Secular devotional books

Back in my evangelical youth group days, we were encouraged to “do devotions,” which consisted in reading short meditations paired with biblical passages. This paradigm has stuck with me. When I was studying German, for instance, I used Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” as my reading text for a while, and I referred to my method — reading over one “thesis” per day and going through it several times until I didn’t have to look up words and could get the sensation of “just reading” — as a “devotional” method.

It seems to me that there are some boks that one might call secular or philosophical “devotional books.” Some that leap to mind are Adorno’s Minima Moralia and Agamben’s Coming Community or Idea of Prose. Can we think of any others? (Perhaps some of Nietzsche’s more aphoristic works, for instance.)

22 Responses to “Secular devotional books”

  1. Alex Wyman Says:

    Thank you for the post.

    Would you consider placing the Monadology in this category?

  2. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    I usually read Rahner’s Encounters with Silence every Advent, but this book’s form lends itself to devotional use.

  3. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    Then again, Rahner wouldn’t really count as “secular.”

  4. Rob L Says:

    John Gray’s _Straw Dogs_

  5. Troy Says:

    Twice daily I used to read “Morning and Evening”, a collection of Chuck Spurgeon devotions. In terms of treating a book as devotional post-sanity, Spinoza’s Ethics.

  6. Daniel Silliman Says:

    You seem to be thinking strictly of philosophy, here, but lots and lots of poetry is read as a secular devotionals. Some poets, this happens to such an extent it’s almost hard to imagine their work being in print if it weren’t read that way (e.g. Mary Oliver).

  7. Daniel Silliman Says:

    Correction: “is read in the manner of secular devotionals,” not “is read as a secular devotionals.” The singular “poetry” was messing with me.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Poetry fits really well into this category, or at least I can see how it could.

  9. GF Wahlquist Says:

    I have used both Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Kahlil Gibran’s The Propet this way. Those readings eventually informed my wedding vows, along with The Satanic Bible. (Does the Satanic Bible count as secular? Discuss.)

  10. Dave Mesing Says:

    I am going to steal your Benjamin idea when I work on learning German next summer. I was actually emailing Dan a few days ago and used the term scripture to describe Minima Moralia.

    Poetry fits well–an obvious one that comes to mind is Rilke.

  11. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    GF, I have actually had a bride ask me to read Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet for a wedding ceremony.

  12. Stephen Keating (@stephenmk) Says:

    Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies fulfills my need for mystical narratives.

  13. Carl Gregg Says:

    A. C. Grayling offers “Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age” ( and “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible” (

  14. ben Says:

    “Culture and Value” is a good one.

    The Waste Books.

  15. Hill Says:

    Was going to mention Zarathustra as well. That’s a great one.

  16. Matthew Lyons (@unhommequidort) Says:

    Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet straddles the thin line between devotional and bathroom book.

  17. Andy Says:

    I actually read the Tractatus like this on my honeymoon.

  18. Scott Prather Says:

    Continuing the Ludwig train: I first read the Philosophical Investigations in like manner.
    The Will to Power is probably my most recent.

  19. ben Says:

    The later novels of David Markson lend themselves to this treatment.

  20. Slocum Says:

    Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts.

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