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rockfan's avatar

What are some good, non-biased books about the history of religion?

Asked by rockfan (3021 points ) March 31st, 2014

Any recommendations?

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15 Answers

Nullo's avatar

I doubt that you’ll find any. The closest you’ll get are going to be academic textbooks, and AFAIK those all begin with the assumption that all religions are false – and by necessity the assumption that atheism or agnosticism aren’t. Any text, from any religion or non-religion, is going to have the same issue.

Nullo's avatar

You might consider studying the religions themselves, from their own texts. I do not think that you’ll be able to evaluate the dead religions in this way; if you want to learn about the Babylon’s beliefs or the ways of the prehistoric Celts, the academic route is probably your best bet.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

Thomas Cahill:

The Gifts of the Jews, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1998
Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1999
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2003
Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2006; some printings are called Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginnings of the Modern World
Heretics and Heroes: Ego in the Renaissance and the Reformation (2013)

Harold Bloom:
The Book of J

bolwerk's avatar

While he wrote some good books, Thomas Cahill is biased toward Catholicism and makes some really wild leaps (like the assumption Christianity could be true).

If you want a non-biased book, I suggest the phone book. If you want something that is minimally critical of the theology, but not the meaning of the text, I suggest Who Wrote The Bible? by Richard Friendman. It focuses on what the text means, or rather what various of the authors intended and how it came to be synthesized into what it is.

pleiades's avatar

I’ve heard great things about, “Zealot” by Reza Aslan

Reza is a scholar

rockfan's avatar

Completely forgot about that book, thanks. Have you seen the interview Aslan did with Fox News? It’s hilarious.

gailcalled's avatar

Elaine Pagels is a distinguished professor of early Christian history at Princeton.

Here are a list of many of her books, some NYT best sellers, all very readable, and all based on original documents and scholarship.

http://www.amazon.com/Elaine-Pagels/e/B000AP9OSY

whitenoise's avatar

Karen Armstrong

From wikipedia
Karen Armstrong FRSL (born 14 November 1944) is a British author and commentator known for her books on comparative religion. A former Roman Catholic religious sister, she went from a conservative to a more liberal and mystical Christian faith. She attended St Anne’s College while in the convent and majored in English. She would become disillusioned and leave the convent in 1969. She first rose to prominence in 1993 with her book A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her work focuses on commonalities of the major religions, such as the importance of compassion and the Golden Rule.

Response moderated (Flame-Bait)
Seek's avatar

The History of Religion, by George Foot Moore.

It’s a two-volume set, published in 1948. The author was the then-professor of History of Religion at Harvard. I’m looking for the first volume myself, but the second covers religion in China, Japan, Eqypt, Babylonia, Assyria, India, Persia, Greece and Rome. The first volume, according to the preface of the second, covers the Abrahamic religions. The Celts and pre-Christian Britain and Ireland are apparently left out, probably due to the oral nature of their recorded history. They never let a silly thing like facts get in the way of a good story.

josie's avatar

See @whitenoise
Read A History of God, by Karen Armstrong (or any of her books). Objective. Very informative, well written, fun to read.

LostInParadise's avatar

In addition to his works on science and science fiction, Isaac Asimov wrote guides to the Old and New Testaments. I have a copy of the first, but have not seen the second. In his treatment of the Old Testament, Asimov goes through the books of the Bible and gives an interpretation from a historical and secular point of view. If by unbiased you mean giving credence to the literal truth of the Bible then I could not recommend this, but if you are interested in the Bible from a historical point of view then you will find much of interest.

Itssankar's avatar

I think you should try reading ‘bhagavatgeeta’ . Its worth reading

Smashley's avatar

@Nullo – studying a religion’s canon is absolutely NOT the way to glean historical information. These are texts without context, historical analysis, perspective, acknowledgement of criticisms, room for debate, and often are unequivocally, historically inaccurate. (6000 year old Earth?) Academic texts don’t assume religions are false, they are dealing with history and sociology.

Atheism is the only intellectually honest standpoint to analyze a religion from, even if the writer isn’t personally an atheist. That’s about as non-biased as you can get.

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