I was slightly surprised (my memory of this book having been contaminated by the third volume) that there is not much about religion here - a fair bit about the evil ecclesiastical bureaucracy, but that is not quite the same. Also, because I was looking for them, I spotted more resonances with C.S. Lewis this time. There's the Oxford setting to begin with; Mrs Coulter clearly draws from the White Witch; note also that Lyra thinks she is a magician's niece. Pullman is, however, much the better writer: none of his non-human characters are talking cuddly toys, and his world is one where horrible things routinely happen but are none the less horrible for that.
Looking forward now to rereading the other two in a couple of months.