About the Book

Women have made great strides toward equal rights over the past hundred years, especially in the West. But when considering the ongoing fight over reproductive rights and equal pay—and the prevalence of sexual violence and domestic abuse—it is clear that a significant gap still exists. With scripture often cited as justification for the marginalization of women, it is time to acknowledge that one of the final barriers to full equality for women is religion. Much has been written about the great strides humankind has made in knocking down many long-held religious beliefs, whether related to the age of the earth or the origin of the species. But religion’s negative impact on women has been less studied and discussed. This book is a step toward changing that. Twenty-two women from a variety of backgrounds and Judeo-Christian traditions share their personal stories about how they came to abandon organized religion, and how they discovered life after moving away from religious and supernatural beliefs. Their words serve both as a celebration of all who have taken similar steps under the weight of thousands of years of religious history—and as a source of inspiration for those individuals, especially women, who have deep doubts about their own belief traditions but who don’t yet know how to embrace life without falling back on religion.

Karen L. Garst, PhD, is the former executive director of the Oregon Community College Association and Oregon State Bar. She writes at the Faithless Feminist (http://faithlessfeminist.com/).

About the Author

“All three Abrahamic religions are nasty, and women have borne the brunt of the nastiness throughout history. It still persists, and it is moving to listen to women of today telling their personal histories of the various ways in which religion has oppressed them, from childhood on. In their interestingly different ways their testimonies seem to add up to the same story, a story as old as the myth of Eve. I closed the book with uplifted admiration for all these women and for their courage in breaking their historic fetters.”

—Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion


ISBN: 9781634310826 (paperback)

SRP: $16.95 (paperback)

Page count: 272 pages

Trim size: 6 x 9

Pub date: October 1, 2016

Ebook availability: Yes

Audiobook availability: Yes

“When we see the world through other people’s eyes, our horizons are expanded and our lives enriched. Karen Garst’s compilation promotes just that. Women’s experiences of going from involvement in religious organizations to the freedom they find in atheism and other forms of nonbelief were once conspicuously missing from the volumes of literature documenting the lives of nonbelievers. Just as other major movements, such as civil rights, women’s liberation, and gay rights, were advanced more so by individuals sharing their experiences than by the large organizations that often get the credit, as Women Beyond Belief shows, so too are individual women helping to lead the new cultural shift in America—the shift away from staying silently subjugated to hegemonic religious systems and the social networks that fuel them and toward having the freedom to live authentic lives. Every exposure to stories that document triumphant transitions validates the experiences of other female nonbelievers, enriches the lives of male nonbelievers, encourages nonbelievers to come out of the closet, and normalizes nonbelief as an acceptable life stance in the larger American culture. Garst’s volume of diverse stories, told exactly with the words of the women themselves, can now be counted among the burgeoning tomes of literature that are spearheading that shift.”

—Candace R. M. Gorham, LPC, author of The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Women Are Walking Out on Religion—and Others Should Too

“When women break free from closed religious groups and Iron Age gender scripts, all manner of daring thoughts and adventures become possible. Sometimes funny, sometimes fierce, often sad and exuberant in turn—these essays invite us along on twenty-two journeys into and out of religion—many from the vantage of a woman who at some point in her life tried to live by a biblical script and then discovered something better. As atheists and freethinkers congregate around shared values and experiences, brave intelligent voices like these will help ensure that the unique experience of women shapes the secular spiritual communities of the future.”

—Valerie Tarico, psychologist and author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings

“This is one of the most important books on women and religion in the last quarter century.”

—Peter Boghossian, assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University and author of A Manual for Creating Atheists

“Over the past decade, the number of publications documenting the perspectives of male nonbelievers has skyrocketed, often overshadowing appraisals of the lived experiences of women nonbelievers. Karen Garst’s Women Beyond Belief is an insightful addition to the small but growing body of work on women who are questioning organized religion. These essays underscore why the process is more onerous for women, who must negotiate the sexist discrimination, respectability politics, and stifling norms of gender and sexuality imposed by religious dogma and tradition.  Providing rich testimony from a variety of world views and walks of life, Women Beyond Belief is a refreshing snapshot of the cultural and social issues that inform women’s transition to secularism and nonbelief.”  

—Sikivu Hutchinson, author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and the Values Wars and Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

“Why would anyone embrace a male-dominated religion in today’s world, or any religion for that matter? Specifically, why would women embrace the religion of their male oppressors? Given the stories told in this wonderful tell-all book, they shouldn’t. It’s one of the main reasons I argue against the Christian faith. I bid all readers to follow the reasoning and examples of the authors in this book. Their stories are quite revealing and fascinating. Highly recommended!”

—John W. Loftus, author of Why I Became an Atheist and editor of Christianity Is Not Great

“As a woman and a rationalist, I have found it hard to understand the plight of women who continue to believe in a personal God and a literalist Bible. Women Beyond Belief is a book of revelation, stories of social conditioning and personal self-doubt that have kept women ‘in their place’ historically and in our modern, supposedly educated world. Besides the sometimes wrenching accounts of eventual awakening, Karen Garst provides a very useful account of the Judeo-Christian tradition’s subordination of women that should be read by any woman who still labours under the delusion of a beneficial deity.”

—Meredith Doig, President of the Rationalist Society of Australia Inc.

“Reading this book makes me so grateful that I was brought up in the relatively gentle and easy-to-abandon Church of England and in a country where most people are now ‘nones’ and have no religion. Even so, these moving stories remind me that it is women who suffer most under the oppression of a misogynistic, unfair, brutal, and cruel god. From these delightful and varied stories we learn how many women are taught to feel inferior, sinful, wicked, and worthless but also how many escaped, some through sudden realisation and others after long suffering. Any woman who is hovering on the verge of giving up her indoctrination should read this book.”

Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine

“There are few things more valuable than sharing each other’s stories. We learn from others; we gain compassion and understanding of not just them, but also of ourselves. This book invites us into the hearts and worlds of women who have made the life-changing journey from believer to nonbeliever. Each story is unique, filled with anguish, brilliance, pain, and joy, not unlike having a child. And, yet, each story is the same. Each woman was in a very real sense reborn as they shed the cocoon of their old religion for the wings to take flight into fresh air. Women Beyond Belief is a testimony to the inner call for truth and the strength of these women to find it for themselves. I found them awe-inspiring.”

Rebecca Hale, president of the American Humanist Association and cofounder of EvolveFISH.com and the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs

Advance Praise