Narratives of Leaving Fundamentalism: A Reading List
Posted on March 19, 2014
In April, I’ll be facilitating a festival circle at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. We’ll be talking about narratives of leaving fundamentalist faith communities, which are quite popular right now. I’m really excited to lead this discussion! If you’re attending the Fest and would like to join us, you need to sign up by March 31. Details are on the Festival Circles page.
As I prepare, I’ve been looking through books that I own (or want to own) to figure out just how popular this kind of narrative is. Here is a list of the books that I think fit into this genre, although there is always room for debate, and I haven’t read all of these books in their entirety (just most of them). It’s worth noting that for the benefit of our conversation, we’ll be defining fundamentalist in the broadest and most generous terms possible.
Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong
Religions scholar Armstrong tells of her six years in a pre-Vatican II convent, including the ways that her undiagnosed epilepsy led her to being labeled as rebellious and sinful.
An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson
Another memoir by a former nun, this book tells of Johnson’s twenty-some years in Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity order.
So Late, So Soon by D’Arcy Fallon
I loved this short little book about how a young woman found her salvation in a small Christian cult in coastal California, and then years later, had to figure out how to leave.
In the Wilderness by Kim Barnes
This is one of my favorite books. In it, poet Barnes recounts her childhood as part of a fundamentalist Pentecostal family in rural Idaho.
Churched by Matthew Paul Turner
Churched is in my Kindle, and I’ve read Turner’s blog for a couple of years now, but I haven’t actually read the book yet. From Amazon: Churched is a collection of stories that detail an American boy’s experiences growing up in a culture where men weren’t allowed let their hair grow to touch their ears (“an abomination!”), women wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of pants (unless swimming), and the pastor couldn’t preach a sermon without a healthy dose of hellfire and brimstone. Matthew grapples with the absurdity of a Sunday School Barbie burning, the passionate annual boxing match between the pastor and Satan, and the holiness of being baptized a fifth time–while growing into a young man who, amidst the chaotic mess of religion, falls in love with Jesus.
Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans
From RHE’s website: Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial made a spectacle of Christian fundamentalism and brought national attention to her hometown, Rachel Held Evans faced a trial of her own when she began to have doubts about her faith. Growing up in a culture obsessed with apologetics, Evans asks questions she never thought she would ask. She learns that in order for her faith to survive in a postmodern context, it must adapt to change and evolve. Using as an illustration her own spiritual journey from certainty, through doubt, to faith, Evans adds a unique perspective to the ongoing dialogue about postmodernism and the church that has so captivated the Christian community in recent years. In a changing cultural environment where new ideas threaten the safety and security of the faith, Evolving in Monkey Town is a fearlessly honest story of survival.
Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther
This is a brand new release. From Amazon: Elizabeth Esther grew up in love with Jesus but in fear of daily spankings (to “break her will”). Trained in her family-run church to confess sins real and imagined, she knew her parents loved her and God probably hated her. Not until she was grown and married did she find the courage to attempt the unthinkable. To leave.
Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall
Wall’s courtroom testimony of being part of polygamist cultist Warren Jeffs’s community helped put him in prison. I have not read her memoir, but just bought it on an Amazon sale.
Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres
Scheeres’s parents were two things: fundamentalist Christians and abusers. Jesus Land tells of how she survived her upbringing, as well as how she survived an abusive Christian “reform school” in the Dominican Republic that she and her brother were sent to for what was deemed to be rebellion.
Orange Is Not the Only Fruit/Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson
Oranges was Winterson’s first book, a novel published in the early 80s about a girl named Jeanette who grew up with an abusive, fundamentalist adoptive mother. Her memoir, Why Be Happy… was published in 2012 and explores the “true story” behind Oranges. If we define “fundamentalist faith community” as an individual family, then this definitely fits the bill.
When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman
I’m excited about this book because it includes stories about Teen Mania, the most influential fundamentalist group of my own adolescence.
Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Only the very beginning of Pastrix tells of Bolz-Weber’s decision to leave the fundamentalism of her childhood, while the rest focuses on the church community she has led since then.
Crazy for God by Frank Schaeffer
This book was sorely in need of an editor who could cut down on some of the unnecessary storytelling, but it’s fascinating to get an inside view into the workings of Francis and Edith Schaeffer and their L’Abri community, as well as the founding of the religious right.
My Isl@m by Amir Ahmad Nasr
I just discovered My Isl@am, which breaks the mold in the sense that it is about leaving fundamentalist Islam instead of fundamentalist Christianity. Looks like a strong read that is getting a lot of praise.
So, tell me readers, what have I left off my list?