Summer is here. Time to exhale. Breathe. Linger in the long days. Soak up the sunshine. Splash in the water or stay cool in the shade.
If your summer plans include opening up a book, or two, or three, then Harvard Divinity School has recommendations for you.
Below, members of the HDS community shared what they’re reading this summer—for work and for pleasure.
Kenashia Thompson, MDiv ’23, HDS Student Association president
For the summer, I am excited to read Red Lip Theology by Candice Marie Benbow. As the title suggests, the book is a womanist-centric approach to being "churched"—an honest and deeply candid examination of how the dogma of the traditional Black Church does and doesn’t serve Black womxn. As an aspiring Womanist Theologian, I am excited to read this book that blurs the boundaries of righteousness and irreverence. I am hoping that the book invites me to explore the vulnerable parts of my religious experiences, including loss, forgiveness, sexuality, and Black Church Culture. The book honors Black Womxnhood. And by embracing alternative spirituality and Womanist Theology, and confronting staid attitudes on body positivity and LGBTQ+ rights, I am excited for the challenges that I will experience while reading this book as a faith leader to reimagine how faith can be a tool of liberation and transformation for Black womxn.
Arleigh Prelow, MDiv ’13, filmmaker, The Psalm of Howard Thurman, ordained minister, Bethel AME Church, Boston, and HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council chairperson
Since my childhood, the stories of people and their paths toward making significant contributions to the world, have always enthralled me. I am especially interested in their personal journey of the spirit. This summer I'm eager to read Finding Me, a memoir by actress and producer Viola Davis, for it promises to illuminate both.
As a filmmaker and minister, I am inquisitive about the shaping of Davis as an exquisite artist, a Black woman creative, and the trek that inspired this “love letter” to herself. Our lives are never our own and there's something about the gems taken from our living that can enhance the lives of others. So I am excited about the nuggets from Finding Me that will inform my life, artistry, and the lives of those I minister to.
I will also take a deep dive into Patriotism Black and White: The Color of American Exceptionalism, a book by Nichole R. Phillips, an HDS alumna (MDiv ’99), and now Associate Professor in the Practice of Sociology of Religion and Culture at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University.
In the book, Phillips, who is also Director of Black Church Studies at Emory, examines Black and white evangelicals in a rural Tennessee community. She sheds light on their binding and differing perspectives of who and what is America at its best.
Amidst the growing divide in our nation and world, reading Patriotism Black and White is part of a personal undertaking of mine to better understand, with head and heart, the forming and living out of the beliefs of those whose perspectives differ from my own.
If time permits, I plan to begin reading Race for Revival: How Cold War South Korea Shaped The American Evangelical Empire, by Helen Jin Kim (MDiv ’12, PhD ‘17). Helen Jim Kim, who is an Assistant Professor of Religious History at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and I were friends and classmates during our time at HDS. I can’t wait to peruse her newly published book.
Mohsen Goudarzi, HDS Assistant Professor in Islamic Studies
In the summer I plan to read Conversion to Islam in the Premodern Age. This volume is the collaborative work of four editors and a few dozen authors who explore how specific individuals and communities embraced Islam in the premodern period. There are 57 chapters in this work, each centered on a primary text given in translation, which is bookended by an introduction and a list of further readings. The chapters take the reader on a long journey across time and space, from the seventh century CE (when Islam emerged) to the sixteenth, and from West Africa to China. Some of the chapter titles in this scholarly cornucopia are as follows: “Women Converts and Familial Loyalty in the Time of the Prophet,” “Three Accounts of Zoroastrian Conversion to Islam,” “A Muslim Poet Consoles a Christian Friend Whose Nephew Has Converted to Islam,” “A Letter of Maimonides about Conversion and Martyrdom,” “The Conversion of Medieval Ghāna as Narrated by a Later Ibāḍī Scholar,” “A Syriac Communal Lament over Apostasy,” and “A Conversion Tale from Java, Indonesia.”
Thanks to the variety of contents that it explores, the volume allows the reader to grasp something of the complexity and richness of experiences that we subsume under the label of “conversion.” The reader also encounters not only the person or community that became Muslim but also those who were left behind and were often opposed to or frustrated with this process. I look forward to reading this work, and suspect that some of its chapters will end up on my syllabi in the future.
Clarissa Flores, MTS '19, HDS field education program administrator
This summer I'm looking forward to reading My Life with the Saints. This book was written by James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit priest and editor of America, a national Catholic magazine. In this spiritual memoir, Father James tells the stories of different saints' lives and the struggles they faced in their own spiritual journeys. These help inform Father James' own path to religious life and invites the reader into a prayerful conversation as well. Some of his companions throughout the book include: Joan of Arc, Thérèse of Lisieux, Thomas Merton, Ignatius of Loyola, Pedro Arrupe, Bernadette Soubirous, Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, Dorothy Day, Peter, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Joseph, the Ugandan Martyrs, Aloysius Gonzaga, and Mary. I'm excited to read this book as a way to grow and deepen my own spiritual life this summer. “God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.” —Thérèse of Lisieux
—by Michael Naughton