Bellingham women compile anthology about women in 'extreme religions'

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 25, 2013 

Bellingham resident Susan Tive, along with Cami Ostman, Elise Brianne Curtin, Colleen Haggerty and Pam Helberg, talk about the book "Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions," at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 28, 2013, at Village Books.

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Bellingham resident Susan Tive, along with Cami Ostman, Elise Brianne Curtin, Colleen Haggerty and Pam Helberg, talk about the book "Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions," at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at Village Books.

Tive and Ostman co-edited the anthology, which shares the stories (including those of Curtin, Haggerty and Helberg) of women from around the country who sought to address their personal questions of faith by becoming involved in a variety of religious communities.

Here are some of Tive's thoughts on the book.

Question: What's your personal and professional background?

Answer: I was born in Pittsburgh, Penn. I later moved to New Mexico, where I went to St. John's College to study classical Greek and philosophy. After college I stayed in Santa Fe, raised my three now-grown children, became an Orthodox Jew for 10 years, and earned my masters' degree. I moved to Bellingham in 2003.

Q: What's your career history?

A: I've been writing all of my life. As a child, I wouldn't go to sleep until I finished at least a full page in my diary each night. After working in market research, ceramics and mediation, I scratched my writing bug and started writing grants and corporate reports. Academic writing, book editing, and ghostwriting soon followed.

Q: What was the seed for "Beyond Belief?"

A: The idea for "Beyond Belief" grew out of my experience in a memoir class I took with author Laura Kalpakian. In the class I met my co-editor, Cami Ostman, who had been an evangelical Christian for 20 years. As we shared our stories, we realized how much we had in common despite the differences in our religious practices.

Sharing stories became powerful and ultimately healing. It offered me courage to ask the hard questions about my life and faith. We wanted to edit a book that would bring many women's voices and experiences together to expand the conversation.

People are responsive to the fact that "Beyond Belief" is not for or against religion - these 26 fascinating stories from over a dozen religions shed light on what the lives of women in restrictive religions is really like, and explores why women join, stay and leave extreme religions.

Q: Why do you think modern-day women are attracted to extreme religions?

A: Clearly, many "modern" women are seeking a way of life that provides them meaning and structure as women that they are not finding in secular culture. Like Cami and I, many of our writers were overwhelmed by the number of choices available to them and found extreme religious structure attractive and helpful.

Religious practice solves some problems but comes with its own set of restrictions, especially for women. Eventually, the trade-off for many women is impossible to maintain; they love their community, and the support and meaning of their religious lives, but cannot succumb to rules that deny them opportunities to develop as full human beings.

Q: What was your personal journey?

A: I lived as an Orthodox Jew for over 10 years. As a young mother in a difficult marriage, I was looking for structure and a way of life that valued my role as a full-time wife and mother.

My ex-husband decided to convert to orthodoxy - it wasn't a discussion. I decided to embrace it and ultimately benefited from the tightknit community, the support of other women, and the value that the community placed on families and children. Increasingly, the numerous rules and the restrictions on me as a woman within Orthodoxy, a crumbling sense of community, and a failing marriage, all made my participation impossible to sustain.

Q: Where else will you be talking about your book?

A: Aside from our Village Books group reading, we will be at Powell's in Portland on April 30 and the University Bookstore in Seattle on May 1. We're planning to go farther afield with the book this summer, reading with some of our writers from all around the country.

Q: What's next for you?

A: Now that the anthology is finding its way in the world, I'm turning my attention to my memoir, from which my story "Tilapia Mikveh," in "Beyond Belief" comes.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com. Follow Bellingham Entertainment on Facebook or @bhamentertainme on Twitter.

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