|About the Book|
Leaving a religion is not simply a matter of losing faith but of changing everyday, routine behavior. Religious defection, like all identity changes, is performed through the medium of the body. Ultraorthodox (Haredi) defectors leave their religiousMoreLeaving a religion is not simply a matter of losing faith but of changing everyday, routine behavior. Religious defection, like all identity changes, is performed through the medium of the body. Ultraorthodox (Haredi) defectors leave their religious enclaves not necessarily by losing their faith, but by ceasing to observe the 613 commandments in the Hebrew scriptures that guide what they eat, how they dress, wash their hands, and in general, every detail of how they comport themselves in their daily lives.Davidman’s revealing case study of Haredi defectors explores issues that are central to all major identity transformations, which until now have been understood primarily as changes that occur in people’s minds. As readers imagine how gays, lesbians, transgendered, and bisexual people work to move beyond heterosexual norms and ideologies and take on their more authentic identities by altering their bodily practices—such as their demeanor, bodily comportment, hairstyle, and dress, they will readily see the broader implications of this book. Significantly, Davidman notes several people she interviewed used the trope “coming out.”In this path-breaking book, Davidman explores how Ultraorthodox defectors negotiated the difficult passage away from everything they had ever known, including families, communities, and the security of following a routine of daily ritual practices, and sought to reconstruct themselves in new social contexts. This analysis is drawn from interviews with 40 adults who defined themselves as having “left Orthodoxy.” Their moving accounts illustrate the great fear, angst, and sense of danger that accompanied leaving the safety of highly bounded enclave communities and entering an open society in which they had to acquire new skills and behavioral repertoires. Each chapter in this book vividly presents one of the major stages in defectors’ exiting process, from beginning to ask questions, to violating commandments, passing between two worlds, and, finally, their stepping out of their former lives and learning how to conduct themselves in the outside world.Davidman argues that our culture privileges mind and psyche over bodily behavior. She calls upon sociologists to think of religion as more than faith traditions but rather, as guides for appropriate conduct in all details of everyday life, and to closely analyze the role of the body in social behavior. This book is not only a moving, fascinating account of the struggles of Haredi defectors, but a call for changes in our collective understanding of the centrality of the body in all social experience.