Assistant Professor Sujin Pak's recommendations reflect her love of history, including historical novels. She specializes in the history of Christianity in late medieval and early modern Europe and is an active teacher and lay preacher in the United Methodist Church. Her book The Judaizing Calvin: Sixteenth-Century Debates over the Messianic Psalms is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This is one of my favorite novels. It speaks of the power of community and the possibilities of reconciliation between so-called enemies. It is a heartbreaking story of hope, the beauty of music that can transcend human barriers, and the fragile gifts of community and love.
Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis That You Can’t Learn from Exegesis Alone by John L. Thompson
This book makes the case for the importance of history and the history of biblical interpretation for the Christian church. Specifically, Thompson takes up many of the difficult passages of Scripture often avoided and even excised from the lectionary (e.g., the story of Jephthah’s daughter, stories of rape in the Bible, imprecatory psalms) and shows how pre-modern Christian exegetes can give insight and wisdom into how to read these passages faithfully.
Women and the Reformation by Kirsi Stjerna
This is a very readable description of the historical context in which women lived during the Protestant Reformation. More importantly, it provides concise accounts of the lives and contributions of 10 significant women in the sixteenth century. There are very rich bibliographies at the back of the book for those interested in further reading.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
This award-winning author brings us yet another exquisite historical novel (see also her novels March and Year of Wonders — both also highly recommended). This one is an imaginative history based on the real events surrounding the rediscovery of a Jewish haggadah in Sarajevo. It walks the reader through pockets of the history of Christian–Jewish–Muslim relations, as well as offering glimpses of the racial and ethnic tensions of Bosnia.
Next in Line to Read
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
I try to keep a practice of reading a bit of a novel every day to keep the creative juices flowing. That has been harder to do in recent years, so this has been sitting on my shelf for too long! This is a historical novel of the American South that depicts the many shades of slavery and its devastating effects in vividly haunting tones.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
This is another historical novel that I have been waiting to peruse when I have time for a more focused read, as it is a rather complex novel with a story within a story within a story, all of which eventually illuminate each other. The main story line is set in Canada around WWII.
To read more about professor Pak, who earned both her M.T.S. and Ph.D. degrees at Duke, see the profile “Debates over Christian History” from Duke Today’s series “Meet the New Faculty.”