The most recommended books about church and state

Who picked these books? Meet our 15 experts.

15 authors created a book list connected to church and state, and here are their favorite church and state books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of church and state book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of Ellery's Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition & Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer

Jonathan Zimmerman Author Of Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools

From my list on student activism.

Who am I?

I’m a historian at the University of Pennsylvania and an op-ed writer for numerous publications. I’m also a former Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher. I’ve spent my adult life studying the ways that human beings imagine education, across space and time. Schools make citizens, but citizens also make schools. And we’re all different, so we disagree—inevitably and often profoundly—about the meaning and purpose of “school” itself. In a diverse nation, what should kids learn? And who should decide that? There are no single “right” answers, of course. I’m eager to hear yours.

Jonathan's book list on student activism

Jonathan Zimmerman Why did Jonathan love this book?

Talk about a badass. In 1956, 16-year-old Ellery Schempp protested his school’s mandatory prayer and Bible-reading period by reading silently from the Koran. He was kicked out of class and sued his school district, insisting that the First Amendment barred it from promoting a particular religious creed. Eventually, in Abington v. Schempp, the Supreme Court agreed. But along the way, kids called Schempp and his family “Commies” (it was the 1950s, remember) and his principal tried to get Tufts University to rescind its admission offer to him. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court permitted a football coach and devout Christian to pray on the field after games. It’s worth asking what would have happened if—like Schempp—the coach was reciting a Muslim prayer instead. 

By Stephen D. Solomon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Often, great legal decisions result from the actions of an unknown person heroically opposing the system. This work details how one person's objection to mandatory school prayer became one of the most controversial cases of this century.


Book cover of The Polish Catholic Church Under German Occupation: The Reichsgau Wartheland, 1939-1945

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Author Of Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars

From my list on Catholic churches in Hitler’s Germany.

Who are we?

We are historians of twentieth-century Germany who investigate the relationship between church and state from 1918-1945. We are fascinated by the choices of Christian leaders during this time as they negotiated the challenges of living and leading under National Socialism. In our writing, we seek to understand the connections between Christian antisemitism and National Socialists’ racial-based exclusionary ethnonationalism and antisemitism and seek to understand how religious communities navigate ethical and practical challenges of living through political upheaval and fascism.

Kevin's book list on Catholic churches in Hitler’s Germany

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Why did Kevin love this book?

Huener has produced a definitive study of the Catholic Church in western Poland under German occupation. Identified by the Germans as the Reichsgau (district) Wartheland or Warthegau, it encompassed 45,000 square kilometers (roughly the size of Vermont and New Hampshire) with a “population of more than 4.9 million, including approximately 4.2 million Poles, 400,000 Jews, and 325,000 Germans.” Of this demographic, 3.8 million were Catholic and ninety percent were ethnic Poles. The German Reich incorporated the territory even though its borders remained guarded and not easily crossed. It included 1,023 parishes, served by 1,829 diocesan priests, 277 male religious, and 2,666 women religious.

Before World War II ended, the German occupiers would close more than ninety-seven percent of the churches, dissolve all Catholic organizations, deport, or imprison most women religious, and arrest more than 1,500 priests, of whom 815 they murdered directly or indirectly. In eighteen succinct and exceptionally well-written…

By Jonathan Huener,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Polish Catholic Church Under German Occupation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, it aimed to destroy Polish national consciousness. As a symbol of Polish national identity and the religious faith of approximately two-thirds of Poland's population, the Roman Catholic Church was an obvious target of the Nazi regime's policies of ethnic, racial, and cultural Germanization.

Jonathan Huener reveals in The Polish Catholic Church under German Occupation that the persecution of the church was most severe in the Reichsgau Wartheland, a region of Poland annexed to Nazi Germany. Here Catholics witnessed the execution of priests, the incarceration of hundreds of clergymen and nuns in prisons and…


Book cover of For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Author Of Religion, Ethnonationalism, and Antisemitism in the Era of the Two World Wars

From my list on German Protestantism in Hitler’s Germany.

Who are we?

Kevin P. Spicer is a historian of twentieth-century Germany who investigates the relationship between church and state from 1918-1945. I'm fascinated by the choices of Christian leaders as they negotiated the challenges of living and leading under National Socialism. I seek to understand the connections between Christian antisemitism and National Socialist’s racial-based exclusionary ethnonationalism and antisemitism. Rebecca Carter-Chand is a historian of twentieth-century Germany who focuses on Christianity during the Nazi period. I'm particularly interested in the smaller Christian churches on the margins of the German religious landscape, many of which maintained ties with their co-religionists abroad. I seek to understand how religious communities navigate ethical and practical challenges of political upheaval and fascism.

Kevin's book list on German Protestantism in Hitler’s Germany

Kevin P. Spicer and Rebecca Carter-Chand Why did Kevin love this book?

Based largely on interviews conducted by Barnett in the 1980s, this book remains the standard text on the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany. Barnett situates the Confessing Church’s experience within the broader context of the Protestant Churches, which comprised two-thirds of Germany’s population in the Nazi era. Initially formed in response to the German Christian movement’s attempts to Nazify Christianity, the Confessing Church remained committed to the theological integrity and structural independence of the church. Yet Barnett argues that the Confessing Church was not a resistance movement against Nazism itself. Some were arrested and lost their lives, some made compromises with the Nazi regime, and some were antisemitic themselves. Their overlapping and clashing actions complicate the overall portrait of the Confessing Church. A distinctive feature of Barnett’s narrative is the attention given to women—church secretaries, wives of clergy, and the many women who played a greater role in maintaining the…

By Victoria Barnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For the Soul of the People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Victoria Barnett describes the dramatic struggle between Nazism and the German Confessing Church -- a group of outraged Christians who sought to establish a church untainted by Nazi ideology. For this remarkable book, Barnett interviewed more than sixty Germans who were active in the Confessing Church. She quotes liberally from their frank, unvarnished testimony, using rich historical and archival material to frame their stories. For the Soul of the People
vividly portrays a church divided between those who compromised with Nazism and those who eventually tried to overthrow it.


Book cover of King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther: The Reformation Before Confessionalization

Patrice M. Dabrowski Author Of Poland: The First Thousand Years

From my list on the complexity of Poland and Polish history.

Who am I?

I am a Harvard-trained historian of Central and Eastern Europe who focuses primarily on Poland. Although I am of Polish descent, my interest in Polish history blossomed during my first visits to the country in the 1980s. My initial curiosity quickly turned into a passion for Poland’s rich and varied past. Poles, who put great stock in their history, seem to have liked my books: in 2014 I was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. The books on Poland listed below, all by outstanding female historians, only scratch the surface of what is truly a rich field. Enjoy!

Patrice's book list on the complexity of Poland and Polish history

Patrice M. Dabrowski Why did Patrice love this book?

Poles have long prided themselves on having been tolerant of religious differences, this toleration dating from the deep historical past. In this pathbreaking and provocative work, Natalia Nowakowska challenges such interpretations of King Sigismund’s relationship to Protestants and Protestantism. Exquisitely argued, the book is an absolute tour de force, one that sheds new light on the period of the early Reformation.

By Natalia Nowakowska,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked King Sigismund of Poland and Martin Luther as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first major study of the early Reformation and the Polish monarchy for over a century, this volume asks why Crown and church in the reign of King Sigismund I (1506-1548) did not persecute Lutherans. It offers a new narrative of Luther's dramatic impact on this monarchy - which saw violent urban Reformations and the creation of Christendom's first Lutheran principality by 1525 - placing these events in their comparative European context. King Sigismund's realm
appears to offer a major example of sixteenth-century religious toleration: the king tacitly allowed his Hanseatic ports to enact local Reformations, enjoyed excellent relations with…


Book cover of Damiano

J.S. Watts Author Of Witchlight

From my list on if you are seeking witchery.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved fantasy. My mother told me fairy stories and I read every book of myth and legend in my local library. I’ve continued to read and love books of fantasy and magic. I guess it’s not surprising that all four of my novels and most of my short stories have a speculative aspect to them. Having grown up with the traditional view of the aged, ugly crone luring children away to their doom, I especially love stories of witches that come at the topic of witchcraft from a different angle. I live in the East of England, where the infamous witch-hunts of the seventeenth century took place.

J.S.'s book list on if you are seeking witchery

J.S. Watts Why did J.S. love this book?

The first in a trilogy of books of magical fantasy set in Renaissance Europe and beyond that looks at magic and witchery at an unusual slant. Centre stage is Damiano Delstrego: son of a wizard and alchemist with an inheritance of Dark Magics. Forced out by war, he goes on pilgrimage to seek the aid of the powerful witch Saara, but the road he is obliged to walk is a dark one. R. A. MacAvoy is another writer I have admired for a long time and I was very sad when ill health stopped her from writing. I believe, however, that she has started to write again, so I can but hope for new novels while recommending her older, skillful work.

By R.A. MacAvoy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This alternate history fantasy by a Nebula Award nominee follows a young alchemist's quest in Renaissance Italy under the wing of an archangel.

Set against the turbulent backdrop of the Italian Renaissance, this alternate history takes place in a world where real faith-based magic exists. Our hero is Damiano Dalstrego. He is a wizard's son, an alchemist, and the heir to dark magics. But he is also an innocent, a young scholar and musician befriended by the Archangel Raphael, who instructs him in the lute. To save his beloved city from war, Damiano leaves his cloistered life and sets out…


Book cover of Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence

Tinney Sue Heath Author Of A Thing Done

From my list on medieval Florence.

Who am I?

I write historical fiction set in medieval Italy, in that lesser-known territory somewhere between ancient Rome and the Renaissance. I’m fascinated by the period before the Medici, before Michelangelo, sometimes even before Dante. The seeds of the Renaissance are hidden in that turbulent time, and I love to hunt for them. I also like to write about marginalized people—the obscure, unfamous, forgotten folk plucked from the footnotes. I’m happy to introduce some of the excellent history books that help me do that. These five books are specific to Florence, the city of my heart.

Tinney's book list on medieval Florence

Tinney Sue Heath Why did Tinney love this book?

In The Florentine Magnates we looked at Florence’s magnates, the powerful ruling class. Now we get a look at the people they lorded it over—the “popolo minuto” or the little people. We see them struggling, never able to get far enough ahead to get through a bad harvest, a year of terrible weather, or an epidemic with any security. Both church and commune recognized the need to come to the assistance of the masses of poor; this book tells us how they went about it and how successful they were (or weren’t). It deftly traces the role of religious confraternities in Florence’s charitable institutions. It’s been described as “one of the most detailed analyses of charity in late medieval Italy.”

By John Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Henderson examines the relationship between religion and society in late medieval Florence through the vehicle of the religious confraternity, one of the most ubiquitous and popular forms of lay association throughout Europe. This book provides a fascinating account of the development of confraternities in relation to other communal and ecclesiastical institutions in Florence. It is one of the most detailed analyses of charity in late medieval Europe. "[A] long-awaited book...[It is] the most complete survey of confraternities and charity, not only for Florence, but for any Italian city state to date...This book recovers more vividly than other recent works…


Book cover of Public Life in Renaissance Florence

Nicholas Scott Baker Author Of In Fortune's Theater: Financial Risk and the Future in Renaissance Italy

From my list on exploring what what Renaissance Italy was really like.

Who am I?

I teach the histories of early modern Europe and European worlds at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. I developed a fascination for the period and, especially, for the Italian Renaissance as an undergraduate before going on to complete a PhD at Northwestern University in the United States. I love the contradictions and tensions of the period: a society and culture in transition from what we call medieval understandings and worldviews to what we see as more modern ones. These are some of the books that helped to fuel my passion for Renaissance Italian history and to answer some of my questions about what life was really like in Renaissance Italy.

Nicholas' book list on exploring what what Renaissance Italy was really like

Nicholas Scott Baker Why did Nicholas love this book?

This book, more than any other, inspired me to become a historian of Renaissance Italy.

Richard Trexler reveals that, far from being secular minded, the inhabitants of Florence relied on religion, ritual behavior, and charisma to create and maintain urban life, social values, and civic order.

By turns anthropological as well as historical, Trexler uncovers the ritual behaviors and practices that tied the city together from the level of the cosmos to the everyday relations between friends, neighbors, and family members. The central purpose of all public ritual in Florence served to overcome the inherent weakness of a republican government in a world of gods and kings. 

By Richard C. Trexler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Public Life in Renaissance Florence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Covering the history of Renaissance Florence from the fourteenth century to the beginnings of the Medici duchy, Richard C. Trexler traces collective ritual behavior in all its forms, from a simple greeting to the most elaborate community festival. He examines three kinds of social relationships: those between individual Florentines, those between Florentines and foreigners, and those between Florentines and God and His saints. He maintains that ritual brought life to the public world and, when necessary, reformed public life.


Book cover of Memoirs of a Breton Peasant

Mark Greenside Author Of (Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living

From my list on the magic of Brittany France.

Who am I?

Mark Greenside has been a civil rights activist, Vietnam War protestor, anti-draft counselor, Vista Volunteer, union leader, and college professor. He holds B.S. and M.A. degrees from the University of Wisconsin and his stories have appeared in numerous journals and magazines. He presently lives in Alameda, California, where he continues to teach and be politically active, and Brittany, France, where he still can’t do anything without asking for help.

Mark's book list on the magic of Brittany France

Mark Greenside Why did Mark love this book?

Jean-Marie Déguignet is not your typical Breton peasant. He’s small and puny—and these people aren’t built that way. At nine, a bee caused him to fall and hit his head, leaving an ugly wound that oozed for years and left a deep indentation in his skull when it finally healed. The result was a lifetime interest in bees and a lonely life, as no one wanted to be near him.  

A curious and isolated lad, he becomes an auto-diktat, and like many auto-diktats has lots of disparaging things to say about those who are less educated and more successful and powerful than he—especially church and government officials, monarchists, and landlords: ignorant bastards he constantly fought (and lost) who controlled and ruined his life. He’s an anti-cleric in this most Catholic of lands. He’s a Republican in a time and place of monarchists. He understands the world as a scientist, through…

By Jean-Marie Déguignet,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoirs of a Breton Peasant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fascinating document of an extraordinary life, Memoirs of A Breton Peasant reads with the liveliness of a novel and bristles with the vigor of an opinionated autodidact from the very lowest level of peasant society. Brittany during the nineteenth century was a place seemingly frozen in the Middle Ages, backwards by most French standards; formal education among rural society was either unavailable or dismissed as unnecessary, while the church and local myth defined most people's reasoning and motivation. Jean-Marie Déguignet is unique not only as a literate Breton peasant, but in his skepticism for the church, his interest in…


Book cover of The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Marissa Moss Author Of Talia's Codebook for Mathletes

From my list on graphic stand outs from the very crowded pack.

Who am I?

I'm best known for the Amelia's Notebook series which are based on the notebooks I kept as a kid. I started using the notebook format because that's how I thought—sometimes in words, sometimes in pictures. But this was a long time ago, in the 90s when graphic novels weren't a common format. When I submitted Amelia to publishers, they rejected it, saying it wasn't a picture book, it wasn't a novel, so how would librarians know where to shelve it? A small press that didn't know any better took a chance and published Amelia's Notebook. It became a big bestseller, with more than 20 books to follow and started a new trend in kid's books.

Marissa's book list on graphic stand outs from the very crowded pack

Marissa Moss Why did Marissa love this book?

Hendrix tells the incredible story here of how a Lutheran pastor was part of the plot to assassinate Hitler—and almost succeeded.

This is history that's not widely known and the graphic novel format makes it into an accessible adventure story that's actually true. There were many plots to kill Hitler and each failed for different reasons. Yet there were brave people who were willing to keep trying.

Hendricks puts us in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's shoes, while also showing the depth of Nazism's grip on the German public. It took a truly exceptional person to see Hitler for what he was and to decide to act on that understanding.

By John Hendrix,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Faithful Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Adolf Hitler's Nazi party is gaining strength and becoming more menacing every day. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor upset by the complacency of the German church toward the suffering around it, forms a breakaway church to speak out against the established political and religious authorities. When the Nazis outlaw the church, he escapes as a fugitive. Struggling to reconcile his faith and the teachings of the Bible with the Nazi Party's evil agenda, Bonhoeffer decides that Hitler must be stopped by any means possible!

In his signature style of interwoven handwritten text and art, John Hendrix tells the true story of…


Book cover of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

Andrew L. Whitehead Author Of American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church

From my list on Christian Nationalism in the United States.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by the relationship between Christianity and the United States for decades. Much of my work in the area of Christian nationalism is the result of my personal religious history and experiences, as well as my work as a social scientist. I’ve always been fascinated by how religion influences and is influenced by its social context. Christian nationalism in the US is a clear example of how influential religious ideologies can be in our social world.

Andrew's book list on Christian Nationalism in the United States

Andrew L. Whitehead Why did Andrew love this book?

Knowing our history is so important, and this is one of the best books on the history of Christian nationalism in the United States during the 20th century.

What becomes so clear is the cultural influences on American Christianity including which voices are lifted up, and which ones are ignored or silenced. Let’s just say you won’t ever look at Billy Graham and his work the same way again.

By Kevin M. Kruse,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Nation Under God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We're often told that the United States is, was, and always has been a Christian nation. But in One Nation Under God , historian Kevin M. Kruse reveals that the belief that America is fundamentally and formally Christian originated in the 1930s.To fight the slavery" of FDR's New Deal, businessmen enlisted religious activists in a campaign for freedom under God" that culminated in the election of their ally Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. The new president revolutionized the role of religion in American politics. He inaugurated new traditions like the National Prayer Breakfast, as Congress added the phrase under God" to…