All That's Holy: A Young Man, An Old Car and the Search for God in America

Tom Levinson
Law School, University of Chicago

Date: September 23, 2003

Event Recap

In All That’s Holy: A young guy, an old car and the search for God in America (Jossey Bass, 2003), Tom Levinson recounts the story of his decision to drive across America and talk to people about their relationship to God, to religion, and their spiritual lives, in a journey that ultimately leads him to a greater understanding of his own religious identity. Visiting the Boisi Center on September 23rd, Levinson read passages from his book that illuminated the spiritual pathways he uncovered in others, and hinted at the discoveries these experiences also revealed within himself.

Describing himself as a fourth generation Jewish New Yorker, Levinson’s religious quest took him from an undergraduate degree in religious studies from Princeton to a Masters in Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School. After graduation his journey took him to work in a faith based social justice organization in Boston, where he was also struck by the idea of producing a Studs Terkel-like oral history of spirituality in America.

He embarked upon his journey in the fall of 1999 and traveled by car for three and a half months, during which he spent hours having conversations, and listening to the stories of others, only to find that he had embarked upon a pilgrimage rather than a fact finding mission as he had first intended. His journey brought him insight, understanding, and ultimately, transformation.

Levinson read passages from his narrative and answered questions from the audience about how he was received by the people he met on the road. He was asked whether the people he met tried to convert him to Christianity and whether he encountered any anti-semitism. Although he did experience some attempts to convert him he felt no ill feelings from people he met towards his jewishness. He said he found himself sharing more of himself than he anticipated in his conversations, most of which lasted for hours and included sharing meals and invitations into the homes of people he met. His encounters included a conversation with a convicted killer days before his execution, the owner of a café called “Coffee Messiah” who dubbed his enterprise a “postmodern church,” and a Buddhist seeker named Elvis Miranda. Levinson is currently a second year law student at the University of Chicago.