The most recommended books about religious experience

Who picked these books? Meet our 8 experts.

8 authors created a book list connected to religious experiences, and here are their favorite religious experience books.
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Book cover of Emotional Experience and Religious Understanding: Integrating Perception, Conception and Feeling

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?

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. 

By Mark Wynn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this book Mark Wynn argues that the landscape of philosophical theology looks rather different from the perspective of a re-conceived theory of emotion. In matters of religion, we do not need to opt for objective content over emotional form or vice versa. On the contrary, these strategies are mistaken at root, since form and content are not properly separable here - because 'inwardness' may contribute to 'thought-content', or because (to use the vocabulary of the book) emotional feelings can themselves constitute thoughts; or because, to put the point a further way, in religious contexts, perception and conception are often…


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.


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 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 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 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 Sufis of Andalusia: The Ruh al-quds and al-Durrat al-Fakhirah

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?

A delightful 12th-century spiritual travel book. As a young man, the mystic Ibn Arabi travels through southern Spain, Portugal, and North Africa in search of holy figures. He meets plenty of them, who tell him of their daily spiritual and physical discipline and experiences of God. In one of my favorite depictions, Ibn Arabi is harshly told off by one of the individuals who refuses to acknowledge he is the one whom the young traveler seeks — if people learn of his spiritual eminence, he finally confides, he will never have a moment of peace; there will be a never-ending queue of individuals seeking guidance, healing, and prayers from him.

By Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, R.W.J. Austin (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Publish By Suhail Acdmy


Book cover of The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks

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?

Here we have fragments of the lives of female and male hermits living in the Egyptian desert, trying to live the Christian life away from the temptations of cities. Colourful depictions of their relationships, experiences with angels and demons, and the techniques used to move closer to God and conquer human frailty. These accounts are a superb antidote to today’s mindfulness which feels rather mind-numbing compared to these accounts of meditation.    

By Various, Benedicta Ward (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Desert Fathers were the first Christian monks, living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. In contrast to the formalised and official theology of the "founding fathers" of the church, the Desert Fathers were ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world and live lives of celibacy, fasting, vigil, prayer and poverty in direct and simple response to the gospel. Their sayings were first recorded in the 4th century and consist of spiritual advice, anecdotes and parables. The Desert Fathers' teachings and lives have inspired poetry, opera and art, as well as providing spiritual nourishment and…


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…