Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible by Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet


Free Press.

The cofounders-coeditors of the way-cool online magazine Killing the Buddha ( spent most of a year wandering around the United States mapping the far reaches of spiritual longing. "We had lost faith in the way faith gets talked about in America, the way it's seen as either innocuous spirituality or dangerous fanaticism, perfume or mustard gas," they write. And so the pair—who describe themselves as "a Jew raised by a Pentecostal Hindu Buddhist" (Jeff Sharlet) and "a son of a Catholic priest and a former nun" (Peter Manseau)—set out for parts unknown, turning up at the margins of contemporary worship: a Meher Baba center in South Carolina, a Tennessee strip joint in a converted Baptist church, a Buddhist temple in Maryland, a Colorado town so spiritually variegated that they describe it as "an interreligious petting zoo," and more. Manseau and Sharlet pair their 13 travelogues (or "psalms," as they call them) with essays by other writers, each one of which is based loosely on a book of the Old Testament. Audacious, flinty, yet somehow compassionate at heart, reporting (mostly) nonjudgmentally on beliefs that sometimes strain an observer's credulity, Killing the Buddha looks fearlessly into the American soul, a feat that likely will not be matched by many other pundits anytime soon.