Ralph H. Craig IIINov 10, 2023
Dancing in My Dreams
A Spiritual Biography of Tina Turner
If you don’t know Tina Turner’s spirituality, you don’t know Tina.
When Tina Turner reclaimed her throne as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1980s, she attributed her comeback to one thing: the wisdom and power she found in Buddhism. Her spiritual transformation is often overshadowed by the rags-to-riches arc of her life story. But in this groundbreaking biography, Ralph H. Craig III traces Tina’s journey from the Black Baptist church to Buddhism and situates her at the vanguard of large-scale movements in religion and pop culture.
Paying special attention to the diverse metaphysical beliefs that shaped her spiritual life, Craig untangles Tina’s Soka Gakkai Buddhist foundation; her incorporation of New Age ideas popularized in ’60s counterculture; and her upbringing in a Black Baptist congregation, alongside the influences of her grandmothers’ disciplinary and mystical sensibilities. Through critical engagement with Tina’s personal life and public brand, Craig sheds light on how popular culture has been used as a vehicle for authentic religious teaching. Scholars and fans alike will find Dancing in My Dreams: A Spiritual Biography of Tina Turner (Eerdmans, 2023) as enlightening as the iconic singer herself.
For those of you interested in the stories and poems of the first Buddhist nuns mentioned in the interview yet not included in the book's footnotes (hey, it's a trade book, so space for footnotes is limited), collected in Therīgāthā, you can find the stories here: Kisāgotamī; Ambapālī; Isidāsī. You can also find a modern recreation of Ambapālī's song here.
For a trustworthy, philologically solid, yet still readable translation of Therīgāthā, see here. I also find this translation most useful because of its high-quality but manageable footnotes.
Jessica Zu is an intellectual historian and a scholar of Buddhist studies. She is an assistant professor of religion at the University of Southern California.