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I like the Ten Theories of Human Nature selection, and I like Pinker's Stuff of Thought...I also like The First Word. I think these are all quality works that could prove well worth the effort to read.
I want to make another suggestion, after discovering it at the library this weekend. Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History by Rosemary Radford Ruether. http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9564.html
I think it's a great combination of history and comparative religions, with an expert analysis of feminist theory and theology in their complex evolution in understanding the role of godesses and the divine feminine in human experience. It is highly critical of traditional religious systems and ideas, but comes to much different conclusions from thinkers like Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, et al.
"Clearly written, erudite, lavishly detailed, and with unbiased analysis."--Library Journal
"The scholarship in this book is superior, revealing a depth of insight and a scope of knowledge possible only from a scholar who has lived with the concerns of feminist theology for decades. Ruether is a gifted storyteller, and lucidly translates complex ideas and debates. This work is of the highest importance, and Ruether asks the right questions at the right time. The text is groundbreaking."--Nancy Pineda-Madrid, Saint Mary's College of California
"Ruether has provided a valuable introduction to an important feminist topic: what can we know about sacred female imagery in Western culture? She guides us through contemporary feminist scholarship, providing engaging narrative, and venturing her own interpretations. Ruether calls for feminists to move beyond divisions created by our different interpretations of prehistory and work together towards our common project of a more peaceful, just, and ecological world."--Carol Hepokoski, Meadville Lombard Theological School
This landmark work presents the most illuminating portrait we have to date of goddesses and sacred female imagery in Western culture--from prehistory to contemporary goddess movements. Beautifully written, lucidly conceived, and far-ranging in its implications, this work will help readers gain a better appreciation of the complexity of the social forces-- mostly androcentric--that have shaped the symbolism of the sacred feminine. At the same time, it charts a new direction for finding a truly egalitarian vision of God and human relations through a feminist-ecological spirituality.
Rosemary Radford Ruether begins her exploration of the divine feminine with an analysis of prehistoric archaeology that challenges the popular idea that, until their overthrow by male-dominated monotheism, many ancient societies were matriarchal in structure, governed by a feminine divinity and existing in harmony with nature. For Ruether, the historical evidence suggests the reality about these societies is much more complex. She goes on to consider key myths and rituals from Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Anatolian cultures; to examine the relationships among gender, deity, and nature in the Hebrew religion; and to discuss the development of Mariology and female mysticism in medieval Catholicism, and the continuation of Wisdom mysticism in Protestanism. She also gives a provocative analysis of the meeting of Aztec and Christian female symbols in Mexico and of today's neo-pagan movements in the United States.
Introduction 1. Gender and the Problem of Prehistory 2. Goddesses and World Renewal in the Ancient Mediterranean 3. The Hebrew God and Gender 4. Savior Goddesses in the Mystery Religions and Gnosticism 5. The Spiritual Feminine in New Testament and Patristic Christianity 6. Feminine Symbols in Medieval Religious Literature 7. Tonantzin-Guadalupe: The Meeting of Aztec and Christian Female Symbols in Mexico 8. Mary and Wisdom in Protestant Mystical Millennialism 9. Contested Gender Status and Imagining Ancient Matriarchy 10. The Return of the Goddess
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosemary Radford Ruether is Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She is author of numerous books, including Sexism and Godtalk: Toward a Feminist Theology (second edition, 1993), Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing (1992), and Women and Redemption: A Theological History (1998).
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I plan to read The First Word and The Stuff of Though, both of which are sitting on my bookshelf. Pinker's books are fascinating and discussion-worthy.
My wife read Howard Gardner's book The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach. If we want one of his, I'd rather choose that one, which involves a topic I'm more curious about.
Ten Theories of Human Nature also sounds interesting, though I'd rather pick a book that I already own. The other suggestions were less appealing.
This searching history of western thinking about the relationship between religion and politics was inspired not by 9/11, but by Nazi Germany, where, says University of Chicago professor Lilla (The Reckless Mind), politics and religion were horrifyingly intertwined. To explain the emergence of Nazism's political theology, Lilla reaches back to the early modern era, when thinkers like Locke and Hume began to suggest that religion and politics should be separate enterprises. Some theorists, convinced that Christianity bred violence, argued that government must be totally detached from religion. Others, who believed that rightly practiced religion could contribute to modern life, promoted a liberal theology, which sought to articulate Christianity and Judaism in the idiom of reason. (Lilla's reading of liberal Jewish thinker Hermann Cohen is especially arresting.) Liberal theologians, Lilla says, credulously assumed human society was progressive and never dreamed that fanaticism could capture the imaginations of modern people-assumptions that were proven wrong by Hitler. If Lilla castigates liberal theology for its naïveté, he also praises America and Western Europe for simultaneously separating religion from politics, creating space for religion, and staving off sectarian violence and theocracy. Lilla's work, which will influence discussions of politics and theology for the next generation, makes clear how remarkable an accomplishment that is.
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I've previously linked to articles by Mark Lilla, and have preciously suggested "The Stillborn God", so I would support the suggestion that we make that book an official non-fiction or freethought selection.
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I got a chance to watch Pinker lecture in front of the American Academy of Sciences on CSPAN last night: friggin delightfully farking brilliant...very smart and funny and convinced me to read The Stuff of Thought- the topic of his presentation. Fresh, informative, encyclopedic and did I say damned funny?
If we pursue a book about religion, I think we should read Ruether's Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History because it is comparative, historical, and it's polemic is an argument Booktalk rarely considers: how does the God discussion differ when we adress the Goddess instead?
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