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Amazigh was one of 125 queer Muslim activists and allies who came together for The Inner Circle’s seven-day Annual International Retreat, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21, in South Africa. The gathering focused on “building a movement towards an all-inclusive and compassion-centered Islam,” a mammoth task for attendees like Amazigh who live in countries where homosexuality and transgender expression are often taboo and criminalized.

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Scholars of Dylan — and they are legion, with many offering entire courses on the singer’s record catalog — have long highlighted the religious imagery of his work. From Old Testament references in “All Along the Watchtower” (1967) and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (1976) to the New Testament basis of “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1979) and the spiritual yearning of “Thunder on the Mountain” (2006), Dylan’s lyrics and music have long reflected his own restless, seeking soul.


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The members had no idea that word of their efforts to start the Islamic Center of Nashville had reached Yusuf Islam, the famous British musician and Muslim convert also known as Cat Stevens, until his check arrived in the mail.

“I was thinking, ‘What a miracle,’” said Elberry, who was a Vanderbilt University graduate student from Egypt at the time.

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The study comes in the same year that Larycia Hawkins — Wheaton College’s first black, female professor to receive tenure — parted ways with the evangelical flagship school after she posted on Facebook that both Christians and Muslims worship the “same God.” The controversy stirred fresh debate among evangelicals about whether all religions worship the same God, and whether God accepts the worship of all religions.

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Summer’s gone, and with it the breezier reading of the beach and the hammock. In its place comes a more serious reading list — more literary, less lightweight. Here are seven books where religion plays a role — though not a proselytizing or a self-help one — to read between the falling leaves.


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A quarter of U.S. adults do not affiliate with any religion, a new study shows — an all-time high in a nation where large swaths of Americans are losing faith.

But while these so-called “nones” outnumber any religious denomination, they are not voting as a bloc, and may have little collective influence on the upcoming presidential election.

The rapid growth of the religiously unaffiliated, charted in a survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute on Sept. 22, is raising eyebrows even among those who follow trends in American religiosity.

Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock

Andrey Bayda / Shutterstock

IN 2000, sophomore Onaje X.O. Woodbine was Yale basketball’s leading scorer and one of the top 10 players in the Ivy League. From the outside it must have seemed like a dream come true for a young man who grew up playing street ball in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.

But Woodbine felt isolated and excluded by the white players on the team, troubled by what he’s described as “a locker-room culture that encouraged misogyny,” and hungry to focus on his studies and wrestle with deeper philosophical and theological questions. So he quit basketball.

Woodbine eventually returned to the courts of his youth as a researcher, studying the practice and culture of street basketball for his doctoral studies in religion at Boston University. Woodbine is the author of Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball (Columbia University Press) and a teacher of philosophy and religious studies at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He spoke with Sojourners senior associate editor Julie Polter in May.

Julie Polter: What led you to study street basketball from a religion scholarship angle?

Onaje X.O. Woodbine: When I was 12 years old, I lost my coach. He was my father figure; I didn’t have my father for most of my early childhood. It was just devastating.

I went to the court the next day to look for him. I felt his presence in that space. It was really the only place, looking back, where I felt safe, I felt whole, where I felt like my inner life was valuable, where there was a whole community whose interest was in my growth as a human being.

Paul Wallace 05-04-2016
Seth Ryan

Seth Ryan / Shutterstock

[Editor's note: This article is excerpted from Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos by Paul Wallace copyright (c) 2016 Fortress Press. Reproduced by permission of Augsburg Fortress. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress.] 

WHAT ARE WE to do with an obsolete God?

We have options. We could, as I did for a while, put God aside. ... We can try, but I’m pretty sure that God is the question that won’t go away. Silence it here and it will pop up over there. It may show up as worship of science, or the economy, or a political cause, or ego, or an addiction, or sex, or a fellow human being—or whatever, but show up it will. Some humanists and atheists have expressed contempt for religious believers’ worship of God. They ask, Why worship anything at all? One online interlocutor once asked me, “How can you put the word ‘worship’ on your signs? Isn’t that demeaning?” I replied, “No, it is truth in advertising. We all worship something.” I am convinced that not all worship is true worship, but I am equally convinced that religious believers at least acknowledge that worship is simply what all people, religious and otherwise, do. There’s nothing for it but to accept it and make the best of it.

We could also try to build a new God out of the raw materials of science itself. It’s hard to disagree with Ralph Waldo Emerson when he writes, “Nothing is great but the inexhaustible wealth of nature. She shows us only some surfaces, but she is a million fathoms deep.” Isn’t the cosmos astounding, and isn’t the wonder it stirs in us something akin to a religious feeling? Yes and yes. Without such feelings there would be no religion at all. But are such feelings enough? Is the mind-blowing order and complexity and diversity and beauty of the cosmos sufficient to slake our religious thirst? For some it may be and I can nearly, but not quite, imagine how it could be enough for me.

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Game of Thrones, the engrossing, sometimes disturbing, always exciting TV series returns for a sixth season Sunday night on HBO. The network is not releasing screeners, so it’s anybody’s guess what’s going to happen. But one thing you can bet on — the television show, like the books by George R.R. Martin they are based on, involve storylines with religious elements. Considering where some of those stories left off, religion may come further to the fore in the new season. Here’s a primer on a few of the religions of Westeros, the imagined, medieval-inflected world of Game of Thrones.

David Gushee 04-06-2016

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As a wizened old veteran of the fight, I struggle with discouragement sometimes. It is not just that many Christians fail to live up to the clear demands of Christian discipleship. It’s that we can’t even agree on what those demands are. We all say we believe in Jesus, but what we make of that belief is so irreconcilably different that I am not sure that we are in any meaningful way members of the same religious community.

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Fewer men than women show up in U.S. churches, and women are markedly more likely to pray and to hold up religion as important. But in Muslim nations, it’s the women who are missing in action at the mosque — and yet they’re on par with men in upholding almost all the Muslim pillars of faith.

David Van Biema 03-10-2016

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It is not easy to be a respected member of the art-world intelligentsia and take religion seriously.

“Religion and modern art continue to be typecast as mortal enemies,” writes Aaron Rosen.

Linda K. Wertheimer 01-14-2016

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Opponents of lessons on Islam often claim that Christianity takes a back seat in public schools’ religious instruction. That’s what an Augusta County, Va., mother argued recently when she opposed a teacher’s use of the Muslim statement of belief in a calligraphy exercise. She held a forum at a local church to protest how her religion wasn’t allowed in schools, but Islam was.

Tree lighting ceremony in Bethlehem. Image via REUTERS / Ammar Awad / RNS

The Star of Bethlehem is the name given to an event in the night sky that the Gospel of Matthew says heralded the birth of Jesus. Three wisemen — or magi, or kings — come to King Herod and ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

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The most coveted award for work on the Internet bestows honors in 231 categories, but “Religion & Spirituality” is no longer one of them.

A producer of the Webby Awards, now in its twentieth year, cited fewer submissions to the category.

“Unfortunately, entries in ‘Religion & Spirituality’ were decreasing each year,” Webby Award Produce Denise Gilley wrote to a past winner in the “Religion & Spirituality” category who had asked what had happened to it. The deadline for the 2016 contest is Dec. 18.

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Most Americans see a conflict between the findings of science and the teachings of religion.

But “see” is the operative word in a new Pew Research Center report issued Oct. 22.

Examining perceptions leads to some unexpected findings.

While 59 percent of U.S. adults say they saw science and religion in conflict, that drops to 30 percent when people are asked about their own religious beliefs.

It turns out that the most highly religious were least likely to see conflict.

Stephen Mattson 07-16-2015

Ultimately, Christianity is about Jesus — not Christians. Although we try our best to emulate Jesus, we constantly fail, but please judge our faith based upon Jesus and not our Christian culture — because they aren’t the same thing.

Inevitably, we’ll continue to be polarizing in numerous ways across political, social, and religious platforms, and we’ll still commit bad mistakes, make hurtful remarks, and end up being wrong about many things. But for most Christians, our ultimate desire is introduce people to Jesus, who inspires us to make the world a better place by loving everyone around us to the best of our ability. God help us.

Brittany Shoot 06-08-2015

Radiant Truths: Essential Dispatches, Reports, Confessions, & Other Essays in American Belief edited by Jeff Sharlet. 

Kurt Armstrong 06-08-2015

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers

Photo courtesy of Templeton Foundation / RNS

John Templeton Jr. Photo courtesy of Templeton Foundation / RNS

John M. Templeton, Jr., a pediatric surgeon who left medicine behind to carry on his father’s passion for pursuing “new spiritual information” through the sciences as president and chairman of the Templeton Foundation, has died. He was 75.

Known as “Jack,” the younger Templeton retired as director of the trauma program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1995 to take the foundation reins and became chairman after his father’s death in 2008.