100 books like Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding

By Mark Wynn,

Here are 100 books that Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding fans have personally recommended if you like Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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

James Blachowicz Author Of The Bilateral Mind as the Mirror of Nature: A Metaphilosophy

From my list on the nature and capacities of our bilateral minds.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always had equally balanced interests in the arts/humanities and the natural sciences. I like to think that I inherited much of this from my analytical “algebraic” mother, who was a nurse and tended to our family finances, and my holistic “geometrical” father, who was a carpenter. It’s probably no accident that my double major in college was in physics and philosophy...and, down the line, that I should develop a focused interest in human brain laterality, where the division between analysis and holism is so prominent.

James' book list on the nature and capacities of our bilateral minds

James Blachowicz Why did James love this book?

This is an expansive treatment of the intellectual and cultural ramifications of the bilateral mind from ancient times to the present. The dominance of the analytic left hemisphere (the “emissary”), McGilchrist fears, threatens to usurp its experience-grounded “master” – to the detriment of human culture.

While The Master and His Emissary and The Origin of Consciousness cover similar topics, it is interesting and important to note that there are areas where their perspectives complement each other and those where they differ, such as their accounts of schizophrenia. I still find myself vacillating between the two. I sometimes wonder whether my indecision may itself be the result of my own hemispheric split.


By Iain McGilchrist,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Master and His Emissary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A pioneering exploration of the differences between the brain's right and left hemispheres and their effects on society, history, and culture-"one of the few contemporary works deserving classic status" (Nicholas Shakespeare, The Times, London)

"Persuasively argues that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere losing touch with its natural regulative 'master' the right. Brilliant and disturbing."-Salley Vickers, a Guardian Best Book of the Year

"I know of no better exposition of the current state of functional brain neuroscience."-W. F. Bynum, TLS

Why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been…


Book cover of God, Value, and Nature

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

From my list on the human search for meaning.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my career writing and teaching philosophy, working on early-modern philosophers, especially that most controversial and enigmatic figure, René Descartes. In recent years my main interest has been in the philosophy of religion, focusing on grand traditional questions about the meaning of life, and on the spiritual dimension of religious thought and practice. I have argued for a ‘humane’ turn in philosophy, meaning that philosophical inquiry should not confine itself to abstract intellectual argument alone, but should draw on a full range of resources, including literary, poetic, imaginative, and emotional modes of awareness, as we struggle to come to terms with the mystery of human existence. 

John's book list on the human search for meaning

John Cottingham Why did John love 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.

By Fiona Ellis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked God, Value, and Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many philosophers believe that God has been put to rest. Naturalism is the default position, and the naturalist can explain what needs to be explained without recourse to God. This book agrees that we should be naturalists, but it rejects the more prevalent scientific naturalism in favour of an 'expansive' naturalism inspired by David Wiggins and John McDowell. It is argued that expansive naturalism can accommodate the idea of God, and that the expansive naturalist
has unwittingly paved the way towards a form of naturalism which poses a genuine challenge to the atheist. It follows that the traditional naturalism versus…


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

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

From my list on the human search for meaning.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my career writing and teaching philosophy, working on early-modern philosophers, especially that most controversial and enigmatic figure, René Descartes. In recent years my main interest has been in the philosophy of religion, focusing on grand traditional questions about the meaning of life, and on the spiritual dimension of religious thought and practice. I have argued for a ‘humane’ turn in philosophy, meaning that philosophical inquiry should not confine itself to abstract intellectual argument alone, but should draw on a full range of resources, including literary, poetic, imaginative, and emotional modes of awareness, as we struggle to come to terms with the mystery of human existence. 

John's book list on the human search for meaning

John Cottingham Why did John love 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.

By Clare Carlisle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spinoza's Religion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold reevaluation of Spinoza that reveals his powerful, inclusive vision of religion for the modern age

Spinoza is widely regarded as either a God-forsaking atheist or a God-intoxicated pantheist, but Clare Carlisle says that he was neither. In Spinoza's Religion, she sets out a bold interpretation of Spinoza through a lucid new reading of his masterpiece, the Ethics. Putting the question of religion centre-stage but refusing to convert Spinozism to Christianity, Carlisle reveals that "being in God" unites Spinoza's metaphysics and ethics. Spinoza's Religion unfolds a powerful, inclusive philosophical vision for the modern age-one that is grounded in a…


Book cover of Love: A History

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

From my list on the human search for meaning.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my career writing and teaching philosophy, working on early-modern philosophers, especially that most controversial and enigmatic figure, René Descartes. In recent years my main interest has been in the philosophy of religion, focusing on grand traditional questions about the meaning of life, and on the spiritual dimension of religious thought and practice. I have argued for a ‘humane’ turn in philosophy, meaning that philosophical inquiry should not confine itself to abstract intellectual argument alone, but should draw on a full range of resources, including literary, poetic, imaginative, and emotional modes of awareness, as we struggle to come to terms with the mystery of human existence. 

John's book list on the human search for meaning

John Cottingham Why did John love 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.

By Simon May,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An illuminating exploration of how love has been shaped, idolized, and misconstrued by the West over three millennia, and how we might differently conceive it

Love-unconditional, selfless, unchanging, sincere, and totally accepting-is worshipped today as the West's only universal religion. To challenge it is one of our few remaining taboos. In this pathbreaking and superbly written book, philosopher Simon May does just that, dissecting our resilient ruling ideas of love and showing how they are the product of a long and powerful cultural heritage.

Tracing over 2,500 years of human thought and history, May shows how our ideal of love…


Book cover of The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature

Elaine Pagels Author Of Why Religion? A Personal Story

From my list on why religion and spirituality are still around.

Why am I passionate about this?

“And what do you do?” someone asked at a crowded reception at the NY Academy of Science. “Write—comparative religion.” Startled, he backed away, asking suspiciously, “Why religion? Are you religious?” Yes, incorrigibly—although I grew up among people who regarded religion as obsolete as an outgrown bicycle stashed in a back closet. While many of us leave institutions behind, identifying as “spiritual, not religious,” I’ve done both—had faith, lost it; then began exploring recent discoveries from Israel and Egypt—Dead Sea Scrolls, Christian “secret gospels,” Buddhist practices, asking, Why is religion still around in the twenty-first centuryWhat I love is how such stories, art, music, and rituals engage our imagination and illuminate our experience.

Elaine's book list on why religion and spirituality are still around

Elaine Pagels Why did Elaine love this book?

This book is full of stories, using case studies that include the lives of Walt Whitman, Saint Augustine, and Russian writer Leo Tolstoy—that I found fascinating. Here psychologist William James challenges what he—and I—were both taught: namely, that religions are primarily childish fantasies (the view of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, in The Future of an Illusion). But after James, as a young man, experienced a terrifying depression, he describes his surprise at what felt to him like a spiritual breakthrough that enabled him to recover. James skips questions about dogma and belief, instead identifies a range of different “varieties of religious experience” that, far more than “belief,” can give rise to spiritual insight. 

By William James,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Varieties of Religious Experience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Standing at the crossroads of psychology and religion, this catalyzing work applied the scientific method to a field abounding in abstract theory. William James believed that individual religious experiences, rather than the precepts of organized religions, were the backbone of the world's religious life. His discussions of conversion, repentance, mysticism and saintliness, and his observations on actual, personal religious experiences - all support this thesis. In his introduction, Martin E. Marty discusses how James's pluralistic view of religion led to his remarkable tolerance of extreme forms of religious behaviour, his challenging, highly original theories, and his welcome lack of pretension…


Book cover of The Forged Coupon: and Other Stories

Miguel Farias Author Of The Oxford Handbook of Meditation

From my list on religious experience.

Why am I passionate about this?

From about the age of 14, I have been exploring how unusual ideas and experiences might change a person’s life. This led me to become an author and experimental psychologist studying the effects of religious beliefs, rituals, and meditation exercises on our minds and bodies. I have spent a good part of the last 4 years putting together a book which tries to answer many of my questions on the varieties of meditation practices around the world.   

Miguel's book list on religious experience

Miguel Farias Why did Miguel love this book?

Tolstoy describes and plays with religious experiences across various of his novels. He doesn’t take them for granted: the initial enthusiasm and prospect of personal change seldom leads to real transformation. Here, though, in one of his last writings, we follow the contagious spell of true conversion of heart. When a serial murderer meets a pure soul his self is transformed and goes on to change the life of others. 

By Leo Tolstoy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Forged Coupon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910) was a Russian writer who earned fame and global renown for his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Writing during the late 19th century, Tolstoy lived during a literary period in which Realism flourished, and today his two novels are considered the apex of realist fiction. Tolstoy is also known for his complex and somewhat paradoxical persona, holding both moralistic and ascetic views during the final decades of his life.


Book cover of The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss

Rupert Sheldrake Author Of The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry

From my list on science, consciousness, and spirituality.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a biologist and I am also interested in spiritual explorations and sacred places. These books discuss some of the most interesting issues in science, and the nature of ultimate consciousness - the primary subject of theology, consciousness. I am also very interested in spiritual practices that have measurable effects, as discussed in my books Science and Spiritual Practices and Ways to Go Beyond and Why They Work.

Rupert's book list on science, consciousness, and spirituality

Rupert Sheldrake Why did Rupert love this book?

Deep ideas, indeed some of the deepest ideas possible. This is state-of-the-art theology by one of the greatest living theologians who brings together essential insights from the Hindu, Christian, Sufi, Buddhist, and other religious traditions showing how all have much more in common than separates them. Essential reading for anyone interested in the nature of consciousness, because the fundamental subject matter of theology is none other than ultimate consciousness, the source of all other forms of consciousness in the universe, including our own. Hart’s writing is lively and engaging.

By David Bentley Hart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Experience of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the most revered scholars of religion, an incisive explanation of how the word "God" functions in the world's great faiths

Despite the recent ferocious public debate about belief, the concept most central to the discussion-God-frequently remains vaguely and obscurely described. Are those engaged in these arguments even talking about the same thing? In a wide-ranging response to this confusion, esteemed scholar David Bentley Hart pursues a clarification of how the word "God" functions in the world's great theistic faiths.

Ranging broadly across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, Hart explores how these great…


Book cover of Mysticism

Sophy Burnham Author Of The Treasure of Montségur: A Novel of the Cathars

From my list on spiritual experiences.

Why am I passionate about this?

What a question. I’ve been asking it all my life. Publicly, I am known for writing and workshops about the spiritual search, intuition, the still, small voice of God, angels, and miraculous time-warped synchronicities that seem directed to our benefit. I have written about my own mystical illuminations in A Book of Angels, The Ecstatic Journey, The Path of Prayer, in novels, plays, stories, and poetry. My work is translated into some 25 languages (most recently Chinese). But underneath I’m an ordinary flawed, failed human being, stumbling, searching for meaning, struggling toward God, and trying to be of some small service before I go back home.

Sophy's book list on spiritual experiences

Sophy Burnham Why did Sophy love this book?

This is sometimes heavy slogging, and irritating for the absence of her personal spiritual stories, but it remains a seminal work. Her lifelong quest was a source of private angst, provoking her to research and write novels, poems, and this psychological exploration of how the mystic fits into both worlds with joy. It includes a valuable appendix of mystics over centuries.

By Evelyn Underhill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mysticism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Underhill maps out her own view of the mystic's journey into five parts: "Awakening of Self," "Purgation of Self," "Illumination," "the Dark Night of the Soul," and "the Unitative life." Underhill is focussed on mysticism in Christianity but she also mentions Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other belief systems. This has long been considered a crucial work on the subject of Mysticism, and continues to guide seekers a century later.--J.B. Hare


Book cover of Rumi: Poems

Sophy Burnham Author Of The Treasure of Montségur: A Novel of the Cathars

From my list on spiritual experiences.

Why am I passionate about this?

What a question. I’ve been asking it all my life. Publicly, I am known for writing and workshops about the spiritual search, intuition, the still, small voice of God, angels, and miraculous time-warped synchronicities that seem directed to our benefit. I have written about my own mystical illuminations in A Book of Angels, The Ecstatic Journey, The Path of Prayer, in novels, plays, stories, and poetry. My work is translated into some 25 languages (most recently Chinese). But underneath I’m an ordinary flawed, failed human being, stumbling, searching for meaning, struggling toward God, and trying to be of some small service before I go back home.

Sophy's book list on spiritual experiences

Sophy Burnham Why did Sophy love this book?

I am not suggesting any particular book of the poems of this famous Persian poet and Sufi mystic. There are dozens of translations. Read any. His ecstatic poetry, as well as reflective musings all, lead to deepening love, the center and meaning of a spiritual experience.

By Jalal Al-Din Rumi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rumi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The poetry of the medieval Persian sage Rumi combines lyrical beauty with spiritual profundity, a sense of rapture, and acute awareness of human suffering in ways that speak directly to contemporary audiences.

Trained in Sufism—a mystic tradition within Islam—Rumi founded the Sufi order known to us as the Whirling Dervishes, who use dance and music as part of their spiritual devotion. Many of Rumi’s poems speak of a yearning for ecstatic union with the divine Beloved. But his images bring the sacred and the earthy together in startling ways, describing divine love in vividly human terms.

This volume draws on…


Book cover of Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism

Miguel Farias Author Of The Oxford Handbook of Meditation

From my list on religious experience.

Why am I passionate about this?

From about the age of 14, I have been exploring how unusual ideas and experiences might change a person’s life. This led me to become an author and experimental psychologist studying the effects of religious beliefs, rituals, and meditation exercises on our minds and bodies. I have spent a good part of the last 4 years putting together a book which tries to answer many of my questions on the varieties of meditation practices around the world.   

Miguel's book list on religious experience

Miguel Farias Why did Miguel love this book?

From physical travel to the heavens to elaborate meditations on Hebrew letter permutations and terrifying dialogues with God: the richness of Jewish religious experience is narrated here with historical detail and psychological insight. Its final chapters which bring us close to our times are no less surprising: Scholem describes how the disillusionment with a prophetic figure who converts to Islam to save his own life sparked an atheist movement within Judaism. My favorite book on the psychology of religious experience, though written by a historian. 

By Gershom Scholem,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of lectures on the features of the movement of mysticism that began in antiquity and continues in Hasidism today.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in religious experiences, theology, and Christianity?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about religious experiences, theology, and Christianity.

Religious Experiences Explore 9 books about religious experiences
Theology Explore 40 books about theology
Christianity Explore 610 books about Christianity