New York Times Bestseller
The renowned and beloved New York Times bestselling author of An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark recounts her moving discoveries of finding the sacred in unexpected places while teaching the world’s religions to undergraduates in rural Georgia, revealing how God delights in confounding our expectations.
Barbara Brown Taylor continues her spiritual journey begun in Leaving Church of finding out what the world looks like after taking off her clergy collar. In Holy Envy, she contemplates the myriad ways other people and traditions encounter the Transcendent, both by digging deeper into those traditions herself and by seeing them through her students’ eyes as she sets off with them on field trips to monasteries, temples, and mosques.
Troubled and inspired by what she learns, Taylor returns to her own tradition for guidance, finding new meaning in old teachings that have too often been used to exclude religious strangers instead of embracing the divine challenges they present. Re-imagining some central stories from the religion she knows best, she takes heart in how often God chooses outsiders to teach insiders how out-of-bounds God really is.
Throughout Holy Envy, Taylor weaves together stories from the classroom with reflections on how her own spiritual journey has been complicated and renewed by connecting with people of other traditions—even those whose truths are quite different from hers. The one constant in her odyssey is the sense that God is the one calling her to disown her version of God—a change that ultimately enriches her faith in other human beings and in God.
In simple and sharp prose, Taylor (An Altar in the World), a former Episcopal priest who teaches religion at Piedmont College in Athens, Ga., explores how teaching an introductory religion course has influenced her own views on faith and Christianity. Told as a series of vignettes structured around her course tracing world religions primarily Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism through history, the book has an academic tone but also wonderfully imbues the mundane with meaning through descriptions of class field trips to mosques, temples, and shrines that incorporate student reports and anecdotes from class to illustrate the evolution of her students' thinking and the changes brought by physically visiting sacred and holy places. Taylor tells her class that her real subject is "divine diversity" the attempt to live peaceably and with convictions in a world where differing religions make wildly varying truth claims. Though the lessons and field trips touch on multiple faiths, Taylor's meditations frequently morph into biblical exegesis as she applies the lessons of other religions to her own understanding of Christianity. For example, the openness of Buddhist monks prompts her to consider the similarities they share with Christian ascetics. For Taylor, religious strangers can be the best teachers, as they provide a new perspective on the human relationship with the divine, and, she reasons, a sophisticated theology of comparative religions should always be informed by on-the-ground research. Taylor's fluid book, which includes a small, well-chosen bibliography, is a fine primer on interfaith studies.