In And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy (Counterpoint, Aug.), Shirk profiles several American female spiritual figures, including Mary Baker Eddy and Sojourner Truth.
How did you choose your subjects?
The way that I chose a lot of the figures was haphazard and idiosyncratic because I did not know I was writing a book for quite a while. Every few months I would encounter a new figure by either reading, or talking to someone, or being in a class, and I would piece together an essay about the figure. After about a year, I looked at what I had and thought, oh, I have a collection of all these pieces, and what would happen if I tried to put them together? What resonances would I find?
What made you want to write about this topic?
The people I write about in the book are all radically different. There was this hope that pluralism and diving into the diversity of traditions can give—not a sense of “all of these religions are the same”—but rather that they try to identify common concerns, goals, and interests.
Did you have a favorite?
When I went to New Orleans to do research on Marie Laveau, something happened. Her life, her religious practice, the degree to which she was steeped in and defined by legend—she was basically ungraspable. I didn’t realize it until I was there that Marie Laveau the person was this graphical pastiche of stories and legends and religious practices. There was something about that trip that embodied this thing that I had been interested in within this project and that defined all of these different characters I had written about.
Do you think women have more influence over religious practice today than in the past??
Women have not had the opportunity to shape religious practice or discourse in the public sphere, which is to say the actual church-official work of debating, ecumenical council, preaching, and becoming ministers. This has changed profoundly since the ’70s.
Is there someone doing this work that you admire?
Nadia Bolz-Weber [founder of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colo.]. She leads this huge congregation. She’s theologically orthodox. Here’s a woman who defies and breaks the barriers of all the types of people who have been left out of religious leadership, and yet she’s positioned as a religious leader.