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The Church of the Dead: The Epidemic of 1576 and the Birth of Christianity in the Americas

Jennifer Scheper Hughes (NYU)

Historian Hughes’s authoritative examination of the aftermath of a 1576 epidemic in what is now Mexico offers an intriguing take on the spread of Christianity in the New World and an intelligent reconsideration of the ways Spanish missionaries and Indigenous peoples interacted.

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The Gospels: A New Translation

Sarah Ruden (Modern Library)

The four canonical Gospels get a substantial makeover in translator Ruden’s bold reconsideration. With modernized language and plentiful departures from existing translations, the texts are true to their origins yet have a contemporary feel. This is quite an accomplishment.

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A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible

Kristin Swenson (Oxford Univ.)

The unexpected story of how the Bible came to be is at the center of this magnificent and thoughtful history. Swenson doesn’t shy from puncturing myths or taking on sacred cows, and the result is a study fit for any reader, no matter where they are on the faith spectrum.

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The Souls of Womenfolk: The Religious Cultures of Enslaved Women in the Lower South

Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh (Univ. of North Carolina)

This trenchant take on the spiritual lives of enslaved women offers a deep and intellectually rigorous consideration of the power of faith, and the way it informed and was itself shaped by the experiences of women who would never know freedom.

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The Truth at the Heart of the Lie: How the Catholic Church Lost Its Soul

James Carroll (Random House)

The very structure of the Catholic church is to blame for the church’s sexual abuse crisis, according to Carroll’s damning critique that posits the historical hoarding of power at the top of the hierarchy has led to any number of ill outcomes. Carroll, who for a time was a Paulist priest, knows the terrain and pulls no punches.

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