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AAR Honors Journalists for Best In-Depth Newswriting on Religion

June 12, 2017

Contact: Susan Snider

Ariel Sabar, writing for The Atlantic and Smithsonian magazines, won first place in the 2017 American Academy of Religion Award for Best In-Depth Newswriting on Religion. Rachel Zoll of The Associated Press placed second, and Ruth Graham, writing for The New York Times Magazine and Slate magazine, placed third.

“We are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s award, which recognizes well-written, well-researched writing on religion,” said Jack Fitzmier, AAR executive director. Founded in 1909, the AAR is the world’s largest association of academics who research or teach topics related to religion.

Sabar, freelance journalist whose winning articles appeared in The Atlantic and Smithsonian, placed first. His submission was a “fantastic package of very deeply reported research on the twisted tale behind the Jesus's Wife papyrus and the world of research, academics, and politics around historical Jesus,” remarked one judge. “Gripping, scholarly journalism but relevant to a nonspecialist audience,” noted another judge. The writer “made scholarly debate read like a detective thriller.”

Zoll, national religion writer for the AP, placed second. “Wonderful variety of subjects,” “highly interesting,” and “great storytelling with lots of research, context, and scholarly input,” said the judges in praise of her submission that included reporting on the relevancy of a renewed black separatist message from Louis Farrakhan; U.S. evangelicals feeling alienated and anxious; and neighboring Baptist churches in Macon, Ga., with congregations split along racial lines, working to come together.

Graham, freelance journalist writing for The New York Times Magazine and Slate, placed third. The judges highlighted her entry as having an “excellent range of topics picking up on topical issues for a generalist audience,” and said her in-depth piece on former Wheaton professor Larycia Hawkins, who wore a hijab as a gesture of support for Muslims, was “superb” and “one of the best single articles in the package of contest entries as a whole.”

Thirty-three journalists entered the 2017 contest. Each journalist submitted three to five articles published in calendar year 2016. 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 Jaweed Kaleem, national race and justice reporter for the Los Angeles Times and former senior religion reporter for the Huffington Post; Kim Lawton, veteran religion reporter and former managing editor and correspondent for the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly; and Emma Tomalin, professor and director of the Centre for Religion and Public Life at the University of Leeds, and member of the AAR's Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion.


Samples of winning articles