Religious Story: Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition

Religious beliefs play an important part in these stories. In some, long held traditions are a substitute for religious belief. Most are realistic, but in a few something miraculous happens. This page will also have stories where a character’s faith is challenged or shaken, where a character’s actions are strongly motivated by faith, or someone has a religious experience.

Others have characters who live a religious life, or who have dealings with religious people. There are a few Flannery O’Connor selections on this page, but many more of her stories have religious elements. You might also want to check out the anthology Angels!.

Religious Stories

“The Pelican” by Ann Pilling

A family visits the site of an elevated castle while on vacation. It’s raining so they go inside the adjoining church where they find pelican imagery, which their guide book says is an old Christian symbol. When they go outside and look toward the river, they’re surprised by what they see. (Summary)

Sister Angelica | Alexander McCall Smith

Angelica is recruited to the Order of the Little Helpers by Sister Domenica. Angelica doesn’t really want to be a nun, but she’s afraid of Sister Domenica and gives in to her pressure.

“Sister Angelica” is the second story in the Amazon preview of Tiny Tales: Stories of Romance, Ambition, Kindness and Happiness.

The Lightning-Rod Man | Herman Melville

On a very stormy night, a salesman calls on the narrator, warning him of the dangers of lightning. He tries to sell the narrator a lightning rod. Each strike of lightning makes his pitch more urgent, but the narrator trusts God with his fate. (Summary)

This is the seventh story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.

Young Goodman Brown | Nathaniel Hawthorne

Goodman Brown has to go on a journey through the forest one night on an errand. The walk is unsettling, and he meets others from his town on the way.

This is the seventh story in the preview of 100 Great Short Stories.

“Crucifixion Variations” by Lawrence Person

Richard Lasman is in charge of The Jerusalem Project, a multi-year, multi-million dollar search through sub-quark event waves for Jesus. He’s an atheist, while the head researcher, Philip Morley, is deeply religious, having experienced a vision that cured his alcoholism. One day, Philip joyfully bursts into Richard’s office—he’s found Jesus.

This story can be read in the preview of The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction(62% in)

“The End of the World” by Dino Buzzati

A sign appears in the sky high above a city, and the citizens know the end is coming. Many people want to make a confession while there’s still time. (Summary)

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings | Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In a small town, an old man with wings washes up on shore. There are many ideas about what he is and where he’s from. A couple takes him and locks him up on their property.

This is the eleventh story in the preview of The Big Book of Modern Fantasy.

“The Coffee-House of Surat” by Leo Tolstoy

A group of travelers meet in a coffee house in Surat. A Persian theologian who’s lost his faith sparks a spirited discussion about God among the patrons. Each believes only his people know and worship the true God. (Summary)

Read “The Coffee-House of Surat”

“The Man of Adamant” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Richard Digby is a gloomy and intolerant man, with a pessimistic view of his fellows. He believes his personal philosophy is the true faith, so he decides to isolate himself. He sets out into the forest with some tools and his Bible. After walking three days, he comes upon a well-concealed cave. Digby is sure that he will be at peace here, away from the sins of others. (Summary)

Read “The Man of Adamant”

“The Streets of Ashkelon” by Harry Harrison

Trader Garth is on the Wesker’s World. The Weskers are amphibious beings, logical and without any religion. Garth is the only merchant who visits the planet, and he’s glad not to have any competition. He’s teaching them the scientific method. One day, the ship of a rival, Singh, lands on Wesker. He’s not staying though. He’s just dropping off a missionary.

This story can be read in the preview of 50 in 50: Fifty Stories for Fifty Years! (40% into preview)

“The Walls of Anagoor” by Dino Buzzati

A tourist in Tibet is offered a visit to the walls of Anagoor, a legendary city that doesn’t appear on the map or in the guidebooks. He’s skeptical, but the local guide convinces him and they set out early in the morning. (Summary)

“A Little Journey” by Ray Bradbury

Mrs. Bellowes is on Mars staying at Mr. Thirkell’s Restorium in preparation for a rocket trip to heaven which will bring her closer to God. She’s been there a week now, and it’s almost time for take off. (Summary)

Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition, Cont’d

“The Spinoza of Market Street” by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Dr. Fichelson, a philosopher, lives by the rationalist teachings of Spinoza. He lives on a small income after being fired from his post as librarian at a synagogue, due to his views, which contradict Jewish doctrine.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of The Spinoza of Market Street and Other Stories.

The Man to Send Rain Clouds | Leslie Marmon Silko

On an Indian reservation, an old man is found dead from natural causes. Two younger men prepare his body for burial according to their customs. One of their wives suggests that the local Catholic priest should be invited to take part in the ceremony.

This story can be read in the preview of The Man to Send Rain Clouds: Contemporary Stories by American Indians.

“And Miles To Go Before I Sleep” by Lawrence Block

After being shot on his front lawn, a man has disconnected memories of the event and aftermath. He can’t explain it, but while on the operating table he is aware of his surroundings and has an out-of-body experience. He comes into the presence of a Being of Light.

This story can be read in the preview of Enough Rope(31% in)

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

On a summer morning, citizens of a small village are anticipating the annual “lottery”, a local tradition that is believed to bring a good harvest. The children gather first, making their usual preparations. The women and men arrive and make sure their whole family is present. Mr. Summers arrives with the black wooden box.

This story can be read in the preview of Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories(10% in)

“Lamb of God” by Patricia Abbott

Kyle’s mother first tried to kill him when he was nine. He was afraid every day. She had a mental imbalance and was always trying to keep him close to God.

This story can be read in the preview of Kwik Krimes(30% in)

“Eric Hermannson’s Soul” by Willa Cather

Eric is the wildest young man in the Divide, and his mother has been praying for him since she felt the spirit. Asa Skinner preaches for the Free Gospellers, and Eric is finally at a revival meeting. He was keeping company with Lena, a woman with a bad reputation who has experience in Denver and Salt Lake. One day he saw a snake on her doorstep and its significance affected him. The only thing he still clings to is his violin, which is a vessel of evil to the Free Gospellers. Asa tries to reach him.

This story can be read in the preview of Cather Novels & Stories(15% in)

“Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe

The new headmaster of an African school wants to modernize it and rid the locals of their superstitious beliefs. He blocks off part of the school grounds, even though that means blocking a path with great religious significance for the locals. (Summary & Analysis)

Read here

Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition, Cont’d

“Hell is the Absence of God” by Ted Chiang

Neil Fisk grieves deeply after the death of his wife, Sarah, and it makes him reexamine his relationship with God. Sarah died as an unintended consequence of an angelic visitation that effected four miraculous cures while also causing eight casualties. Her soul was seen ascending to heaven. Neil copes with the aftermath by attending group meetings. His journey becomes intertwined with two others who’ve had visitations.

This story can be read in the preview of Starlight 3(14% in)

“The Outing” by James Baldwin

The church holds an annual community gathering, usually on the Fourth of July. This year it’s a boat trip up the Hudson and a stay at Bear Mountain. Johnnie and Roy, as well as their friend David, are going with their parents. The boys have saved money to get a present for another friend, Sylvia. There are also some church services on the boat.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of Going to Meet the Man: Stories(55% in)

“This Blessed House” by Jhumpa Lahiri

A newlywed Indian couple has just moved into a new house in America. As they prepare the house, the wife finds many Christian items left by the previous owners. She likes them and wants to keep them, but her husband disapproves. (Summary)

“Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor

Mrs. Turpin and her husband are in a doctor’s waiting room.  Mrs. Turpin is racist and judgmental, and she attracts the attention of a young woman, who looks at her intently. (Summary)

Our Lady’s Juggler | Anatole France

A poor but adept juggler travels and puts on performances. Eventually, he joins a monastery and sees the monks using their abilities to praise God, making him wonder what he has to offer. (Summary)

Read here

“Yoneko’s Earthquake” by Hisaye Yamamoto

Marpo, a twenty-seven year old Filipino man, works as a hired man for the Hosoumes. He’s an excellent worker and multi-talented besides. He tells the Hosoume girl, Yoneko, about Christianity, which she was already interested in, as her cousins from the city go to a Baptist church for Japanese people. One early spring evening while Mr. Hosoume is out on an errand, there’s a tremendous roar and the house starts shaking. The family and Marpo huddle together outside. Mr. Hosoume returns later in the evening, escorted by two strangers, as he was in a car accident.

The Three Hermits | Leo Tolstoy

A bishop hears about three hermits who live on an unnamed island and devote themselves to serving God. He arranges to visit them to teach them the right way to pray.

Read “The Three Hermits”

Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition, Cont’d

Sinners | Sean O’Faolain

A canon takes the confession of a young woman. She is reluctant to answer his questions, so he draws her out, trying to get her to reveal her sins.

The Christening | Guy De Maupassant

A doctor recounts the christening custom of his god-son’s people, where the baby is left exposed to the cold.

Read here

The Conversion of the Jews | Philip Roth

Ozzie, a teenage Jewish boy, argues with his Rabbi about God. One of their arguments escalates beyond words, leading to a standoff.

The Second Death | Graham Greene

A man is told that his friend is dying. He thinks his friend’s mother is exaggerating the seriousness of her son’s condition.

The Worker in Sandalwood | Marjorie Pickthall

An overworked boy, an expert woodcarver, has to make a cabinet from sandalwood on Christmas Eve. A stranger seeks refuge from the cold in his work shed.

“The Book of Martha” by Octavia E. Butler

Martha had just gone to her kitchen for some food after a night of writing. She suddenly finds herself with God, surrounded by grayness. God has selected her for a job—to help humankind through its tumultuous adolescence and enable it to live better. She can ask questions and think about her decisions as long as she wants. It’s an overwhelming job with many potential pitfalls.

Zlateh the Goat | Isaac Bashevis Singer

Hanukkah is approaching, and Reuven doesn’t have enough money for the necessary supplies. He sends his son, Aaron, to sell the family’s beloved goat, Zlateh, to the town butcher. On their way, the weather turns unexpectedly, and they get lost in the storm.

Read here

The Pagan Rabbi | Cynthia Ozick

The narrator hears that a renowned rabbi and childhood friend, Isaac, has committed suicide. He visits Isaac’s widow and learns that he had become fixated on nature before his death.

Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition, Cont’d

Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr | Miguel de Unamuno

Don Emmanuel is the priest of a small village. He is loved and respected by everyone, and does many things to help the community. A man who had left the village years ago for America returns, bringing atheistic ideas with him. This man has many talks with Don Emmanuel.

Read here

The Smoothest Way is Full of Stones | Julie Orringer

Rebecca is staying for the summer with her cousin’s family. They are Hasidic Jews while Rebecca’s background is secular. Rebecca and her cousin, Esty, are starting to notice boys. Rebecca is exposed to many Jewish traditions and rituals that she isn’t used to.

Parker’s Back | Flannery O’Connor

Parker is dissatisfied with his life. He’s not sure why he’s still with his wife—a deeply religious woman—and she’s pregnant. His main focus has been to get tattoos; there’s no room left on the front of his body. While driving a tractor, he has an experience that becomes a turning point for him.

Read “Parker’s Back”

A City of Churches | Donald Barthelme

Cecelia is moving into a city full of churches. Every building is a church, and many also double as something else. Cecelia says that she isn’t religious, but she is assured that she will be integrated into the city’s ways soon enough.

The Rain Came | Grace Ogot

Labong’o, a village chief, is speechless when he comes home from a council meeting. There’s a drought and Labong’o knows what must be done to end it.

Cloister | Ann Copeland

Sister Claire is going to the Reverend Mother’s office for her permissions – requests for material items, meetings with a priest, and leave from cloistered life for a trip. She wants to visit Father Purcell, and is wondering if her request to attend a linguistics conference has been approved.

The Procurator of Judea | Anatole France

Aelius Lamia has a chance encounter with his old friend Pontius Pilate. Pilate retired early from public service. They discuss the things that he had to deal with from the Roman authorities and the Jews.

Read here

On the Road | Langston Hughes

An African-American vagrant looking for some food and a place to sleep gets turned away from a parsonage and a shelter before trying to break down the door of a church.

Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition, Cont’d

The Madonna Round Evelina’s | Pierre J. Mejlak

After a man and woman meet at a bar, she moves into his old house in a small village. They are happy in their routine, but clash over religion.

Read “The Madonna Round Evelina’s”

The Star | Arthur C. Clarke

The narrator, a Jesuit astrophysicist, didn’t believe that anything in space could affect his faith. He is part of a crew returning to Earth after a mission that has yielded data—soon to be revealed to everyone—that caused his faith to be shaken.

Angel Levine | Bernard Malamud

Manischewitz is a fifty-one-year old tailor whose life suddenly goes bad. He loses his business, his children, his health, and his wife becomes ill as well. One day an unannounced visitor appears in his living room. The man makes a surprising claim about his origin.

Read “Angel Levine”

The Wheel | John Wyndham

An old man is outside sitting on a stool doing a little work and getting sleepy. He is roused by a sound. When he locates the source he is shocked and panicked. It’s a young boy pulling a wooden box on wheels.

The Fqih | Paul Bowles

A dog bites a young man in the street. People say he should go to the doctor, but he laughs it off. Concerned, his younger brother consults the fqih, who gives him drastic advice.

Read “The Fqih”

Salvage | Orson Scott Card

Deaver Teague drives a truck, collecting salvageable materials left over from the war. He’s heard rumors of gold hidden in a Mormon temple. He makes plans with two friends to go look for it.

A Flavour of Myrrh | Colleen Gantzer

The narrator is relaxing at the library when an acquaintance, Sharma, comes to see him. He is hesitant but asks about an incarnate lama. He tells Sharma what he knows about the subject. Sharma says he is in trouble.

The Strength of God | Sherwood Anderson

Reverend Curtis Hartman is the pastor of a Presbyterian Church. Not being a natural speaker, he puts much work into his two Sunday sermons which includes earnestly praying for God’s help. One Sunday morning while in the bell tower he looks out the window. He can see a woman in the upper room of the house next door.

Read “The Strength of God”

Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition, Cont’d

The Brinjal Cut-Out | Krishan Chander

The narrator and his wife are down to their last bit of money. While preparing lunch his wife cuts a brinjal in half. They are startled to find the seeds arranged to spell ‘Allah’ in Arabic. Their fortunes change.

Portrait of an Immortal Soul | H. L. Mencken

Mencken receives a request to critique a manuscript. The novel is far from a masterpiece but it does contain an excellent story. He returns the manuscript with his suggestions for a rewrite. Mencken is surprised by the quality of the rewritten story of a boy raised by a strictly Presbyterian father who lives deeply conflicted as a man.

Read “Portrait of an Immortal Soul” 

The River | Flannery O’Connor

Harry, a young boy, is picked up early in the morning by his babysitter, Mrs. Connin. His mother is sick. Mrs. Connin is going to take him to see the Reverend Bevel Summers, a traveling preacher who’s going to perform a healing at a local river.

Saints | Denise Chávez

Soveida recounts the many saints whom she identified with as a young Catholic girl, including many who endured mutilation rather than surrender to desire. Her grandmother, Mamá Lupita, wanted her to become a nun, and frequently railed against men.

The Saint | V. S. Pritchett

The narrator lives with his aunt and uncle, who are members of the Church of the Last Purification. They believe that evil is an illusion—disease and death included. This puts them at odds with other members of the community. He tells the story of how he lost his faith.

“Lou, the Prophet” by Willa Cather

Lou, an immigrant from Denmark, has been in the West for seven years. He’s thrifty and a hard worker. He was supposed to get married, but after losing his cattle during a bad winter, his intended married someone else. He faces further hardships—his mother dies and his corn crop is ruined. He has a bad dream that leads him to read the book of Revelation.

Madame Tellier’s Establishment (La Maison Tellier) | Guy de Maupassant

Madame Tellier runs a brothel in the town of Fecamp. It’s divided into two levels, the ground floor for sailors and rougher types, and the upper level for more refined customers. One evening in late May, some regulars arrive only to find it closed. Madame Tellier has been invited to the confirmation of her niece.

Read “Madame Tellier’s Establishment”

Short Stories About Faith, Religion or Tradition, Cont’d

Absolution | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Rudolph, an eleven-year-old boy, goes to see Father Schwartz. He wants to confess a sin. He relates the events of last Saturday, when his father ordered him to go to confession. He ended up lying. With this guilt on him mind, he concocted a plan to avoid going to communion the next day.

Read “Absolution”

. . . And the Earth Did Not Part | Tomás Rivera

The protagonist is an adolescent Chicano boy. He was angry when his aunt and uncle contracted tuberculosis and lost their kids. He’s angry again now as his father is down with sunstroke. His parents call on God for help, but he has no faith.

Read “…And the Earth Did Not Part” (PDF Pg 15)

The Story of St. Vespaluus | Saki

In a kingdom a long time ago, the people’s beliefs were divided among Pagan; Christian; and the religion of King Hkrikros, the worship of the sacred serpents. Hkirkros is without a male heir. He selects his favorite nephew, Vespaluus. Things get complicated when Vespaluus shows an interest in Christianity.

Read “The Story of St. Vespaluus”

The Student | Anton Chekhov

Ivan, a young clerical student, is returning home after shooting. Not wanting to go home, he stops at a camp fire where two widows warm themselves after supper. He tells them the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus.

Read “The Student”

“Bontsha the Silent” by I. L. Peretz

Bontsha’s death makes no impression on anyone. He was not cared for, suffered many injustices, and lived in loneliness. He never protested his lot in life. While his death goes unnoticed on earth, it has the opposite effect on heaven.

Read “Bontsha the Silent”

Grace | James Joyce

An alcoholic’s friends stage an intervention and encourage him to attend a Catholic retreat.

“Black Death” by Zora Neale Hurston

Old Man Morgan, a hoodoo practitioner, is well known by the black community in Eatonville. There are many stories of his curses and kills. He’s most renowned for what he did to Beau Diddely, who was stuck on Docia, a chamber-maid, for a while. When things got serious, Beau’s attitude changed.

Read “Black Death”

I’ll keep adding stories about religion and faith as I find them.