Susan Katz Miller is the author of the new book The Interfaith Family Journal. She also has written the book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. She is based in the Washington, D.C. area.
Q: Why did you decide to write The Interfaith Family Journal?
A: There are several books out there on Jewish and Christian interfaith families, but this is the first book for all interfaith families. And it's the first published interactive resource for interfaith families--a workbook filled with writing prompts, invitations to converse, and creative activities.
The book takes you through a five-week process of going deep, with your family members, into how your formative religious, spiritual and secular experiences contribute to your dreams for the present and the future. I wanted to help interfaith families to envision how to be successful, whether they choose one religion, two religions, all religions, or no religions.
Q: How do you define an interfaith family?
A: You could say that all families are interfaith families, because no two people share identical experiences, beliefs, or practices, even if they have the same religious (or secular) label. So I think this book is going to be helpful for any family, including atheist families engaging with religion in the extended family.
And it's not just for young couples--the book takes you through a process that will be helpful for single parents, parents of teens, child-free couples, guardians, and empty-nesters--anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of the role of religion and culture in their family.
Q: How did you come up with the specific exercises you include in the book?
A: Since my first book, Being Both, came out five years ago, I have been traveling the country speaking about and with interfaith families. I coach couples who come to me for ideas and support, and have presented at workshops for interfaith couples for many years. I also drew on my own experiences growing up in an interfaith family, and raising two interfaith children who are now young adults.
All of this went into creating the five-week process in the book. Each week, you answer a series of writing prompts, then swap journals with your partner or family members and read what they wrote, then go through a guided conversation based on what you each wrote, and then engage in a creative activity together, including fun roles for children.
Q: How have families reacted to the book so far, and what do you hope people take away from it?
A: The book is brand new! But I have already heard from atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh readers that the book is unique in the way it encourages you to think deeply about where you have come from and where you are going.
Even couples who thought they had their interfaith family all figured out have found the creative activities, in particular, stimulating--including recording the religious histories of your parents and grandparents, creating a family recipe book, and planning your own funeral.
And I have heard from both clergy and therapists that this book is going to be an important tool for them in supporting interfaith families, especially young couples, and couples who may be struggling. People are saying it's a great gift for their clergy member or therapist, and a great engagement or wedding gift.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I admit I am obsessed with supporting interfaith families, as part of the urgent need to improve interfaith understanding and bridge-building in society at large. Ultimately, I believe this work creates more peace and reduces religious intolerance in the world. So I have a whole series of projects mapped out, some of them books, some of them new ways of empowering interfaith families as interfaith peacemakers.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am an interfaith kid. My Jewish father married my Protestant mother in 1960. And after more than a half-century of extraordinary marriage, they both died while I was working on this book. All of my work, in a way, is a tribute to their epic relationship.
But as I spent the last few years caring for them, while simultaneously writing this book, I think this book distills much of what I learned growing up in a joyous interfaith family.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Susan Katz Miller.