A post-election reading (and listening) list for religious progressives

Sometimes you just need some good theology.

CREDIT: iStock
CREDIT: iStock

In the wake of Donald Trump’s shocking election, many progressives have turned to the written word to help parse the results of November 8 and cope with the calamity that was 2016. In addition to an untold number of “election postmortem” articles, writers and media outlets have offered reading lists to help people make sense of it all, usually by pointing to columns and books that help explain Trump’s victory.

But many religious progressives—who hail from a number of different faith traditions—are finding comfort, solace, or relief in something else: theological works. In addition to their holy texts, they are rediscovering the wisdom of any number of religious leaders and thinkers—many of whom were political figures and activists in their own time.

ThinkProgress asked our progressive, faith-rooted readers to tell us what they’re reading. Here are a few of their suggestions, and some of ours as well.

“The Unnamed Woman: Justice, Feminism and the Undocumented Woman” by Rev. Dr. Daisy Machado

As millions of undocumented immigrants wrestle with the possibility of deportation under a Trump administration (e.g., he has vowed to “immediately terminate” Obama’s DACA program) understanding the plight of the undocumented is more important than ever. Penned by Latina Feminist Theologian Machado, “The Unnamed Woman: Justice, Feminism and the Undocumented Woman”—a chapter within A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice—uses the narrative of the unnamed woman in Judges 19 to lift up the experience of an immigrant.


A professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City (who recommended this work), Machado’s work is sure to resonate with more and more readers in the coming years.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

The various works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer, A German Lutheran minister who was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis during World War II for conspiring against Hitler, is famous among progressives and conservatives alike for his Christ-like sacrifice and rich theology. Whether you’re reading his treatise on Christian community (Life Together), his tome on the difference between “cheap grace” and “costly grace” (The Cost of Discipleship), or his appropriately named “Letters and Papers from Prison” (written while imprisoned in a concentration camp), several readers argue there is much inspiration to be found in his dogged dedication to caring for others and insistence on righteous optimism in the face of impossible odds.

Rev. William Barber II’s post-election sermon

Per Kelsey Atherton, Rev. William Barber, the NAACP leader made famous for both organizing North Carolina’s Moral Mondays movement and delivering an electrifying address to this year’s DNC, offered this soaring sermon after the election.

Tuhina Verma Rasche and Jason Chestnut’s “#FuckThisShit Advent Devotional”

Putting a more visceral spin on the normally somber Advent season (a Christian liturgical period that leads up to Christmas), a group of young theological writers have sought to inculcate the spirit of 2016 into an ancient tradition with a very specific rallying cry: #FuckThisShit.


The effort has already attracted a growing audience of progressive faithful online, many of whom find spiritual catharsis in the campaign’s frustrated premise in the wake of the election. Because, really, laments don’t get any stronger than “Fuck this shit.”

You can find the first entry in the series — all of which are posted on Medium — here.

“Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation” by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah

Penned by a trio of new, fresh voices in American Buddhism, Radical Dharma doesn’t just demand equality (racial and otherwise), but also pairs the Black prophetic tradition with the wisdom of the Dharma to deconstruct racist power systems.

“Justice in an unjust world” by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad

As Quartz’s Ismat Sarah Mangla noted, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Fifth Khalifah (Caliph) or head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, delivered a lengthy but moving address in Canada just before Election Day. It is built around a resounding call for justice, asking Muslims and non-Muslims to join together to support human rights.


“Whether Muslim or non-Muslim we should pursue the universal standards of justice outlined in the Holy Quran,” he said. “As the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) so beautifully stated, we must love for others, what we love for ourselves. We must pursue the rights of others with the same zeal and determination that we pursue our own rights. We should broaden our horizons and look at what is right for the world, rather than what is only right for us. These are the means for peace in our age.”

“God In Search of Man” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Known as a pivotal of modern Jewish theology, God In Search of Man is arguably the preeminent work of Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Rabbi who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. Although difficult to digest in one sitting (or two, or three, or twelve) his meditations on the problem of evil and the need for religion to respond to people’s lived experience are especially prescient this year.

CREDIT: AP/Alessandra Tarantino
CREDIT: AP/Alessandra Tarantino

“A Theology of Liberation” by Gustavo Gutierrez

The intellectual movement known as “Liberation theology”—rooted in the (not so) radical notion that God is on the side of the oppressed—began with this book. Originally published in 1971, Liberation became the rallying cry for those who opposed to any number of unjust regimes and systems in Latin America, as many saw wisdom in his assessment that poverty is a social sin created by exploitative societal systems.

Although the Catholic Church pushed back against Gutierrez’s theology for years, it was never formally banned, and Gutierrez was invited to meet Pope Francis in 2013.

“The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness” by Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr, brother of fellow theologian H. Richard Niebuhr, published this seminal defense of democracy in 1944 during World War II. It was in the forward to this work that Niebuhr first quipped, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

At a time when the foundational systems of the American Republic feel strained, it’s a helpful reminder of why a healthy democracy is worth fighting for.

“A Native American Perspective on Liberation” by Vine Deloria Jr.

As Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and First Nations people celebrate the their successful faith-fueled protests at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, it may help to peruse the works the Standing Rock tribe’s greatest living Christian theologian: Vine Deloria Jr. An Episcopal archdeacon and missionary, Deloria is known for works such as God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, but his deep critique of traditional liberation theology, “A Native American Perspective on Liberation,” is deeply relevant in 2016.

Eboni Marshall Turman. CREDIT:
Eboni Marshall Turman. CREDIT:

“Toward A Womanist Ethic of Incarnation” by Eboni Marshall Turman

Recommended by Twitter user, Turman’s 2013 work is a primary example of Womanist theology, or religious thought that speaks from the experience of black women in America. Among other things, the book challenges patriarchy among whites and African Americans alike, helping to deconstruct longstanding assumptions about race, class, and gender roles.

“The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James Cone

Speaking of liberation theology, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has spurred more than a few to soak up the works of James Cone this year. As he is one the foremost Black liberation theologians, Cone’s The Cross the Lynching Tree help parse the interconnectivity of race, religion, and the American experience—for better and for worse. The book, published in 2013, was renowned at the time as one of the best religion books of the year, but stands to only become more relevant as racist attacks on people of color skyrocket in the wake of Trump’s election.

“Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology” by Patrick S. Cheng

The Religious Right—whose devotees include Trump’s supporters as well as the Vice President-elect Mike Pence—has argued for decades that any relationship that diverts from hetersexuality is inherently sinful, often condemning LGBTQ people and their relationships as contrary to “God’s plan.” To them, Christianity is synonymous with opposition to LGBTQ equality.

But for millions of Christians, anti-LGBTQ theology not only rings hollow, it is sinful in and of itself. Instead, many progressive Christians have embraced Queer Theology, an offshoot of Liberation theology that, among other things, affirms LGBTQ people and their relationships. Patrick Cheng’s Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology is a helpful entry point for those curious about the intellectual movement (which also includes God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology by Mark Jordan, and God Believes in Love by Bishop Gene Robinson).

“The Drum Major Instinct” by Martin Luther King Jr.

Admittedly, most of Martin Luther King’s works are applicable right now, but his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct” digs deep into how the personal desire for influence and superiority can breed widespread social issues—including racial prejudice. Among other things, King details how the poor—regardless of race—can be duped by the wealthy, who often exploit the human need to feel “better” than others.

“That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, he is forced to support his oppressors,” King proclaims. “And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white — and can’t hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out.”

But really, pretty much everything in this collection of King’s works is worth exploring.