Christine Toomey, a two-time winner of the Amnesty International U.K. Magazine Story of the Year Award and a foreign correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times, was all-too-familiar with the impact of violent conflict on women and girls, having covered such stories as the murders of Guatemalan women and the fates of the children of women raped in Bosnia. In 2011, while reporting in India on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s succession plans, she interviewed several young Tibetan nuns whose dedication to the Buddhist path led them to endure extreme hardship, including torture in a Chinese prison and a trek at age 11 across the Himalayas. Inspired by their courageous stories, Toomey began a two-year project to seek out ordained Buddhist women around the world. The result, In Search of Buddha’s Daughters: A Modern Journey Down Ancient Roads (The Experiment, March), takes a close look at those who dedicate their lives to the tradition.

“I had no idea when I started this journey that it was going to take me 60,000 miles,” Toomey told PW. Her research, which took her to Nepal, India, Burma, Japan, North America, Britain, and France, focused on the Tibetan and Himalayan, Theravada, and Zen traditions of Buddhism.

Some of the women Toomey met had decided to become nuns at a very young age, while those who had led more worldly lives before ordaining included a former airline pilot, erotic novelist, Nepali princess, Bollywood actress, concert violist, banker, and many others. One common thread, she discovered, was of devastating personal loss, reported by nuns in both Asia and the West, while “in the East, particularly with the younger women, some will feel a calling, that it’s their karma,” she said.

Despite the different paths these women took toward ordination, Toomey said, the Buddhist nuns were “all extremely feisty, very dedicated, very determined to live the life that they live.” Some had faced horrific suffering as a consequence of their decision: “Tibetan Buddhist nuns have been imprisoned and tortured in Chinese jails,” she said. “And when one of the Burmese nuns, who was fully ordained, went back to Burma, she was imprisoned—essentially accused of daring to impersonate a monk by becoming fully ordained.”

Many countries adhering to Tibetan and Theravada Buddhist traditions do not recognize the full ordination of nuns, Toomey explained. Obtaining full ordination (rather than remaining a novice, unlike monks) is important to nuns of these traditions “not for reasons of ego or status, the way it might appear to some on the outside,” said the veteran journalist. “It was very much a question of being able to access higher teachings that perhaps they couldn’t otherwise have done.” These nuns also want to take “their place of equal responsibility within Buddhist communities, what they see as [their] historical place in the sanghas,” Toomey added.

While these nuns lead lives most of her readers will find unusual, Toomey appreciated that they demonstrate a broader range of choices are possible for women. “In the West, we live in a very materialistic society,” she said. There’s an “obsession with the body image and material possessions.” She found it “very comforting and very inspiring to come across women who have a very different karma perspective on life, who are asking different questions about life, and coming up with different answers.”

Toomey said that while she hasn’t “formally taken refuge in the Buddhist tradition,” she attends Buddhist talks in London when possible, and meditates daily. Reflecting on the journey’s overall impact, she said, “After so long spent writing about conflict, I think I had a kind of sadness that settled into my bones as a result. This has been very uplifting and kind of restores my faith in the ability of the human spirit to transcend even the most difficult circumstances. I think it will always stay with me.”

In Search of Buddha’s Daughters, which was originally published in the U.K. as The Saffron Road: A Journey with Buddha’s Daughters in 2015 by Portobello Books, addresses what president and publisher at The Experiment Matthew Lore said is an underreported area of the “place and role of women in Buddhism.” Marketing efforts will include an advertising campaign in the New York Review of Books, Women’s Review of Books, Tricycle—who also picked up first serial rights—and other publications, as well as a national radio tour.