wheaton has interrupted her successful stage career to attend to her dying father—the legendary screen actor David Wheaton. As the master performer grapples with an obsession over the one great role that has eluded him—that of the biblical King David—Emma confronts both the painful and healing memories of her tumultuous past.”

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

“In 1940s Brooklyn, an accident throws Reuven Malther & Danny Saunders together. Despite their differences (Reuven is a modern Orthodox Jew with an intellectual, Zionist father; Danny is the brilliant son & rightful heir to a Hasidic rebbe), the young men form a deep, if unlikely, friendship.”

The Convent: A Novel by Panos Karnezis

“The crumbling convent of Our Lady of Mercy stands alone in an uninhabited part of the Spanish sierra, hidden on a hill among dense forest. Its inhabitants are devoted to God, to solitude and silence—six women cut off from a world they’ve chosen to leave behind. This all changes on the day that Mother Superior Maria Ines discovers a suitcase punctured with air holes at the entrance to the retreat: a baby, abandoned to its fate.”

Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved Country, the most famous and important novel in South Africa’s history, was an immediate worldwide bestseller in 1948…the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice.”

Dawn by Elie Wiesel

“Elisha is a young Jewish man, a Holocaust survivor, and an Israeli freedom fighter in British-controlled Palestine; John Dawson is the captured English officer he will murder at dawn in retribution for the British execution of a fellow freedom fighter. The night-long wait for morning and death provides Dawn, Elie Wiesel’s ever more timely novel, with its harrowingly taut, hour-by-hour narrative.”

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge

“The cathedral Dean, Adam Ayscough, holds a deep love for his parishioners, but he is held captive by an irrational shyness and intimidating manner. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with Isaac Peabody, an obscure watchmaker who does not think he or God have anything in common.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

“In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.”

Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James

“The bulk of the novel takes place at St. Anselm’s, an embattled, isolated theological college on England’s windswept East Anglian coast. When the body of seminarian Ronald Treeves is literally unearthed from a suffocating pile of sand, a coroner’s jury turns in a verdict of accidental death. Arms manufacturer Sir Alred Treeves, Ronald’s adoptive father, questions the verdict and arranges to have Dalgliesh reinvestigate the boy’s death.”

The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri

“Vishnu, the odd-job man, lies dying on the staircase of an apartment building while around him unfold the lives of its inhabitants: warring housewives, lovesick teenagers, a grieving widower. In a fevered state, Vishnu looks back on his love affair with the seductive Padmini and wonders if he might actually be the god Vishnu, guardian of the entire universe.”

The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos

“Movingly recounts the life of a young French country priest who grows to understand his provincial parish while learning spiritual humility himself.”

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

“In 70 C.E., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.”

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor

“In this moving novel, Father Hugh Kennedy, a recovering alcoholic, returns to Boston to repair his damaged priesthood. There he is drawn into the unruly world of the Carmodys, a sprawling, prosperous Irish family teeming with passion and riddled with secrets.”

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

“’This is a record of hate far more than of love,’ writes Maurice Bendrix in the opening passages of The End of the Affair, and it is a strange hate indeed that compels him to set down the retrospective account of his adulterous affair with Sarah Miles…Yet as he delves further into his emotional outlook, Bendrix’s hatred shifts to the God he feels has broken his life, but whose existence at last comes to recognize.”

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

“Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith.”

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

“In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price.”

Fallen by David Maine

“Their expulsion from the Garden is only the beginning: Eve and Adam have to find their way past recriminations and bitterness, to construct a new life together in a harsh land.”

Frost in May by Antonia White

“Nanda Gray, the daughter of a Catholic convert, is nine when she is sent to the Convent of Five Wounds. Quick-witted, resilient, and eager to please, she adapts to this cloistered world, learning rigid conformity and subjection to authority. Passionate friendships are the only deviation from her total obedience.”

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

“In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.”

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

“With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935.”

Godric by Frederick Buechner

“Retells the life of Godric of Finchale, a twelfth-century English holy man whose projects late in life included that of purifying his moral ambition of pride.”

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam

“In the dying days of a brutal civil war, Sohail Haque stumbles upon an abandoned building. Inside he finds a young woman whose story will haunt him for a lifetime to come…Almost a decade later, Sohail’s sister, Maya, returns home after a long absence to find her beloved brother transformed. While Maya has stuck to her revolutionary ideals, Sohail has shunned his old life to become a charismatic religious leader.”

The Good Priest’s Son by Reynolds Price

“Flying home to New York after a much needed getaway abroad, private art conservator Mabry Kincaid learns that his downtown loft has been devastated by the World Trade Center attacks. Unable to resume his normal life, he flies south to North Carolina to visit his aged father, a widowed Episcopal priest who is cared for by live-in nurse Audrey Thornton and her grown son, Marcus.”

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago

“This is a skeptic’s journey into the meaning of God and of human existence. At once an ironic rendering of the life of Christ and a beautiful novel, Saramago’s tale has sparked intense discussion about the meaning of Christianity and the Church as an institution.”

The Guide by R.K. Narayan

“Formerly India’s most corrupt tourist guide, Raju—just released from prison—seeks refuge in an abandoned temple. Mistaken for a holy man, he plays the part and succeeds so well that God himself intervenes to put Raju’s newfound sanctity to the test.”

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.”

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland

“Pregnant and secretly married, Cheryl Anway scribbles what becomes her last will and testament on a school binder shortly before a rampaging trio of misfit classmates gun her down in a high school cafeteria. Overrun with paranoia, teenage angst, and religious zeal in the massacre’s wake, this sleepy suburban neighborhood declares its saints, brands its demons, and moves on.”

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

“Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.”

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven

“Amid the grandeur of the remote Pacific Northwest stands Kingcome, a village so ancient that, according to Kwakiutl myth, it was founded by the two brothers left on earth after the great flood…And now, coming upriver is a young vicar, Mark Brian, on a journey of discovery that can teach him—and us—about life, death, and the transforming power of love.”

In My Father’s House by Ernest J. Gaines

“Reverend Martin comes face to face with the sins of his youth in the person of Robert X, a young, unkempt stranger who arrives in town for a mysterious ‘meeting’ with the Reverend.”

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

“Clare Fergusson, St. Alban’s new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York. She is not just a ‘lady,’ she’s a tough ex-Army chopper pilot, and nobody’s fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town’s police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who’s also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown.”

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

“This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community.”

The Italian by Ann Radcliffe

“From the first moment Vincentio di Vivaldi, a young nobleman, sets eyes on the veiled figure of Ellena, he is captivated by her enigmatic beauty and grace. But his haughty and manipulative mother is against the match and enlists the help of her confessor to come between them.”

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela

“It’s 2010 and Natasha, a half Russian, half Sudanese professor of history, is researching the life of Imam Shamil, the 19th century Muslim leader who led the anti-Russian resistance in the Caucasian War.”

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

“As a young girl, Kristin is deeply devoted to her father, a kind and courageous man. But when as a student in a convent school she meets the charming and impetuous Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies her parents in pursuit of her own desires. Her saga continues through her marriage to Erlend, their tumultuous life together raising seven sons as Erlend seeks to strengthen his political influence, and finally their estrangement as the world around them tumbles into uncertainty.”

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

“The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years—except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in the divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work.”

Lapsing by Jill Paton Walsh

“Set in Oxford in the 1950s, Lapsing traces the emotional and intellectual education of Tessa, a young woman whose profound belief in the tenets of the church is challenged by her love for a sensitive, tormented priest.”

The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis

“Fleshes out the story of Christ’s Passion, giving it a dynamic spiritual freshness. Kazantzakis’s Jesus is gloriously divine, yet earthy and human, as he travels among peasants and is tempted by their comfortable life.”

A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King

“The year is 1923 and Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell receive a visit from Dorothy Ruskin, an amateur archaeologist. She shows them a scrap of ancient writing that is supposedly Mary Magdalene’s. Soon afterwards she is murdered—but why?”

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

“The protagonist, Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.”

Lilith by George MacDonald

“A story concerning the nature of life, death, and salvation. After he followed the old man through the mirror, nothing in his life was ever right again. It was a special mirror, and the man he followed was a special man.”

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman

“Sister John of the Cross lives in the service of God. She is the only nun who experiences visions and is regarded by the others as a spiritual master. But Sister John is also plagued by powerful headaches and when a doctor reveals that they may be dangerous, she faces a devastating choice.”

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen

“For the Sisters of the Crucifixion, each day is a ceaseless round of work, study, and prayer—one hardly separate from the other. Into this idyll comes Mariette—young, pretty, devout, but, as her father says, perhaps ‘too high-strung’ for the convent…But when she begins bleeding from unexplained wounds in her hands, feet, and sides, the convent is thrown into an uproar.”

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

“In the remote Welsh mountain village of Gwytherin lies the grave of Saint Winifred. Now, in 1137, the ambitious head of Shrewsbury Abbey has decided to acquire the sacred remains for his Benedictine order. Native Welshman Brother Cadfael is sent on the expedition…Canny, wise, and all too wordly, he isn’t surprised when this taste for bones leads to bloody murder.”

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

“It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth.”

Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly

“J. Blue is a young man who decides to take Christianity seriously, not as a chore but as a challenge. He spends his inherited wealth almost as soon as he gets it. He lives in a packing box on a New York City rooftop. He embraces the poor as his best friends and wisest companions, distrusts the promises of technology (except for the movies), and is fascinated by anything involving the wide expanse of God’s universe.”

My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

“The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed.”

The Mysteries of Glass by Sue Gee

“It’s the winter of 1860 when Richard Allen, a young curate, travels to a small hamlet outside Hereford to take up his first position. It’s in this quiet place of wind and trees, birds and water that Richard is to fall passionately in love—but he cannot find fulfillment, for his lover is Susannah Beddoes, the wife of the vicar of his new parish.”

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

“The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective.”

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

“When a disfigured corpse is discovered in a country parish, the local rector pleads with Lord Peter to take on what will become one of his most brilliant and complicated cases.”

The Nun by Denis Diderot

“A novel mingling mysticism, madness, sadistic cruelty and nascent sexuality, it gives a scathing insight into the effects of forced vocations and the unnatural life of the convent.”

The Nun’s Story by Kathyrn Hulme

“The lead character of the book, Sister Luke (pre-convent name Gabrielle Van Der Mal), finds her faith tested in Africa where she finds herself at odds with headstrong Dr. Fortunati, operator of a remote Congo hospital, with whom she gradually builds respect, and again during World War II, when she is ordered not to take sides.”

Out of Egypt by Anne Rice

“With the Holy Land in turmoil, seven-year-old Jesus and his family leave Egypt for the dangerous road home to Jerusalem. As they travel, the boy tries to unlock the secret of his birth and comprehend his terrifying power to work miracles.”

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

“Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages.”

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

“Charged with the murder of two locals who terrorized their family, Davy has fled, understanding that the scales of justice will not weigh in his favor. But Reuben, his father, Jeremiah—a man of faith so deep he has been known to produce miracles—and Reuben’s little sister, Swede, follow closely behind the fleeing Davy.”

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

“In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images.”

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

“The second novel in Lewis’s science fiction trilogy tells of Dr Ransom’s voyage to the planet of Perelandra (Venus). Dr Ransom is sent by the Elida to Perelandra (Venus) to battle against evil incarnate and preserve a second Eden from the evil forces present in the possessed body of his enemy, Weston.”

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

“A story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.”

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

“For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die—Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter.”

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

“Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument…At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.”

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

“Set in early eighteenth-century Scotland, the novel recounts the corruption of a boy of strict Calvinist parentage by a mysterious stranger under whose influence he commits a series of murders. The stranger assures the boy that no sin can affect the salvation of an elect person.”

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.”

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

“Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood—the world of the red tent.”

Revival by Stephen King

“In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church…When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.”

Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Ananthamurthy

“As a religious novel about a decaying brahmin colony in the south Indian village of Karnataka, Samskara serves as an allegory rich in realistic detail, a contemporary reworking of ancient Hindu themes and myths, and a serious, poetic study of a religious man living in a community of priests gone to seed.”

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

“Set in a modern world filled with both mayhem and miracles, the story begins with a bang: the terrorist bombing of a London-bound jet in midflight. Two Indian actors of opposing sensibilities fall to earth, transformed into living symbols of what is angelic and evil.”

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves.”

The Second Coming by Walker Percy

“Will Barrett is a lonely widower suffering from a depression so severe that he decides he doesn’t want to continue living. But then he meets Allison, a mental hospital escapee making a new life for herself in a greenhouse. The Second Coming is by turns touching and zany, tragic and comic, as Will sets out in search of God’s existence and winds up finding much more.”

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

“Set in India, Siddhartha is the story of a young Brahmin’s search for ultimate reality after meeting with the Buddha.”

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie

“Sidney Chambers, the Vicar of Grantchester, is a thirty-two year old bachelor. Sidney is an unconventional clergyman and can go where the police cannot.”

Silence by Shūsaku Endō

“It is 1640 and Father Sebastian Rodrigues, an idealistic Jesuit priest, sets sail for Japan determined to help the brutally oppressed Christians there. He is also desperate to discover the truth about his former mentor, rumoured to have renounced his faith under torture.”

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

“A train stops at a railway station. A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The sudden violence of what happens next leaves the other passengers gasping. The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. What is someone like her doing in this remote corner, which attracts only worshippers?”

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

“In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own.”

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

“In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century.”

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

“Mizoguchi, an ostracized stutterer, develops a childhood fascination with Kyoto’s famous Golden Temple. While an acolyte at the temple, he fixates on the structure’s aesthetic perfection and it becomes his one and only object of desire. But as Mizoguchi begins to perceive flaws in the temple, he determines that the only true path to beauty lies in an act of horrific violence.”

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

“Tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a ‘strong man’ of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives…The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries.”

War in Heaven by Charles Williams

“Williams gives a contemporary setting to the traditional story of the Search for the Holy Grail. Examining the distinction between magic and religion, War in Heaven is an eerily disturbing book, one that graphically portrays a metaphysical journey through the shadowy crevices of the human mind.”

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

The Warden centers on Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity who is nevertheless in possession of an income from a charity far in excess of the sum devoted to the purposes of the foundation. On discovering this, young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he regards as an abuse of privilege, despite the fact that he is in love with Mr. Harding’s daughter Eleanor.”

What Happened to Sophie Wilder by Christopher Beha

“Charlie Blakeman has just published his first novel, to almost no acclaim. He’s living on New York’s Washington Square, struggling with his follow-up, and floundering within his pseudointellectual coterie when his college love, Sophie Wilder, returns to his life…When she disappears once again, Charlie sets out to discover what happened to Sophie Wilder.”

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

“The story of two North London families—one headed by Archie, the other by Archie’s best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for ‘no problem’). Samad—devoutly Muslim, hopelessly ‘foreign’—weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union.”

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

“A story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his innate, desperate faith. He falls under the spell of a ‘blind’ street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Lily Sabbath.”

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

“Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition.”

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

“Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.”

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

“Three young [Sikh] men, and one unforgettable woman, come together in a journey from India to England, where they hope to begin something new—to support their families; to build their futures; to show their worth; to escape the past. They have almost no idea what awaits them.”

Yentl the Yeshiva Boy by Issac Bashevis Singer

“Recognizing that Yentyl seems to have the soul and disposition of a man, her father studies the Torah and other holy books with her. When he dies, Yentyl feels that she no longer has a reason to remain in the village, and so, late one night, she cuts off her hair, dresses as a young man, and sets out to find a yeshiva where she can continue her studies.”

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