Laura Seitz, Deseret News
The Dalai Lama blesses the audience at an interfaith service at Abravanel Hall on May 11, 2001. Seated behind him are representatives of various faiths.

If you're looking for a break from the overheated political race, some new books on religion and spirituality might offer a bit of solace.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader, is a scientist at heart. He is also a jokester, an enthusiastic reader and a democrat, small d. In "The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama" (Knopf, $24), journalist Pico Iyer has great access to the surprisingly open spiritual leader. The intimacy he shares is appealing, the tidbits revealing.

The Dalai Lama arises at 3:30 a.m. each day to meditate for four hours on compassion. He makes a point of thanking everyone in any hotel in which he stays — from the busboys to the owner. And he is an ardent ambassador for his people, the Tibetans. This is a deep and well-written biography by someone who knows the public man most privately.

As an adult, Suzanne Strempek Shea left her Roman Catholic faith but was uncomfortable outside her pew, so she began a yearlong journey to visit a new church each week. In "Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith" (Beacon Press, $24.95), Shea writes

about praying with spiritualists in Brookline, Mass., (and being surprisingly moved) and a disappointing Sunday-school lesson in Georgia with former President Carter. The folks at Trinity United Church of Christ (Barack Obama's former church) embrace her and wake her up; the Shakers make her settle down and listen — although she finds the service disappointingly simple.

Although Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have dined out on their arguments against the existence of God, David Berlinski, a writer and professor of mathematics and philosophy, is more than capable of advancing the notion that the answer cannot rest entirely in science. "The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions" (Crown Forum, $23.95) is a cogent and lively argument written by a man who knows his subject. Berlinski is not a religious man. He is a self-identified secular Jew: But someone had to write an answer to the arguments of Hitchens and Harris.

Quick: Name the last time you laughed out loud while reading a book. I did with "Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture" by Daniel Radosh (Scribner, $25). Radosh, a humanist Jew, wanted to know more about the parallel universe of Christian pop culture, where Christian rock/metal/emo bands make music much like what's found on the radio, except without the sex and drugs. Occasionally Radosh takes a few easy shots, but mostly this is a thought-out, interesting approach to a culture that's hardly beneath the radar.


Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service