Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Andrew Bowen Talks Project Conversion

I had the opportunity to ask Andrew Bowen, the originator of Project Conversion, some questions about his experience. Here are the answers as he sent them to me (with minor editing for continuity).  If you'd like to read a little background before jumping in to this interview, check out the website here, and my earlier blog posts here and here.  And don't forgot to sign up for my giveaway of a copy of Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year. (Rules for the giveaway are here.)

Build Enough Bookshelves: What tools and techniques were the most effective for you as you immersed yourself in each faith?
Andrew Bowen: My first and greatest asset was a mentor for each month. These individuals, who were practicing members of their faith, guided me through the dizzying array of information, customs, and beliefs native to each religion. Without their guiding hands, I would have never found my way. Other important tools included holy books, informative texts, visiting places of worship, and of course engaging other believers in various communities. For my purposes, although difficult and often disorienting, it helped to approach each religion with little or no preparation from the last. This dive produces maximum effect in removing my own bias and context, helping me take in a fresh view.

BEB: What did others do in the faiths you studied during your Project Conversion year that was most helpful for you in understanding their religion?
AB: Patience and encouragement. Project Conversion was an arduous path. Without the patience and grace of my adopted faith communities, I might not have come half as far.

BEB: What advice would you have for those on, say, an interfaith council who want to better understand other faiths without leaving their own behind?
AB: This process is not complicated. It's as simple as getting to know the person behind the faith without any ulterior motives. Spend some time among various groups of believers. My wife insists that she became a stronger Christian via lessons she gleaned from other faiths. Interfaith workers/leaders would be wise to seek out the perspectives of others.

BEB: What practices or beliefs did you find most universal across different faiths?
AB: It seems that all faith paths sought a form of connection with something or someone larger than themselves, an all-encompassing presence. Religions seem to have a passion for adding details to the mysteries of our lives, which at least make compelling stories. Morally speaking, I believe every faith tries (or attempted) to assuage the social struggles of their times. In this way, each was a reaction or even revolution against the status quo.

BEB: What would you do differently if you were to do this again? After that year, what others faiths would you include? Are there any months you'd like to do again?
AB: I'm not sure I would do anything differently, only because I spent much of the year fumbling along. I made many mistakes, most of which resulted in beautiful moments. I learned the art of letting go, of relinquishing all control, and allowing the experience free range in my life. To say I would do something differently would mean I would lose all those things. That said, I would have liked to spend time with some Native American traditions and lesser-known faiths.

BEB: Are there a few specific faiths that you would recommend to someone as an introduction to immersion or inter-faith understanding?
AB: I selected faiths that I either had little to no experience with or knowledge of, or faiths with which I harbored a negative past. Trials and challenges make us grow. I would recommend selecting a faith or tradition which challenges one personally, one that forces them into another point of view.

BEB: What were the most formidable barriers you ran into, both in general and in specific faiths?
AB: I often encountered episodes of exhaustion and doubt. The journey was long and intense, so each day was quite taxing, but I knew what was at stake. There were also the occasional objection from readers about a specific way I experience their faith or that I was conducting such a journey at all. Had Project Conversion been anything other than a personal intervention to cure my hatred of religion, then it would have buckled beneath that pressure.

BEB: What did you find most surprising over the course of your year?
AB: In no way did I expect to connect with so many different people on various levels. These were people I once hated, and now they are helping me? The community Project Conversion created and the common humanity we discovered between us is an enduring miracle. And of course, I never dreamed that I would actually succeed, yet here I am.

BEB: What practices and beliefs from your year of spiritual promiscuity have you continued in some variation?
AB: I've taken to meditation, usually by the local river or early in the morning. Scripture study is important as well as helping my family with their spiritual needs. Now I am looking back at the experience and developing a philosophy based on the year which I hope will help others.

BEB: Can you tell me more about your upcoming project, Life, Depth and the Art of Immersion?
AB: Life, Depth, and the Art of Immersion is about the techniques and philosophy which facilitated my year of immersion. I've broadened the scope and application of immersion to include any sort of intense dive into life, from serving one's community, facing long held bias or hatred, reconnecting with the divine, or healing rifts in one's family/relationship. The book is about finding pieces of ourselves in others and in experiences, and thus making a greater connection with all.


Many thanks to Andrew Bowen for taking the time to answer some questions, and for his dedication to increasing interfaith understanding and respect.  If you haven't gotten a copy of his book yet, go sign up for my giveaway here, and even if you aren't the lucky winner, go get yourself a copy!

Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year
by Andrew Bowen
ISBN: 9780615741598
Buy the paperback from Amazon here or the ebook for Kindle here.
Check it out on goodreads here.

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