Vanessa Zoltan, author of the recently published Praying with Jane Eyre: Reflections on Reading as a Sacred Practice, is not your usual chaplain. She is an atheist who produces podcasts about treating Harry Potter, Twilight, and romance novels as sacred texts, and she runs pilgrimages and walking tours that explore sacred reading and writing. In this episode, Vanessa talks with Eve and Julie about what on earth (or in heaven or hell) drew her to attend Harvard Divinity School despite being a devout atheist. She explains how her spiritual education led her to find sacred engagement in her favorite secular books and how, particularly in the case of Jane Eyre, textual examination helped her navigate (but not forgive) problematic, contradictory, and racist narratives. Vanessa also shares advice for how we can read any book as a sacred text.
Perhaps best known for her podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, which has more than 16 million downloads, Vanessa Zoltan also hosts the podcasts Twilight in Quarantine, which was named one of The New York Times’s “Podcasts for the Pandemic Era”; and Hot & Bothered, which explores reading and writing romance novels as a sacred practice.
Praying with Jayne Eyre: Reflections on Reading as a Sacred Practice
“In these soaring, open-hearted essays, Vanessa Zoltan writes with fierce brilliance about suffering, survival, and the kind of meaning in life that can withstand real scrutiny.”