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Craig Harline

Craig Harline is a historian at Brigham Young University and the author of many books, focusing primarily on religious experience in European history. You might say that his latest book, Way Below the Angels, involves a religious experience, and it did take place in Europe — Antwerp, Belgium, to be precise — but it’s pretty recent history. Way Below the Angels is Harline’s memoir, and it tells the story of his experiences as a Mormon missionary. As a child, Harline eagerly soaked up the (admittedly formulaic) stories of Returned Missionaries until he received his own missionary call. He then embarked on an adventure amid a Catholic Belgian people who proved somewhat more “stiff-necked” than he had imagined.

Harline tells his story with a keen sense of humor and a spiritual and emotional depth that pulls the reader right into his uncomfortable walking shoes from the first page. In an interview with Eerdmans, Craig Harline described himself as “someone who just likes writing about religion and thinking about religion, especially the tension between prescription and practice.” Dwelling on that tension provides him with all sorts of material as he recounts and digests his experiences in light of the expectations he had built up for his two years abroad.

In the prologue, set during a subsequent trip back to Antwerp, he explains in his own idiom: “…a long long time ago (like way before I was a fun-loving historian), in a place really close close by (like right where I’m walking), I was a missionary, stopping every single guy I saw to tell him about my religion. The relief that comes from not having to stop anyone anymore, the relief that-knows-no-words at being able to just walk along period, is enough all by itself to put me in an ozone-level daze. Oh, I was glad to be a missionary, mind you, glad to tell people about my religion. But there wasn’t a single g, l, a, or d in even the distant neighborhood of stopping someone on the street.” Harline shows both courageous and hilarious honesty in describing just how harrowing his tale becomes.