After being invited to the National Prayer Breakfast as the student president of Bucknell University, she became one of the original eight college graduates who lived together in Washington, D.C., as the youth outlet of “The Family,” a Christian organization then led by Douglas Coe. The group’s rigid and insular practices were described in Jeff Sharlet’s book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.”
From there she moved to California, co-founded the microlending charity Kiva.org with her then-husband and got an M.B.A. from Stanford. After a divorce in 2008, Ms. Jackley left evangelicalism. In 2011, she married Reza Aslan, a Muslim and a religious studies scholar (who had also been an evangelical Christian for a while). Mr. Aslan is often on cable news, calmly explaining Islam to sometimes hostile audiences. He wrote a book about Jesus and immersed himself in fringe religions for his CNN show, “Believer.”
Though they bring their children to church in Pasadena, they also wanted to give them a broad religious literacy. So in 2018, they took a trip around the world in 80-ish days, visiting Jesus’s tomb in Jerusalem, participating in a Zen tea ceremony in Kyoto and meeting with a leprechaun whisperer in Ireland. They wanted other families to gain the same insights, but they knew their trip wasn’t the kind of thing most people could afford to do, or wanted to do.
When they came back, they started what they called “Home Church,” an hour on Sundays when the whole family would sing, pray and read a religious story. This, Ms. Jackley figured, was something she could sell to the spiritually curious, a potentially huge market: In 2020, for the first time, Gallup found that fewer than 50 percent of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 70 percent in 1999.
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She focused on 10 major religions and planned to explore aspects of each in a weekly newsletter, which she then tested with families in her neighborhood. “It turned out people have a lot of sensitivity about religion. I didn’t know. I’m married to Reza,” she said.
She also learned that while kids don’t want to sit through the story of Noah, they’re happy to build a tiny ark full of adorable animals. The parents, meanwhile, didn’t even want the ark; they didn’t want the religious instruction at all. They wanted instructions on how to be a better person. “There hasn’t been a lot of innovation on volunteerism,” Ms. Jackley says.
She read a Stanford survey that said that while 90 percent of people want to volunteer, 25 percent said they don’t because no one asked them to. “I felt like, ‘C’mon! The world is asking you,’” she said.