Nonfiction November Week 3: Be the Expert

This week’s edition of Nonfiction November is Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert. Our host is Julie at JulzReads who happens to be one of my favorite bloggers in no small part thanks to her love of historical nonfiction. Here’s how it works:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Last year when I did this, I assumed the mantle of expert and recommended six books about Iran by Iranian authors. This time around, I’m going to recommend books by women who’ve left their respective religions. I’ve always had a soft spot for these kind of books and over the years a number of them have been featured on my blog.

There seems to be no shortage of these books, (especially memoirs) by women who’ve walked away from churches, synagogues or mosques. While there’s similar stuff by men it feels like female authors dominate this genre. Not long ago a good friend and I chatted about this on a Facebook thread and wondered why. Perhaps women leave religions because they’re oppressed or lack adequate opportunities. Maybe women feel more comfortable as opposed to men when it comes to writing about these experiences. Honestly, I have no idea why so many of these dissenting voices are female.

Below you’ll find an array of books by women who walked away from their respective faiths.

  • Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer – Drain spent her young adulthood protesting at funerals and engaging in hate speech before being tossed out of the wackadoodle WBC. Once out she never went back.
  • Waiting for the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Faith and Family by Veronica Chater –  Chater grew up with eight brothers and sisters in a Catholic fundamentalist (or “Trad” for traditionalist) household that rejected the Second Vatican Council and its spirit of inclusion and modernism.
  • Fleeing Fundamentalism: A Minister’s Wife Examines Faith by Carlene’s Cross – After her marriage to an evangelical minister fell apart Cross was forced to strike out on her own. Once she did, she left her old religion behind her.
  • I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing by Kyria Abrahams – Raised in the Jehovah’s Witness faith and married off at 17, after she’d had enough Abrahams left both her husband and religion and became a successful slam poet.
  • My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood by Christine Rosen – I have a soft spot for Rosen’s memoir because both her and are former fundamentalists who came of age in the late 70s and 80s.
  • The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion—and Others Should Too by Candace R. M. Gorham – Part memoir, analysis and oral history, Gorham looks at why she left her post as a minister within the black church to pursue a career in counseling. Her books contain a number of interesting oral histories of African-American women who left Christianity and are now atheists.
  • Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life Without Religion edited by Karen Garst – Speaking of oral histories, Garst’s book is another great collection of them. The cool thing is I personally know one of the contributors!
  • Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman – Feldman grew up in strict Satmar Orthodox Jewish community in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood. At 17 she was married off in an arranged marriage and gave birth to a son a two years later. Later, she became disillusioned with it all, got divorced enrolled in college and left the faith.
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Hirsi Ali is a controversial figure, generating strong opinions about her both pro and con. In Infidel, she recalls her life growing up in Somalia, as well the time she spent living in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Germany, Holland and now the United States. She also discusses what made her start questioning Islamic culture, Islam and then later, religion in general.


27 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 3: Be the Expert

  1. Fascinating topic.
    Given that so many religions are patriarchal in nature, I’m not surprised that more women than men have left/fled that environment then written about their experiences.


  2. What a great collection of non-fiction and it is so interesting that it’s mostly women who write about this topic. Many of them sound interesting, but I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed particularly appeals to me. I think it’s the slam poetry angle.


  3. I LOVE this list!! I’m so fascinated by the topic as well, and even though I’ve read a few books by women writing about leaving religion (I’ve especially loved Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s books) I hadn’t really considered that it’s more women speaking out about it, even regardless of the religion. Interesting! Adding a bunch of these to my list, and I’ve had a copy of Unorthodox I’m meaning to get to so glad to hear you liked that one. I recently read the essay collection Interior States by Meghan O’Gieblyn, many of which also deal with the faith she was raised in and leaving it and how it feels.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful, unique take on this one!


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