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, or where a character’s actions are strongly motivated by faith.
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!.
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.
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.
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.
Grace | James Joyce
An alcoholic’s friends stage an intervention and encourage him to attend a Catholic retreat.
This story can be read in the preview of Dubliners. (select in table of contents)
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dead Men’s Path | 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.
Revelation | 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.
The Lottery | Shirley Jackson
Citizens of a small town are anticipating the annual “lottery”, a local tradition that is believed to bring a good harvest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Blessed House | 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.
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.
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.
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.
Read “A Flavour of Myrrh” (Pg 170)
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.
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.
Read “The Brinjal Cut-Out” (Pg 88)
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.
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.
Read “The River” (Pg. 33)
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.
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.
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.
…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.
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”
See also: A Simple Heart (Life), The Nine Billion Names of God (Sci-Fi)