Religion’s role: Author explores women’s history

September 2018 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community
Author, Karen Garst, reading from one of her books. (3)

Silverton-based author Karen Garst. Melissa Wagoner

By Melissa Wagoner

Karen Garst didn’t intend to become a writer. A woman with a diverse academic background – including a Doctorate in Philosophy, a Master’s Degree in French Literature and time spent as a Fulbright Scholar – Garst’s writing career didn’t begin until her retirement.

“I was having lunch with my friend Kate, who is an author, and she was encouraging me to write a book,” Garst remembered. “I told her the only thing I could get passionate about was atheism. And thus my new career began.”

Garst – who moved to Silverton, her “forever home,” in 2016 – hasn’t always considered herself an atheist. Born in Bismarck, North Dakota, Garst grew up in a religious family, was married in the church, baptized her son and attended Concordia College.

“It was a Lutheran college but it was liberal,” she described. “To me religion was always about community.”

Garst’s separation from these deep religious roots came about in the 1990s when she began studying the Bible along with over 150 other texts about religion.

“For me, the Bible became a book written by men that reinforced a patriarchal view of society,” she said. “I began to identify as an atheist.”

Garst’s first book, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering a Life Without Religion, was an exploration of the lives of 22 women who have chosen a life without organized religion. She wrote it in response to her growing unease with the role religion plays in society – especially government – and also the part it has played in the lives of women both past and present. In her studies she found very little written on the subject and most of what she did find was – to her dismay – written from the
male perspective.

“How do you study the history of women and not study religion?” she asked. “To me, religion is still playing a role in women’s lives today. What bothers me is the interference in politics – that intersection bothers me. I’ve lived in Europe – it’s really different.”

Women Beyond Belief landed Garst interviews on 50 podcasts and at several national conventions.

“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” she said. “I felt pretty good about that.”

Garst’s second – and final – book, Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and For Freedom,” which was released in 2018, is a less personal and more historical look at the role of religion in the lives of women from different backgrounds.

“All cultures are influenced by other cultures – all religions are influenced by other religions,” Garst described. “I met with a lot of women and decided I had to write a second book. This is more designed around issues.”

Both books were written not to persuade women to leave religion, but rather to provide support and historical perspective for women who are interested in enacting change, both in their own lives and in the community around them.

“I don’t care what anybody thinks personally,” she clarified. “Where I care about it is where it enters the public sphere. I wanted a book that women who were on the fence could say, ‘She did it. I could do it.’ Models are really important.”

Karen Garst Book Signing Tuesday, Sept. 11, 7 – 9 p.m. Creekside Grill, 242 S. Water St., Silverton
Karen Garst’s books can be found at Books-N-Time, 210 N. Water St., Silverton and her blog is at faithlessfeminist.com 

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