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The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People Hardcover – March 7, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Religion reporter Falsani dishes up a whimsical and absorbing collection of interviews with assorted literati and glitterati, dissecting issues of faith, ethics and personal spirituality. Since several of these profiles originated as columns in the Chicago Sun-Times, it is perhaps not surprising that many of the interviewees have a Chicago connection, like radio shock jock Mancow, Smashing Pumpkins lead Billy Corgan and Dusty Baker, the manager of the Cubs. But the questions undertaken are truly universal. Some of the stars evince a fairly traditional stance on faith, including observant Muslim basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon, who prays in Arabic daily and runs all of his businesses according to the anti-interest tenets of Islamic law; novelist Anne Rice, who has recently returned to the Catholic faith and written a novel about Jesus' childhood; or Bush speechwriter and policy wonk Michael Gerson, a committed Protestant who like Falsani is a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois. Others, like musicians Annie Lennox and Melissa Etheridge, fall into the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, borrowing creatively from both Eastern and Western religions to craft a personal spiritual practice that works for them. Still others—primarily writers like Studs Terkel, Tom Robbins and Jonathan Safran Foer—place themselves in the agnostic camp. Falsani handles the profiles with sensitivity, painting the book's diverse spiritual seekers with compassion and grace. (Mar. 14)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Library Journal
In this charming book, Falsani, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, interviews more than 25 people of note—politicians, celebrities, writers, and musicians—about their spirituality in an effort to lift the reader's spirit while satisfying a certain guilty delight in gossip; indeed, some hitherto-unrevealed divine secrets of the famous and infamous are as tasty as their first marriages and real names. Who could have predicted that Hugh Hefner would describe himself as "a moral guy"? Or that, according to popular novelist Tom Robbins, we live in hell "because we take ourselves too seriously"? By turns surprising, dismaying, and entertaining, this work is recommended for most collections.
Christian Science Monitor
In an absorbing first book - The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People - she takes the reader along on spirited, often-surprising interviews with more than two dozen creative artists and thought-leaders. The journey becomes engrossing because of the remarkable openness and candor she encounters among the famous, as well as the depth and variety of their beliefs... This sensitive spiritual portrait of popular culture evokes, in thought-provoking fashion, the vibrant and highly individualized nature of contemporary faith.
Chicago Tribune
Cathleen Falsani is above all else, an exemplary conversationalist...She is enthusastic, well-read, articulate and open-minded. [In The God Factor,] she sweeps us right along... She has done what only great interviewers have the wisdom and patience to do. She has set the stage and dimmed the lights just so. She has invited us in to the conversation and left us with wonder, confusion, elation and grace.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition; Signed edition (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374163812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374163815
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,962,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cathleen Falsani is Senior Editor of Religion Dispatches magazine based at the University of Southern California. An award-winning religion journalist, she is author of the critically acclaimed The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, BELIEBER: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber, and Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels (co-edited with Jennifer Grant).

A Connecticut native and granddaughter of Italian and Irish immigrants, Cathleen is a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, Cathleen holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University as well as a master's degree in theological studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She also was a 2009 Divinity School Media Fellow at Duke University, a Gralla Fellow in Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, and was the 1996 Stoody-West Fellow in Religious Journalism.

At Religion Dispatches (www.religiondispatches.org) Cathleen is overseeing a three-year reporting project called Remapping American Christianities. She was the religion writer and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times from 2000 to January 2010, and has been a longtime contributor and columnist for Religion News Service, Sojourners, and the Huffington Post. From August 2011 to December 2012, Cathleen was the Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners, where she ran its popular God's Politics blog. She also was a contributing editor and columnist for Sojourners magazine.

Most recently, Cathleen was the Faith & Values columnist for the Orange County Register (from February 2013 to January 2014, when her position was eliminated) where she covered the election and first year of Pope Francis' pontificate (traveling to Rome for his election), the post-AIDS-emergency rebirth in Zambia and Malawi, music, film, comedy, and faith (among many other things.)

For more than 15 years, as a reporter and columnist from 2000-2010 at the Chicago Sun-Times, and as a reporter, commentator, essayist and columnist for a number of other publications as well, Cathleen has covered her diverse "God beat" from locations as far afield as Vatican City, Vedic City, Ireland, Germany, the Caribbean, the West Wing, the Playboy Mansion and the dugout at Wrigley Field. She was honored as the 2005 James O. Supple Religion Writer of the Year by the Religion Newswriters Association, and has twice been a finalist for the Templeton Religion Reporter of the Year award.

Cathleen began writing her popular weekly column on spirituality and popular culture for the Sun-Times in 2001, She wrote a regular column for Religion News Service for several years, ending in September 2011 when she took on a full-time role at, Sojourners Magazine. Cathleen has been a regular contributor to The Huffington Post since 2006.

Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, TIME, Rolling Stone, Christianity Today and Christian Century magazines, as well as the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Toronto Star, Kansas City Star, Madison Capital Times, The Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, CNN.com and other publications in North America and Europe. She has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Oprah Winfrey's "Soul Series," National Public Radio's "The Story" and "Weekend Edition," BBC World Service, FoxNewsChannel, Moody Radio, WGN-Radio, NPR's "Day to Day," The Tavis Smiley Show (on PBS), and a host of other radio and television venues.

Chicago Magazine media critic Steve Rhodes has said Cathleen writes one of the city's "most compelling columns . . . despite her focus on a subject that often is handled with a deadly dullness." Of her column, Cathleen says she likes to try to "find God in the places some people say God isn't supposed to be," and that she defines both spirituality and popular culture quite broadly.

Cathleen is a sought-after public speaker having presented lectures and talks at colleges, universities, civic organizations, houses of worship and large faith-based conferences nationwide, including the Wild Goose Festival, the National Pastors Convention, the Catalyst Conference, the Los Angeles Book Festival, the Festival of Faith and Music, and the Festival of Faith and Writing, St. James Episcopal Cathedral in Chicago, WomenChurch, Point Loma Nazarene University's Symposium by the Sea, Dominican University in Chicago, California State University in Sacramento, and a number of other universities, conferences, festivals, and houses of worship throughout the country.

She is also a writing coach, offering workshops for writers and creatives through IncubateSpirit.com. Cathleen is honored to serve as a member of the advisory board for ONE Moms, part of ONE Campaign, the global advocacy organization focused on extreme poverty and disease in Africa co-founded by Bono of U2.

Cathleen has been married to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Maurice Possley, since 1997. After 20 years in Chicago, in the summer of 2009, Cathleen moved with Maury and their son Vasco to Laguna Beach, California. Vasco, who was born in Malawi in Central Africa, became a permanent part of the Possley family on June 1, 2010 when his adoption was approved by the High Court of Malawi in Blantyre.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Finally, a book that gets the most taboo subject out there without blushing or politicizing. People certainly talk about sex more openly than they talk about how they really feel about Jesus and they'll talk about their psychiatric health with Dr.Phil before they'll talk about their spiritual life. Here, Falsani, makes the metaphysical, the existential, and the personal... tangible. I don't think Hugh Hefner has been as intimate with a woman as he is with Falsani in his interview. He is so shy, but when she reveals that her idea of a spiritual pop-culture cannon includes the cult favorite Harold and Maude, he virtually gushes with excitement and proceeds to divulge the most intimate of spiritual details about this own life. I never thought that I would learn something about God from Hugh Hefner, but as Falsani talks openly, without judgment, to these mostly American icons, we learn that God's truth permeates every pore of our culture. How inspiring and uplifting to know that God is that big!

Great stories from Studs Terkel, Tom Robbins, and Sherman Alexie. Best moment in the book, however, comes from Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. Moved me to tears.

Falsani is funny, self-depricating, and searching for truth not in an "I'm okay, you're okay" kinda way, but through a deep faith that God is good and just and loves us all - even if we don't know He's there.
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Format: Hardcover
I wasn't crazy about this book as a whole, but there were some gems within that moved me deeply.

First, why I wasn't crazy about it: "God" shouldn't be the first or second word in the title; "Celebrity" should be. The premise of the book is that famous people talk about their take on God.

There are a few problems with that. One is that many of these folks aren't much interested in God, and aren't the most interesting people when talking about God.

The other problem is that if you are attracted to a book that talks about celebrities' take on God, you'll probably want bigger name celebrities. There are quite a few folks here who aren't all that famous. So, if celebrity is what draws you, you might not be drawn by the celebrities here.

The other factor that didn't work so well for me was Cathleen Falsani's extremely gentle interview style. Falsani lets her subjects say pretty much whatever they want, and does not press them when another interviewer, a Terry Gross, say, might.

For example, performance artist and practising Jew Sandra Bernhard rants against non-Jews who are attracted to Kabbalah. She also condemns those who claim to follow Kabbalah and who get tattoes.

Bernhard's ranting has its value, but I wish Falsani had pressed her a bit harder. Bernhard, after all, is an openly gay woman who posed for Playboy and who speaks, especially in her interview here, in four letter words.

There are many Jews who would object to Bernhard's word choice, her Playboy photos, and her orientation. (For the record, I do not.
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Format: Hardcover
By way of disclosure, I have never met Ms. Falsani in person, but we have corresponded via email on various issues. Now-on with the review!

One of the joys for people living in Chicago is the vibrant writing found in the city's newspapers. Cathleen Falsani is on the religion beat for the Chicago SunTimes and she brings a new and fresh and dare I say "fun" perspective to writing about religion. She does the same in the "God Factor". Her style of listening and careful questioning brings out unexpected insights from people you might be surprised to find out even think about issues of faith.

Originally, I was going to give this book only four stars. I wish she had been a bit more challenging of some of the answers to her questions. In her shoes, I would have gagged on some of the replies given by interviewees. However, that's not her style and that's why Falsani could bring us a book as good as this. In constrast, I will only bequeath book reviews to posterity.

If your view of religion extends beyond the stained glass stereotypes, Falsani is going to be one of your favorite reads.
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Format: Hardcover
It seems that reporter (and theologian, and pop culture maven) Cathleen Falsani can put anyone at their ease--and simultaneously provoke them into saying the most unusual and evocative statements I've heard these most public figures ever say. "The God Factor" is an incredible walk through a varied landscape--rappers, rockers, moguls, and senators--speaking candidly not just about "God" with a capital G but about morality, spirituality, and their place in the world. At a time when religion makes big bucks and guides presidents, and Americans continue to fight over what, exactly, "our values" are, Falsani's deft walk through the minds of some of the people who most define our culture is brave, adventurous, and completely compelling.
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Format: Hardcover
For all those who like a good page-turner and have a basic curiosity in what famous people are really like, this is a fascinating read. Falsani just gets people. She has a way of bringing all the important details to life. You come away from this book knowing something intimate about these people you've otherwise studied from a distance. She gets them to open up about big things - their faith or lack of faith, and how they answer big questions - but there's even more to it. She has real conversations with them. Billy Corgan is smarter than you thought. Sandra Bernhard is sweeter than you thought. David Lynch is stranger than you thought (yes - it's true. STRANGER than you thought!) and Hugh Hefner is surprisingly shy, really down to earth once he starts talking about his favorite movies.

Reading this book is like sitting in a coffeeshop and eavesdropping on a really good conversation at the table next to you. You'll finish reading and want to pass on so you have someone to talk about it with.
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