AAR Honors Journalists for Best In-Depth Newswriting on Religion

July 27, 2020

The American Academy of Religion, the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, announces the winners of the 2020 newswriting contest

Peter Smith, religion editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, placed first. His investigative reporting on the Amish community, sexual abuse in the Mennonite community, aftermath of the Tree of Life shootings, and Notre Dame’s fire in Paris “displays an agility for delivering nuanced, topical stories in a way that isn’t seen in mainstream media.” The jury was “impressed with the breadth of Smith's reporting across traditions and his commitment to enrich the public's understanding of religion. He weaves the porous cloths of religion and culture into timely and timeless stories.”

Reporting beyond traditional religion and politics news stories, Jaweed Kaleem, national correspondent at the Los Angeles Times, placed second. Described as a “masterful exposé of American identity,” Kaleem’s series takes readers on a ride along a Punjabi American highway while seamlessly integrating the story of the trucking industry with substantial and much-needed education about Sikhism. He “skillfully reframes America's story by mapping how the changing religious landscape has influenced trucking and all the ancillary businesses that spring from it,” commented jurors. 

Kalpana Jain, a senior editor who heads the ethics and religion desk at The Conversation, placed third with a “string of compelling, fresh approaches to the world of religion reporting.” Jurors noted that Jain’s work “exemplifies exceptional investigative journalism.” Articles include a study of women warriors within the Durga Vahini movement; Interreligious Resilience, where she includes herself in the investigation as a source of knowledge and insight and models how to gain access to sources; and the path of a 15th century mystic that India’s youth are now following.

Each journalist submitted three to five articles published in calendar year 2019. The first-place winner receives $1,000; second-place, $500; and third-place, $250. The names of the contestants and all identifiers were removed from the submissions prior to judging.

Liz Kineke, broadcast and print journalist, formerly of CBS Religion; Debra L. Mason, Professor Emerita, Missouri School of Journalism; and Nathan C. Walker, 1791 Delegates and the Foundation for Religious Literacy and member of the AAR's Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion were the jurors.