The best books on the human search for meaning

John Cottingham Author Of In Search of the Soul: A Philosophical Essay
By John Cottingham

The Books I Picked & Why

God, Value, and Nature

By Fiona Ellis

Book cover of God, Value, and Nature

Why this book?

Many people think that modern science shows the cosmos to be an impersonal process, devoid of meaning and value. In this intricate and ground-breaking study, Fiona Ellis puts forward an ‘expansive naturalism’ that challenges contemporary atheist orthodoxy, and it led me to rethink the supposed opposition between the ‘natural’ and the divine.


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Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding: Integrating Perception, Conception and Feeling

By Mark Wynn

Book cover of Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding: Integrating Perception, Conception and Feeling

Why this book?

Perceiving some fact about the world seems at first to be quite distinct from the way we feel about it, but Mark Wynn’s careful arguments show how, in our grasp of reality, emotion and perception are intimately intertwined. I found his conclusions shed a vivid light on the complex nature of religious belief and religious experience. 


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The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

By Iain McGilchrist

Book cover of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Why this book?

Combining detailed scientific expertise with dazzling literary erudition, Iain McGilchrist offers a fascinating account of the dangers of abstract, analytic, ‘left-brain’ thinking when it is detached from the intuitive, imaginative, and holistic modes of awareness that make us truly human. I found his arguments deeply relevant to how we should think about religious ways of approaching the world.


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Spinoza's Religion: A New Reading of the Ethics

By Clare Carlisle

Book cover of Spinoza's Religion: A New Reading of the Ethics

Why this book?

Next to Descartes, Spinoza is perhaps the greatest philosopher of the early modern period. He is often regarded as a precursor of today’s secularist outlook, while others see him as a kind of pantheist. In this fluent and original new study, Clare Carlisle brought home to me the religious dimension in Spinoza’s thought, and she offers a brilliant account of why he is still relevant today, when religious ways of thinking are increasingly under attack.


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Love: A History

By Simon May

Book cover of Love: A History

Why this book?

This astonishingly rich and beautifully written survey shows how deeply love is involved in what has always been one of my main philosophical preoccupations – the human search for meaning. Simon May reveals love as the ‘harbinger of the sacred,’ while at the same time warning of how often it bears the burden of unrealistic and misconceived expectations.


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