Susan and I just finished up a three bookstore tour with some of Beyond Belief’s local authors (a big thanks to Elise Glassman, Pam Helberg, Elise Curtin, Colleen Haggerty, and Grace Peterson for joining us!), and we’ve been blown away by the interest in the book and the turnout of readers up and down our I-5 corridor. At Village Books in Bellingham, we enjoyed our hometown crowd and the support of friends, family, and other community members, while at Powell’s in Portland and at the University of Washington Bookstore in Seattle, we appreciated seeing new faces and making new acquaintances. (In Portland we had a group of people who had all left a particular faith and who came to our event together. A special thanks to you—you know who you are. We welcome your comments and invite you to let others know about your websites here.) We’re very grateful to have had the chance to be in conversation with everyone who joined us in person at our live events.
After each of the readings, we opened up the floor for questions and discussion. Some of the same questions emerged repeatedly, and I thought it might be helpful to share our answers to them right here for others who are curious about these FAQs.
FAQ #1: How did you find your contributors?
Susan and I started our search for authors by looking online and in bookstores for books by women authors who were already writing about the topic of religion. We contacted these writers and invited them to submit something. Then, we also sent out a general call for submissions to Yahoo! groups, university religion departments, and other writers’ groups. Every story we received we read with an eye for whether or not the author was touching on our primary questions about why and how women join, stay in, or leave a restrictive faith community.
FAQ #2: Did all of the contributors to Beyond Belief leave their religions or have some of them remained?
Most of the women whose stories are included in Beyond Belief have left their faith communities, but a handful have stayed or joined more liberal branches of their religions.
We were looking, in particular, for authors who had experienced the full trajectory of finding, staying in, and eventually leaving their religions.
FAQ #3: What patterns or similarities in themes did you notice in the stories of women who came from all of the different faiths?
We noticed a number of themes repeating themselves regardless of which religion a woman was writing about. For one thing, we observed that when first joining a church or adopting a faith, several of our authors were looking for connection, structure, support, community, healing, and meaning. Religion offers these things, but sometimes also offers restrictions or untenable dogma. The same needs that influenced the adoption of a particular faith impacted a woman’s decision to stay, even once it became clear that something wasn’t working. While some of our authors left their faith without a glance back, many faced significant losses of relationship and identity when/if they left.
Another theme that many women addressed was sex. Many religions have extensive rules about what kind of sexual expression is legitimate. Authors repeatedly mentioned the way these rules impacted their self images or sense of personal power.
FAQ #4: Why did you include only women’s stories?
We recognize that men’s voices need to be heard on this topic and that men need to tell their stories just as women do. Susan and I wanted to focus on women’s stories in this volume because we wanted to explore the particular way that women experience restrictive religion. That said, we often bat around the idea of doing a second volume. We’ll see.
Again, we want to communicate our appreciation to everyone who has joined us live or online in these past few weeks as we’ve launched Beyond Belief. We look forward to being in continued conversation.