Krista Tippet

Tom Shipka

Krista Tippett is known to regular NPR listeners as host of a weekly program about religion which first aired nationally in 2001 and which is distributed and produced by American Public Media. Recently she changed the name of the program from "Speaking of Faith" to "Being." Her work as an interviewer has brought her three major journalism awards, including a Peabody. In a book entitled Speaking of Faith, she tells us about the circuitous path that she has taken personally and professionally. (1)

Born in Oklahoma in 1960, Krista grew up under the stern rule of her grandfather, a fundamentalist Baptist minister. (1) When she left Oklahoma to attend Brown University, however, she also left behind the religion of her youth. A history student, she did a summer abroad program in Communist East Germany, and after graduation, returned to Europe as a stringer for the New York Times and several other publications. Subsequently, she entered diplomatic service, initially as an assistant to the senior U.S. diplomat in East Berlin and later as an assistant to the U.S. ambassador to Germany. At this stage of her life, geopolitics was her passion.

After resigning her diplomatic position, Krista spent two years of self-assessment on the island of Mallorca off Spain, where her faith was resuscitated. There, she says, she rediscovered the Bible as neither "a catalogue of absolutes," nor "a document of fantasy," but, instead, a statement of truth in "multiple forms" and "multiple layers." (2)

Soon after Mallorca, Krista married a Scotsman, Michael Tippett, with whom she had two children, and from whom she eventually divorced. (3) She later took a Master of Divinity from Yale. She also worked in New Haven as a chaplain on an Alzheimer's floor of a hospital. Afterwards, Krista ran a global oral history project on religion at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota where she developed the approach to interviewing for which she has become famous. (4)

Over the years, under the influence of theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Karen Armstrong, among others, Krista reached three important conclusions which helped to shape her life and her radio program. They are these: firstly, although religious people obviously do evil things, religion inspires far more good than evil; secondly, a religion should be interpreted and judged not by its extremists, a minority who practice "a radically superficial" and literalist version of their faith, but by its moderates who compose a significant majority; and thirdly, because every religion provides to its followers a genuine path to the truth for them, all of us need to respect and value religions other than our own.

Tippett also reveals her own demons in Speaking of Faith. These include bouts of clinical depression, significant weight loss, and insomnia. (5) She also candidly acknowledges her most troubling theological puzzle – reconciling the enormity of suffering in the world with God's goodness.

Critics accuse Tippett of relativism, fuzzy thinking, and "irrationality disguised as profundity." (6) Nevertheless, if Tippett's growing NPR audience – she is now on 240 stations – and her popularity as a speaker are any measure, her admirers far outnumber her detractors. (7) Hundreds of thousands find that her program broadens and deepens their grasp of religion and religious diversity in today's world.

  1. Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith, Viking, 2007. This is first of two books by Tippett and she is writing a third.
  2. During the Mallorca period, and for some time afterward, she tells us that she chose not to read newspapers because they were filled with so much bad news.
  3. In her book she tells us next to nothing about how she came to marry or divorce, about her two children, or about her estrangement from her parents. She needs to write a book entitled Speaking of Me.
  4. See Krista Tippett, Wikipedia.
  5. Tippett claims that these personal struggles have helped her to be a more effective interviewer and to see the humanity in people from diverse backgrounds.
  6. See the blog "Rationally Speaking" maintained by Massimo Pigliucci, professor of philosophy at the City University of New York. As for me, I have two issues with Tippett. In her effort to empathize with diverse religious practitioners, she is silent about irresponsible and foolish aspects, as in the case of faith healers who deny medical treatment to their children; and, to my knowledge, she has never interviewed a secular critic of religion. On the latter point, perhaps over the years she invited seculars and they declined.
  7. Tippett's program is also heard internationally via the web and podcast.