RBL:Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly will celebrate its 10th anniversary this fall. Bob, as the show’s founder, did you ever expect it would last this long, or that it would result in a book of interviews?

Abernethy: Neither. I just didn’t think about it. We were so busy trying to do it each week, and to increase the number of PBS stations that would carry us. We’ve been fronted each year amazingly generously by the Lilly endowment. Who knew back then that they would fund us for ten years? The book really wasn’t a gleam in our eyes until a couple years ago. We’ve talked to a lot of wonderful people, and we would use little bits and fragments of them on the air, and a little bit also on the Web site, but most of the interviews just sat in the videotape library.

RBL: Bill, as co-editor for this project, what was involved in editing these interviews for publication?

Bole: It was an improbable idea of how to put a book together, based on field transcripts from TV interviews. They were not intended as sustained conversations originally, but sound bites. In a TV interview, you have only a few minutes. But these field transcripts could run a hundred pages; they sometimes talked for hours. So we would go into the archives and go through these transcripts, trying to see which would translate best to be styled as a spoken essay.

RBL: Choosing only about 60 of these interviews must have been hard. What were the ones that got away?

Bole: Over time, I’ve thought of a few more that I wish we could have included, like Annie Dillard and Kathleen Norris. Then there were a few people I thought would be good speaking from an explicitly agnostic perspective, like Robert Solomon, if we had more time and didn’t think of it so late.

RBL: Is there an overarching theme to the collection?

Abernethy: What so many of these people say, without any preaching, reveals the strength of their beliefs. It’s not all people who would call themselves religious—some say they’re spiritual but not necessarily religious. The cumulative effect is that these practical people, who are not hermits or saints but are very active and engaged in the world, disclose in the course of these conversations a sense of God and another dimension. They’re not super-pious, most of them. They’re very down to earth, and yet they have this extraordinary depth because they have thought a lot and put into practice their fundamental belief that the physical world is not all there is.

This article originally appeared in the February 6, 2007 issue of PW Daily. For more information about PW Daily, including a sample and subscription information,click here»