Jana Riess: Mormon Writer

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Jana Reiss Mormon Writer

Jana Riess is a writer and editor who has focused on American religions. She earned a bachelor’s degree in religion from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a PhD in American Religious Studies from Columbia University. She was the religion book review editor for Publishers Weekly from 1999 to 2008. She then blogged for Beliefnet, and since 2012 writes a blog called “Flunking Sainthood” for Religion News Service.

Riess was raised in a home with a nonreligious mom and an atheist father. When she was nine years old, her mother took her to a Quaker meeting, which was her first glimpse at organized religion. At age fourteen, she felt moved to become a Christian and joined the Presbyterian Church.

While at Wellesley, she wrote her senior thesis on Mormonism and studied the faith from a scholarly viewpoint. She also made her first Latter-day Saint friend. Then while visiting the Vermont birthplace of Joseph Smith, a senior missionary told her that she couldn’t judge the Mormon religion without reading the Book of Mormon. So she read it and says the experience was “transforming” and that the Book of Mormon spoke to her in “a very deep way” [1]

Riess enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary to become a Presbyterian minister. She married Phil Smith, but two years later—during her last year at the Seminary (1993)—she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her husband is a practicing Episcopalian and they have one daughter.

Riess is the author or editor of nine books, including What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide; The Spiritual Traveler: Boston and New England; Mormonism for Dummies; and Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor. In October 2009, she began a project to tweet one chapter of the Bible in each tweet. The resulting book The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . Now with 68% More Humor! was published in 2013.

She is frequently interviewed and speaks often to the media about issues connected to religion in America. Riess often expresses opposition to the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ. The press prefers dissident Latter-day Saints over faithful ones as columnists. Their reasoning is pleasing to the audience of various newspapers, but not necessarily in line with the majority of faithful Latter-day Saints.