Journalists Honored for Best Religion Reporting

June 13, 2016

Contact: Susan Snider

Dawn Araujo-Hawkins of the Global Sisters Report won first place in the 2016 American Academy of Religion Award for Best In-Depth Newswriting on Religion. Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review placed second, and Daniel Burke of CNN placed third.

Forty-four journalists entered the contest this year. The award recognizes “well-researched newswriting that enhances the public understanding of religion,” said Jack Fitzmier, executive director of the AAR. Founded in 1909, the AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion, with some 9,000 members in North America and abroad. 

Araujo-Hawkins, staff writer at the Global Sisters Report, placed first. She submitted articles on human trafficking in the United States; Iraqi Dominican sisters working in refugee camps in northern Iraq; and the effect of student loan debt on postgraduate vocations. “These are such fascinating pieces,” remarked one judge, noting the articles were “unusual stories about little-known topics, for example student debt keeping people from becoming nuns.” “The stories are well-crafted and told with a personal touch . . . they make readers perk up and want to know more,” added another judge. “The pieces read smoothly and swiftly. Where data are used, they effectively move the story forward, as do references to historical events.”

Hiel, foreign correspondent for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, placed second. She submitted articles on the destruction of Christian churches and buildings across Egypt; Coptic Christians pretending to be Muslim to escape ISIS abductions; and the observance and commercialization of Christmas in Egypt, a Muslim-majority country. “Great topics, excellent reporting, fine attention to detail. The reporter amazingly tracked down witnesses to an ISIS kidnapping that preceded a group beheading of Christians on the Libyan shoreline. Well-chosen facts and quotes make for compelling reading,” said the judges.

Burke, religion editor at CNN, placed third. His submission included articles on two years in the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) spent in relative solitude in Cordoba, Argentina; one family’s journey from Catholicism to atheism; an Amtrak train crash and the questions raised about God and fate; and a new English translation of the Quran, The Study Quran, and its potential impact on readers. “Such graceful writing,” praised one judge, highlighting Burke’s “balanced reporting with academic research.” “The author brings the reader to places where he/she is eager to linger and soak up details,” commented another judge.

Each contestant submitted three to five articles published in calendar year 2015 for the 2016 contest. The first-place winner receives $1,000; second-place, $500; and third-place, $250. The names of the contestants and their media outlets were removed from the submissions prior to judging.

The judges were Julia Duin, author and former religion editor for the Washington Times; G. Jeffrey MacDonald, author and veteran freelance journalist reporting on religion and ethics; and Ayesha S. Chaudhry, associate professor of Islamic studies and gender studies at the University of British Columbia, and a member of the AAR's Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion.