The Saint of Kathmandu: and Other Tales of the Sacred in Distant Lands (Hardcover)

and Other Tales of the Sacred in Distant Lands

By Sarah Levine

Beacon Press, 9780807013120, 256pp.

Publication Date: June 1, 2008



"You should come with us to Lumbini, Lord Buddha's birthplace," said the Saint of
Kathmandu as she swept by me after evening devotions in the nunnery. Pausing at the bottom of the stairway to her quarters, she turned and, bright black eyes locking with mine, added, "Will we meet tomorrow? The buses leave at six"-an order, not an invitation, I realized, and so, putting my life on hold, the next morning [I joined the pilgrimage].

Sarah LeVine began doing research in Africa in 1969 as a young woman and sometime Anglican newly married to an anthropologist and provisionally, at least, to a rationalist view of religion. Over the next several decades, as she continued her research in cultures as various as Muslim Nigeria, Catholic Mexico, Buddhist Nepal, Hindu India, and New Age America, she honed a keenly observant eye. During this time she also raised two children, learned and forgot many languages, wrote highly praised novels (under the pen name Louisa Dawkins), and began to understand that religious faith has little to do with doctrine or philosophical abstractions.

These deftly crafted accounts plunge us into the lives of some of the people LeVine became close to on four continents. In a northern Nigerian town we find orthodox Muslims trying- and failing- to ignore the thriving spirit possession cult in their midst. In a Mexican city women struggling with their husbands' infidelity and the loss of children and take the Virgin Mary as their role model. In the face of tragedy in a Kenyan village, tensions flare between traditionalists who live in dread of ancestral wrath and witchcraft and Christians who reject such beliefs. In affluent Hong Kong a Filipina maid, enduring a long separation from her son, turns for support to a charismatic Catholic church; and in Nepal, LeVine accompanies the remarkable Saint of Kathmandu, who fled an arranged marriage and earned renown as a Buddhist nun and feminist leader, on a pilgrimage to holy places all across north India.

These lives led LeVine to think of religion as inseparable from cultural complexity and constraints, and to view less critically her own lingering attachment to what she calls The Life of Christ (The Movie). As engrossing and surprising as any novel, The Saint of Kathmandu is a richly textured and unsentimental depiction of the role of religion in lives all over the world.

Praise For The Saint of Kathmandu: and Other Tales of the Sacred in Distant Lands

In this remarkable book Sarah LeVine brings us into religious lives and cultural worlds portrayed with an immediacy, complexity, and intimacy so very different from 'textbook religion.' With her we enter into those borderlands of real encounter where we meet people who do not share our lived world and who ask us questions as penetrating and illumining as any we might ask of them.—Diana Eck, author of A New Religious America and Encountering God

"Sarah LeVine's The Saint of Kathmandu is a reader's delight. The author's fine gifts as a novelist combine here with her long experience as an ethnographer. The result is a lovely confluence of stories—each one vivid in detail, elegant in structure, beautiful in prose expression, and brimful of human understanding."—John Demos, author of The Enemy Within: Two Thousand Years of Witch-Hunting in the Western World and The Unredeemed Captive

"This is a major work, the beginning of ongoing discussions about the role and impact of religion in multiple societies around the world. It fascinates and prods and disturbs and enlightens. Best of all, the book reads like a novel without losing a scintilla of academic credibility. My best advice: whatever you were going to read next, forget it. Read this book instead."—Joan Chittister, author of Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir

"The Saint of Kathmandu is rich, intense, utterly credible. The tales are deeply engaging, and reveal more about workaday religion that any standard approaches—perhaps because the author takes on individual dramas of suffering, enduring, growing. This is also the most global small book I can think of. Save for Nepal, I have traveled in or looked into religion in all six country-contexts which Sarah LeVine treats, American Zen not least. She is compellingly concrete; she evokes humility without rue; she emits wisdom without pride. An extraordinary feat of religious story telling."—Theodore Friend, author of Indonesian Destinies