Spiritual memoirs are best sellers

Among American readers religion is a best seller. There’s the flurry of books by committed atheists. But did you also know that three of the books on the lastest New York Times list of best-selling nonfiction are spiritual memoirs?

Lisa Miller makes the observation in the September 10 issue of Newsweek

One is by the wife of country preacher [#4 – It’s All About Him, by Denise Jackson with Ellen Vaughn]. One is by a divorcée who traveled the world in search of transcendence [#1 (paperback) – Eat, Love Pray, by Elizabeth Gilbert]. One is by a preacher who says he was hit by a truck, saw heaven and came back to life [#2 (paper) 90 Minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper].

(There’s a fourth one one ranked #21 on the hardback list.)

Is there anything different about these spiritual memoirs and the spiritual memoirs of earlier times?

As a genre, the spiritual memoir has been around since at least 397, when St. Augustine wrote his “Confessions,” the first real autobiography in Western history. In an astonishingly modern way, Augustine describes his early life and his conversion in terms that are as passionate and self-aware as anything you would read today. What is new, suggests Donna Freitas, who teaches a class in spiritual memoir at Boston University, is that the memoirists are no longer using writing as a way to reach out to God. The new breed are using their belief in God (or lack thereof) to reach out to everyone else.

Professor Freitas is author of Sex and the Soul: The Sexual and Spiritual Lives of America’s College Students (Oxford, 2008).

Some questions.

1. What is your favorite spiritual memoir?

2. Do you agree there has been a shift from “reaching out to God” to “reach out to everyone else” and, if so, is it for the better? Is there a paradox? Which is more effective in reaching out to others?

3. What spiritual memoir would you recommend to the young adult alienated from the church?

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