Your grandparents were missionaries in India? What denomination were they?
My mother's parents were both Congregationalist ministers. That's my grandmother as well; she was ordained in the 1930s when it was not that conventional in any church. My father's father in the end was an Anglican minister. All three of them belonged to the Church of South India for a while. My maternal grandfather rebelled against the Church of South India over certain things and I think that's when he went Congregationalist. He became a doctor, in fact. He went out there as a church missionary (this is my maternal grandfather) and at the age of 38 he decided that he would be of better use in that country as a doctor, so he decided to get medical training. The only country in the world that would train a man of that age was the United States. So he took his family to the United States and went through medical school in Iowa for seven years, and then went back to India and set up practice there in osteopathic medicine.
In Firth's intellectual, Christian home, the word "sin" did not come up, but there was always a sense of "right and wrong."
Did your parents practice religion and did you grow up in a religious household?
Yes, I think the word religion was always treated with a little bit of caution in my household. The short answer is definitely yes. My mother's interest has always been very much in alternative comparative religions. She's very pantheistic. She has a lot of mystical interests. And the subject of her fairly recent Ph.D. was death and bereavement in a Gujarati community in Southampton for which she learned Hindi.
She takes enormous interest in a large variety of religions and tends to see merit in all of them.
My father keeps it much more close to his chest: I think it's something very personal to him.
When you were growing up, did you find this kind of cross-cultural exposure to religion interesting or too kooky for you?
No, I found it fascinating. It was there from the start. It was never kooky to me. In fact, I found it much more difficult to adapt I think to a school environment where I was listening to prejudices against those sorts of things.
My first four years of my life were in Nigeria "not that one remembers a lot about the first four years of one's life& "but it did make an impression on me not least because people we'd known there continued to be in our lives as visitors. There were constantly people from India (both my parents were born and raised in India) and so there was an immense cultural diversity under my own roof throughout my entire upbringing, and I consider that to be absolutely nothing but a privilege! And so, to me I supposed it was the norm and so I found any kind of racists remarks or any kind of religious prejudices among my own peers very, very difficult to take.