Novels About Religion or Faith

Faith, religion, or spirituality will play a significant part in the lives of certain characters in these novels.

Spirituality in Novels

The Poisonwood Bible | Barbara Kingsolver

Orleana Price and her four daughters relate the events of their lives in the Congo. Nathan Price goes there with his family as a Christian missionary. The family adapts to the radically different living conditions. Nathan struggles to increase church attendance while the native people cling to their traditional beliefs. Meanwhile, the Congo is fighting for independence.

The Damnation of Theron Ware | Harold Frederic

The Reverend Theron Ware and his wife Alice, Methodists, are assigned to Octavius, a poor village. It is a traditional, stifling community. Ware meets three people who have a profound influence on him – Father Forbes, an educated Catholic priest who no longer believes most of the Church’s doctrines; Celia, a beautiful, independent woman who loves art; and Dr. Ledsmar, a scholarly man with scientific interests.

Read “The Damnation of Theron Ware”

Tambourines to Glory | Langston Hughes

Essie and Laura are about forty-years-old and live in Harlem. Essie wants to have enough money to bring her daughter Marietta from Virginia. Laura is focused on drinking, gambling, and men. They decide to start a church. Essie has faith, and is a true believer; Laura is in it for the money.

Kim | Rudyard Kipling

Kim is a thirteen-year-old Irish boy who was orphaned in British India and grew up in an opium den. His wide experience with languages and customs allow him to blend in anywhere. When he meets a Tibetan lama searching for the Holy River, he becomes his chela, or assistant. When they come upon an army regiment, Kim’s identity becomes known and the chaplains want to prevent him from serving a Buddhist monk.

“Many wear the Robe, but few walk the Way.”

Read “Kim”

Death Comes for the Archbishop | Willa Cather

Father Latour is sent to New Mexico by the Catholic Church. He performs many marriages and baptisms in various small communities. He is accompanied by his friend, Father Vaillant. They encounter danger, illness, and insincere priests as they try to bring religious order to the region.

Wise Blood | Flannery O’Connor

Hazel Motes spends four years overseas in the army. After his release he goes back to his hometown in Tennessee with the intention of doing things he has never done. His religious upbringing enters his thoughts, leading him to follow a preacher down the street. When the preacher talks about Jesus, Hazel says he is also a preacher and is going to start The Church Without Christ.

“I’m a member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.”

A Passage to India | E. M. Forster

In India during British rule, Dr. Aziz, an Indian man, meets Mrs. Moore and Miss Adela Quested. Aziz invites Mrs. Moore and Adela to visit the Marabar Caves. Aziz and Adela have an awkward moment and she runs off. When Aziz gets back he is arrested.

“God has put us on earth to love our neighbors and to show it, and He is omnipresent, even in India, to see how we are succeeding.”

Read “A Passage to India”

Elmer Gantry | Sinclair Lewis

While Elmer and his roommate Jim are on a break from college, Elmer pretends to be converted during a sermon. He turns out to be a natural preacher and, liking the power it brings, attends seminary school. At his first church appointment, he gets mixed up with the daughter of a deacon, Lulu. He continues to use religion for his personal gain.

“The Maker of the universe with stars a hundred thousand light-years apart was interested, furious, and very personal about it if a small boy played baseball on Sunday afternoon.”

Read “Elmer Gantry”

A Death in the Family | James Agee

Jay Follet gets a call late at night from his brother who says their father has had a heart attack. He says goodbye to his wife, Mary, and has a nice moment with her before driving off. We are given some background on their relationship and their religious faith. Jay eventually finds his father’s condition isn’t really serious. The focus of the story is Jay’s son, Rufus.

Gilead | Marilynne Robinson

Reverend John Ames, an elderly man dying of heart disease, writes a series of letters in his journal for his young son to read when he grows up. He tells the stories of his father, grandfather, and best friend, Robert.

A Prayer for Owen Meany | John Irving

John Wheelwright narrates the interconnected lives of himself and his best friend, Owen Meany. John admires Owen and tends to follow his lead. Owen is intelligent, charismatic, small, and has a high voice. He comes to believe he is God’s instrument, and has a premonition about the day of his death. He is convinced he must die a hero saving children.

“…he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

Read “A Prayer for Owen Meany”

Siddhartha | Hermann Hesse

A young Brahman (a member of the highest Hindu caste), searches for the meaning of life through religion – Hinduism, asceticism, and Buddhism – and also through material success and physical pleasure.

Read “Siddhartha”

The Violent Bear it Away | Flannery O’Connor

Mason Tarwater considered himself a prophet. He was institutionalized for four years by his sister. He kidnapped his nephew Francis to raise him as a prophet. Mason gives Francis the mission of baptizing his mentally disabled cousin, Bishop.

The Razor’s Edge | W. Somerset Maugham

Larry served in WWI as an aviator. His best friend was killed saving Larry’s life. After the war, he has no ambition to succeed professionally. He loafs in Paris, reading and learning, which eventually costs him his engagement to Isabel. She marries a rich man, Gray Maturin. Larry pursues enlightenment thru spirituality, while the Maturin’s focus on money.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin | Harriet Beecher Stowe

The narrative tells the story of three slaves – Tom, Eliza, and George – who begin in Kentucky and deal with the hardships in their lives. Part I opens with a plantation owner, Mr. Shelby, trying to sell Uncle Tom and Harry, the five-year-old son of Eliza, the house servant. Eliza decides to run away with Harry, but Uncle Tom won’t go against Mr. Shelby.

“When I look for religion, I must look for something above me, and not something beneath.”

Read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Ceremony | Leslie Marmon Silko

Tayo, a mixed-blood Native American, has psychological problems from his time in World War II and, to a lesser extent, his troubled childhood. He wants to reconnect with his traditions and spirituality.

The Good Soldier | Ford Maddox Ford

John and Florence Dowell, an American couple, spend time in a German resort town over the span of a decade where they get to know Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, a British couple. They gradually learn more about each others lives. They deal with the confinements of religion, their marriages, and health problems.

Read “The Good Soldier”

A Journal of the Plague Year | Daniel Defoe

The narrator recollects the events of 1665 in London when a plague progressed thru the city. A religious man, he uses the Bible to inform some of his decisions, and wonders if God is playing any part in the pestilence.

Read “A Journal of the Plague Year”

The Idiot | Fyodor Dostoevsky

Mishkin has just been treated for epilepsy and idiocy. He is going to meet Madame Yepanching, who he believes is a relative. Rogozhin is traveling to collect his inheritance of more than two million rubles after the death of his father. The central character, Mishkin, is self-sacrificing and forgiving and others take advantage of him.

Read “The Idiot”

Cat’s Cradle | Kurt Vonnegut

John is doing research for a book about the day Hiroshima was hit by the atomic bomb. In particular he looks into the Hoeniker family, whose patriarch, Dr. Felix Hoeniker, was one of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb. John discovers the existence of a potentially greater threat – ice-nine, a seed that could freeze all of earth’s water.

Read “Cat’s Cradle”