Barbara O’Brien grew up in the Ozark Mountain section of the Bible Belt, a place of Perpetual Holy Spirit Gospel Tabernacle Revivals. This fueled a lifelong fascination with religions. Being a natural-born nerd, she couldn’t just believe as she was told but preferred to explore what academic historians had to say about how religions originate and developed through time to what they are today.

Barbara’s own spiritual adventures eventually led her to Zen Buddhism, and she became a formal student of Zen in 1988. She is the author of The Circle of the Way: A Concise History of Zen from the Buddha to the Modern World (Shambhala, 2019), which tells the story of Zen Buddhism from the time of the Buddha to its present messy state. She has written for many Buddhist publications and websites, including TricycleLion’s Roar, and Buddhadharma. She gained a considerable following while serving as the resident expert on Buddhism for About.com from 2008 to 2016. And she is a volunteer editor for a new Buddhist e-magazine and online community called Treasure the Road, dedicated to Zen practice and text study. Barbara also rants about current events at her personal blog, The Mahablog. There is an online archive of writings on Buddhism and other religious topics at Rethinking Religion.

But The Religious History Nerd is not a Buddhist column. It is a world religion column, digging into the history of all the world’s religions. Because the past never completely goes away, and the current volatile and precarious position of religion in the world today is better understood if you know where it all came from.