Preparing for divinity school: A reading list

christin-hume-k2Kcwkandwg-unsplashGuest post by the Rev. Laura Mariko Cheifetz, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Vocation, and Stewardship

So you’re going to divinity school/seminary. Congratulations! I absolutely loved my experience, and now I get to be present with people who are figuring out if div school is the next right step, which div school, and then be around when they take the plunge and find out how much they can grow.

I am sometimes asked by incoming students about what books they should be reading to prepare for div school, especially those who don’t have a degree in religion or religious studies from undergrad. I have my list (you’ll see it below) of books that I think provide the stretch, the vocabulary, the new understandings, the deliciousness of theological education. Books can be an obligation, and often are in graduate school, but they are also a window into new concepts and ways of thinking. Books are a delight. Books are sustenance for the journey.

I asked a couple of Vanderbilt Divinity folks for their list. And then I asked the internet (my Facebook friends) for theirs.

Here is a tiered list of books you could take a peek into before (or during, or after, or regardless of) theological education.

My list

Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Ann Parker, Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us (narrative and personal exploration of the doctrine of atonement)

Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (womanist theology, considered a classic/foundational text in the field)

Kaitlin B. Curtice, Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God (narrative personal exploration into identity and faith)

Is there a “what to expect when you’re in seminary” book? Yes.

David M. Mellott, Finding Your Way in Seminary: What to Expect, How to Thrive

Dr. Steph Budwey, the Luce Dean’s Faculty Fellow Assistant Professor of the History and Practice of Christian Worship and the Arts and Director of the Religion in the Arts and Contemporary Culture Program at VDS, recommends two theology books

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Marcella Althaus-Reid Indecent Theology

The Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and Distinguished Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society, Dr. emilie townes, recommends

Laurel C. Schneider and Stephen G. Ray, Jr., editors, Awake to the Moment: An Introduction to Theology

Raphael G. Warnock, The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness

Anthea D. Butler, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America

The people on the internet who have been on their own version of the same journey recommended the following.

On leadership

Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Willie James Jennings, Beyond Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

Jo-Ann Archibald, Indigenous Storywork: Educating the Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit


Theology & Biblical Studies

Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved

Kwok Pui Lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology

Clodovis & Leonardo Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology

Mayra Rivera, The Touch of Transcendence

James Cone, The God of the Oppressed

Austen Hartke, Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians

Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine

Nancy Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability


About the church

Dennis R. Maynard, When Sheep Attack

Robert P. Jones, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity


Children’s Literature

Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom, What You Do Matters series: What Do You Do with an Idea? What Do You Do with a Chance? What Do You Do with a Problem?



NK Jemisin, Broken Earth Trilogy

Octavia A. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Shusako Endo, Silence

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