This page will introduce you to novels set in American religious communities. These texts must always be taught as literary fictions, not transparent representations of reality, but students can nevertheless learn a great deal about the religious lives and experiences of diverse Americans by reading novels set in diverse communities.
Most of these texts are appropriate for high school students. If you’re looking for books for younger students, you might want to check out the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature or the ADL’s list of multicultural and anti-bias books for children. These lists are not focused on religious diversity, per se, but they include books for younger readers that speak to the religious experiences of diverse Americans. Also, you can click here for a list of short stories exploring faith, religion, and tradition, many of which are available to download as pdfs.
Finally, please note that this is not a comprehensive or carefully curated list. We’ve included texts that speak to diverse faith traditions, but we certainly haven’t covered everything. We would love to hear your suggestions of additional texts to include, as well as your thoughts or concerns about any of the texts on the list.
Buddhism and Buddhist Communities
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
You Are Not Here and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction edited by Keith Kachtick
Folk Religion in Chinese-American Communities
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Christianity and Christian Communities
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understand themselves.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Children of God: An American Epic by Vardis Fisher
Evensong by Gail Godwin
Father Melancholy’s Daughter by Gail Godwin
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult
Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
A Little Lower Than Angels by Virginia Sorensen
Hinduism and Hindu Communities
The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi
The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan
Islam and Muslim Communities
Once in a Promised Land by Laila Halaby
This is the story of Jassim and Salwa, who left the deserts of their native Jordan for those of Arizona. Although the couple live far from Ground Zero, they cannot escape the dust cloud of paranoia settling over the nation. When Jassim kills a teenage boy in a terrible accident and Salwa becomes hopelessly entangled with a shadowy young American, their tenuous lives in exile and their fragile marriage begin to unravel.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos.
Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim.
The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight
Judaism and Jewish Communities
The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham
Hemmed in by the strict codes of her Orthodox Jewish upbringing, the daughter of a rabbi escapes to the world of romance novels and begins to chafe at her family and her faith.
Herzog by Saul Bellow
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska
Mazel by Rebecca Goldstein
Native American Spiritual Traditions and Communities
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris
Green Grass Running Water by Thomas King
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Complex Ties Between Christianity and Native American Traditions
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima comes to stay with his family in New Mexico. She is a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic. Under her wise wing, Tony will test the bonds that tie him to his people, and discover himself in the pagan past, in his father’s wisdom, and in his mother’s Catholicism.
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
So Far From God by Ana Castillo
The Rain God by Arturo Islas
Drowning in Fire by Craig Womack
African Diaspora Spirit Traditions and Communities
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwige Danticat
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Interfaith Issues and American Religious Politics
The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman
Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Un-Definable American Spirituality, and Too Lovely to Leave Out
Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger