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Christmas and the holiday season are upon us, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's annual list of gift-giving recommendations is here.

Focused on books in the theme of religion and spirituality, this year's nonfiction selections span topics including music, literature and the examination of miracles. The list starts this week and will conclude next week.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books

By Karen Swallow Prior

(BrazosPress, $19.99)

Karen Swallow Prior explores the themes of cardinal, theological and heavenly virtues by taking a closer look at literary classics by authors such as Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen and Flannery O'Connor. Beyond the lens of virtues, for example, she explores not just their presence or absence; she widens the scope of understanding and relevance by employing documented modern-day examples. Discussion questions are included for each literary work, facilitating the use of this book for study by larger groups, and the author also explores her own ideas on what makes a book "good," and what it means to read "well."

The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural

By Lee Strobel

(Zondervan, $24.99)

Fans of Lee Strobel's award-winning best-seller The Case for Christ, which was made into a movie last year, and other volumes in The Case for series will be familiar with the layout of his latest book, which investigates events and circumstances surrounding miracles that are both historical and modern.

Strobel spends time with experts including University of Oklahoma physics professor Michael Strauss, who was part of the collaborative effort that resulted in the discovery of the Higgs Boson, also known as the "God particle"; and visits the offices of Skeptic magazine with Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and author of a column on skepticism for Scientific American magazine. The Case for Miracles also includes discussion questions and recommendations for further reading.

Muslims of the World: Portraits and Stories of Hope, Survival, Loss and Love

By Sajjad Shah and Imam Mahoui

(Abrams, $19.99)

Based on the Instagram account of the same name, this compilation give faces and voices to more than 60 Muslims living around the world and in the United States as they tell stories of faith, family, love and loss, and what it means to each person to live by their Islamic faith in both tangible and unseen ways through those life experiences.

Organized into chapters by theme, the majority of profiles features people in their 20s and 30s, but include narratives from some as young as 11 and others in their 70s with decades of life experience behind them. Shah's journey to producing the book began by collecting stories from Muslims where he grew up in Indiana, and branched out into the Instagram account several years ago, which now has several hundred thousand followers.

Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

By Andrew Stephen Damick

(Ancient Faith Publishing, $29.95)

Subtitled "Finding the Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape," this revised and expanded version of Damick's 2011 book in part has a twofold goal: to help Orthodox Christians understand other religious belief systems, and to help the non-Orthodox with an understanding of Orthodox Christianity. A comprehensive layout of the Orthodox faith is complemented with substantive chapters on Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movements, Evangelicalism and Revivalism; and readers will cross paths with other major non-Christian religions.

Damick, an Orthodox pastor in Pennsylvania, includes an appendix on atheism and agnosticism, and a second one detailing his upbringing and background as a former Evangelical Christian before discovering Orthodoxy.

A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story

By William Martin

(Zondervan, $29.99)

Released less than two weeks after Graham's death in February, this is an updated version of the original 1991 edition that Graham himself requested that originally chronicled his life from its beginnings in rural North Carolina. This volume continues to tell Graham's story up through the evangelical Christian leader's 95th birthday in 2013, along with the developments of his children's respective ministries as adults.

A retired professor of religion and public policy at Rice University, Martin interviewed more than 100 people for this updated volume, and draws on his decades of study in religious fundamentalism and politics.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock

By Gregory Alan Thornbury

(Convergent Books, $26)

Thornbury, a vice president of the New York Academy of Art, sketches a vivid portrait of the man considered by many to be one of the pioneers of the Jesus movement that began in the late 1960s.

He traces Norman's path from humble beginnings in California to his growing interest in music and noted the musician as among the first to set Christian lyrics to rock 'n' roll music. Norman's early days with his rock band People! and breakout as a solo artist willing to sing about taboo topics of the day are fleshed out in detail, but along with that are accounts of his two failed marriages and the possibility that he fathered of a child out of wedlock.

Thornbury described Norman's as "a story of someone who believed so purely that he was following Jesus, that in his mind he frequently saw very little difference between what he was seeing and what the Good Lord himself was seeing."

Francisca Jones edits the Religion section for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. Email her at

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books, by Karen Swallow Prior
The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural, by Lee Strobel
Muslims of the World: Portraits and Stories of Hope, Survival, Loss and Love, by Sajjad Shah and Imam Mahoui
Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, by Andrew Stephen Damick
A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story by William Martin
Photo by Francisca Jones
Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, by Gregory Alan Thornbury

NAN Religion on 12/08/2018

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