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I grew up in Los Angeles, found my way to Chicago and London, spent a tough and beautiful decade in North Carolina, and have landed in, of all places, a small Kentucky town called Berea, where I live with with my son, write slowly and happily, and teach at the college.

I tumbled into writing religious history on a summer day many years ago when I casually took a cassette off a shelf loaded down with them, a cassette that carried the voices of a clutch of old-time Baptists, voices I'd never heard before, voices whose singing in that unexpected moment struck me dead. That's how I remember it. Of course, a proper historian would explain that it didn't happen quite that way, that one might trace the roots of my interest in religious experience back in time, that it all had begun long before I pressed "play" on that summer day.