PERSONAL: Born in Washington, DC; son of a Catholic priest and a nun. Education: Studied religion and literature at University of Massachusetts and Boston University.
CAREER: Co-editor, Killing the Buddha (online magazine); writer. Former typesetter and designer of exhibits of Yiddish manuscripts at National Yiddish Book Center.
AWARDS, HONORS: Utne Independent Press Award, for work on magazine Killing the Buddha.
(With Jeff Sharlet) Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible, Free Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son, Free Press (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet have collaborated on the award-winning Web site Killing the Buddha, an online magazine that offers independent and controversial views on religion, atheism, and spiritual searching. Manseau is the son of a Catholic priest—who refuses to renounce his calling even though he has been excommunicated—and a former teaching nun. Driven by his unique circumstances to consider religion deeply, Manseau has also studied Yiddish and has examined world faith systems, both large and small.
In their book version of their work, Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible, Manseau and Sharlet offer their own experiences traveling around America in search of individuals and groups with unusual faith practices. The book also contains thirteen original pieces by well-known writers, each based on a book in the Bible. Among these are nonfiction pieces, short stories, and memoir-like meditations. To quote a contributor to the online site Book Slut, Manseau and Sharlet "do not bow down, rejoicing in God's name. They call him out, they challenge him, dismantle him." In an interview on the same site, Manseau said that as he and Sharlet traveled, "most of the stories that we found were people actively engaged with their traditions…. Our contributors are actively engaging with tradition and taking it apart and re-examining it in a way that heretics do." The resulting work, according to Jana Riess in Publishers Weekly, is a "book about the varieties of faith."
In the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times, Rob Thomas described Killing the Buddha as a "breezy book about life's weightiest matters…. Not a book for those who like their beliefs unexamined, whether they're atheists, Buddhists or Southern Baptists. Rather, it makes a convincing case that faith is less about knowing all of life's answers and more about asking questions." Booklist contributor Donna Chavez liked the book's "true-life religious experiences" based on the authors' interviews with "the common person and his or her relationship to God," concluding that the work is "marvelous."
Manseau recalls his own unconventional family in the memoir Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son. Falling in love as they worked together in a tough Boston parish, Manseau's parents decided that their dedication to God and church should not impede them from marrying and raising a family. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church excommunicated Manseau's father, but the man continued to carry on the work of an ordained priest. A Publishers Weekly critic described the book as "an engrossing memoir" and a "deeply affectionate tribute." In Booklist, Margaret Flanagan concluded that Manseau's memoir offers "an ultimately upbeat affirmation of faith and family love."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Manseau, Peter, Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son, Free Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, January 1, 2004, Donna Chavez, review of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible, p. 794; October 1, 2005, Margaret Flanagan, review of Vows, p. 26.
Capital Times (Madison, WI), June 3, 2004, Rob Thomas, "On the Road with the Divine."
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2005, review of Killing the Buddha, p. 779
Publishers Weekly, October 27, 2003, review of Killing the Buddha, p. 64; October 27, 2003, Jana Riess, "On the Road, Redux," p. 65; July 25, 2005, review of Vows, p. 70.
Book Slut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (December 20, 2005), "An Interview with Peter Manseau and Jeff Sharlet."