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Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist Paperback – April 14, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Russell has written discerning and poetic books about butterflies, flowers, and hunger. She now breaks new ground in this spiraling history of pantheism, an essential if overlooked tributary to the great river of spirituality. Russell defines pantheism as the belief that the universe, with all its existing laws and properties, is an interconnected whole that we can rightly consider sacred. Accordingly, the structure of this meditative and gracefully informative book embodies interconnectivity. Russell presents fresh and affecting profiles of key figures in the evolution of pantheism, such as Marcus Aurelius, Giordano Bruno, Baruch Spinoza, and Walt Whitman, and chronicles her own revelatory experiences in Guatemala, India, and her home base, New Mexico’s Gila Valley, where she observes sandhill cranes and javelinas and helps band birds. As she tracks the profound influence pantheism has had on diverse religions, deep ecology, the romantic poets, and the transcendentalists, Russell recounts her decision to become a Quaker and her realization that she is, at heart, a scientific pantheist. Ultimately, Russell’s probing and illuminating inquiry into pantheism renews our appreciation for the complexity and wonder of life. Rhapsodic and expansive, this is a timely and salutary inquiry. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An elegantly written mixture of history, science and memoir... an engaging journey through the full spectrum of hunger, from the familiar stomach rumblings to the global issue of famine... Observer "An elegant meditation... (Sharman Apt Russell) scoops every morsel of interest from her subject. She also writes beautifully. Not surprisingly, this produces a feast." Economist" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465013807
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #231,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am pleased to be considered a nature and science writer, although essentially I write about whatever interests me and seems important--living in place, archaeology, flowers, butterflies, hunger, pantheism. My most recent books are eco-fictions. Knocking on Heaven's Door is a speculative novel about a Paleoterrific future, and Teresa of the New World is a young adult novel set in the dreamscape of the sixteenth century American Southwest.

This makes sense. I've spent most of my life in Southwestern deserts, where magical realism is just a synonym for reality.

My nonfiction Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World focuses on the charismatic Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle, as well as other citizen projects like Nature's Notebook, Mastodon Matrix, and Celebrate Urban Birds. Citizen science is an amazing world. You can transform yourself in a thousand ways, studying monarch butterflies or listening to whale songs or classifying galaxies...Diary of a Citizen Scientist won the WILLA Award for creative nonfiction from Women Writing the West and is a finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Award. For more information, and other news, please go to my Facebook author page Sharman Apt Russell. Or my website

Right now I am working on a book about paradigm shifts in how we treat and prevent childhood malnutrition. I believe in this kind of range for a writer. It's all connected.

A little bit of bio: Raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, in 1981 I settled in southern New Mexico as a "back to the lander" and have stayed there ever since. I am a longtime professor in the Humanities Department at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, as well as an associate faculty at Antioch University in Los Angeles. I received my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana and my B.S. in Conservation and Natural Resources from the University of California, Berkeley.

My essays and short stories have been widely published and anthologized and my books translated into over ten languages. My collections of essays Songs of the Fluteplayer: Seasons of Life in the Southwest (Addison-Wesley, 1991; reprinted by University of Nebraska Press, 2000) won the 1992 Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award and New Mexico Zia Award and recounts my early years in rural New Mexico. Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist was a New Mexico Book Award finalist and one of Booklists' top ten religious books of 2008. Hunger: An Unnatural History (Basic Books, 2005) was the result of a Rockefeller Fellowship at Bellagio, Italy, and An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect (Perseus Books, 2003) was a pick of independent booksellers in the Summer 2003 Book Sense 76.

As a teacher, my philosophy is simple: my goal is to increase a student's authority as a writer. I am here to encourage and support that authority. I can help students better revise their work. I can teach students how to talk about writing with other writers. I can help them feel more centered in who they are as writers and why they write. I can serve as an editor and mentor. I can model a writer's life. As well as teaching at WNMU and Antioch, for the last fifteen years I have been a visiting writer at universities and colleges across the country.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Robert E. Pierson on July 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a Quaker seminarian and fellow New Mexican, I'm more than a little partisan to Russell's latest book, but I'd recommend her beautiful lively writing to all who sense something delightful and disturbing in their experience of nature and spirit.
Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist is a walking meditation, faithful in its survey of pantheistic thought, yet grounded in its particular place and time. The book begins not with a creed, but with a map of the Nature Conservancy's Gila River Farm in southern New Mexico, where the author lives in a "little yellow house" not far from one of the few healthy rivers remaining in the American Southwest.
Her stories of Spinoza, Whitman, Quakers, and Hindus are interlinked by a refrain that counts blackbirds, flycatchers, grosbeaks, and wrens during bird banding season. Greek philosophers are accompanied by a chorus of sandhill cranes. Roman stoics and modern cell biologists find themselves at home among stories of the author's family, or the river's mosquito fish and loach minnows. "Everything is interwoven," writes the Roman ruler Marcus Aurelius, "and the web is holy."
"I am in love with Marcus Aurelius," admits Russell, two thousand years later, yet she paints her portrait of his brutal time and life with the same faithful linguistic brush, as she paints scenes of Coots pecking their baby nestlings to death. Russell has not written a sentimental book. Those looking for an idealized naturalism will not find easy comfort.
Yet the view from Russell's porch remains reverent. "Standing in the Light" is a Quaker phrase that captures both the immediacy of religious experience and the difficulty of its explication.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Briejer on August 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I highly recommend this book (that fifth star is saved for the next Moby-Dick). It is one of those books I read slowly. Don't let the smooth, plain-faced prose fool you. This book moves in deep water. I would read a few pages, or a few lines, or perhaps only one of Russell's finely crafted sentences then sip my coffee and contemplate my own world.
The book braids an often riveting history of pantheism with memoir and nature writing. Though the latter was enjoyable, I was most intrigued by the stories of history's pantheists and author's own intimate struggle with her spiritual place in this world.
The title might suggest a little fluff. The reality is quite the opposite. Russell is a scholar. A few moments with your nose in the bibliography offers a window into the extent of her journey. And just as the historical facts are well rooted in hard research, Russell's own personal journey rings with authenticity.
The highest praise I can give this book is that unlike many of its ilk, it offers no easy answers (if any answers at all) to our human struggle. It instead illuminates the landscape, offers the wisdom of one life's journey, and leaves us to face the day as we have faced all our others--though perhaps heartened, and with a more informed respect for the slants of light moving us all forward.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By C. Neely on August 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I never heard of Pantheism before this book. I don't know much about Quakerism, nor am I a literay scholar. But I do recognize something well-researched and well-written. I savored every page, sometimes re-reading parts to feel the richness of Sharman Russells words. I so appreciate the time she put in to sift through history and give the reader clearly-written excerpts on of past philosophers and their ideas. I especially enjoyed reading about more personal details about Marcus Aurelius's life and his love of family. I had no idea...
Sharman Russell has an amazing ability to weave the past and present together, like Marcus's web interconnected. This book is rich, deep and delightful. I plan to give copies as gifts this year to family and friends who are "seeking" the light in these dark times. Sharman doesn't gives answers, because she knows there are no answers. Spirituality is not a destination. It is a journey, and she bravely shares hers with us.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on August 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In our collective imagination, life-changing revelations are supposed to occur on mountaintops or in deserts or in similarly dramatic landscapes. Not so for Sharman Apt Russell. For her, the front porch will do just fine.

It was while sitting on her front porch steps in Silver City, New Mexico, she writes in Standing in the Light, that she finally realized what that word--Light--meant. She sets the scene:

In front of me on my porch step was a strip of grass, a sidewalk, a strip of asphalt, more sidewalk, a stone wall, pine trees and, higher above, electrical wires. Cars drove by. A raven gurgled. White clouds floated in the blue sky.

No all-consuming fire. No pillar of cloud. No voice from heaven. Just ordinary life. And then, she continues:

I had my epiphany: "The Light is all this," I said to myself. The Light was the steps, the street, the raven, the sky. The Light was everything, the universe conceived-of-as-a-whole, mysterious and material and right here.

For readers familiar with mystics of any tradition, what Russell is describing is a "unitive experience," a transient certainty that one is part of a great whole. Occurring "out of time and space," the experience nevertheless conveys a sense of holy presence, a sacredness of place right here, right now. But that is only part of the paradox. Life-changing as it is, this mystical awareness is also ineffable; try as she might, the writer can find no words to describe it. And yet, she continues to try.

Part memoir, part spiritual autobiography, part history of philosophy, Standing in the Light might be more aptly subtitled My Life as a Seeker Who Wonders How Pantheism Developed and How It Fits into the Quaker Faith.
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