When Cami Ostman and Susan Tive met in a Seattle memoir-writing class, the two women found themselves bonding over their experiences in fundamentalist religious groups. Ostman had spent over 20 years in charismatic Christian organizations, while Tive had converted to Orthodox Judaism in order to salvage a sinking marriage. Both had already left their faith communities and moved on with their lives by the time they enrolled in the class. "How to live in the secular world, with all of its paradoxes drew us together," says Ostman. "For both of us it wasn't just one moment in which we decided to leave, but lots of moments along the way."
Tive says, "It was fascinating when Cami told me about things in her own religion that were so different from my own—yet her feelings about them rang true for me." As the women talked, they realized they wanted to hear from others like them, other women who had lived through these kinds of experiences. The result is the recently published Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Woman in Extreme Religions, an anthology collecting essays by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu women. "It's true that there were a few sects and cultures we missed," says Ostman. "We had really hoped to hear from an Amish woman, but it didn't happen." Fortunately, they did hear from many others, including a former Roman Catholic nun, a woman who lost her Jehovah's Witness faith and her virginity in the same week, and a lapsed Pakistani Muslim trying to reconcile her mother's devotion with her own post-partum stress.