Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk


EDITOR'S NOTE: Veteran religion-beat reporter Julia Duin -- now a journalism professor who is active writing books and in magazine journalism -- is joining us here at GetReligion. She will focus her work on the American West, which is her home territory. Make her welcome, please. -- Terry Mattingly.


You might say I got into religion reporting while a high school student in the Seattle area. I saw the huge readership -- and tons of letters -- that Earl Hansen received for his religion columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I thought, I can do that. And so my first religion piece ever was for the Covenant Companion, a denominational magazine, about my bike trip around Puget Sound with the youth group from a local Evangelical Covenant church.

While majoring in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, I came to know the religious community in western Oregon pretty well. I also could not believe what a poor job the local papers did of covering the religion beat. I soon got a job as a reporter at a small daily just south of Portland where the editor told me I had to choose one page to edit: agriculture or religion. I chose religion and have not stopped covering it ever since. I also began corresponding for Christianity Today at that point in an era when women rarely wrote for that publication. 

I then moved to south Florida for a few years, covering religion among other beats and my work at CT and a first place in an RNA competition for religion reporting for small newspapers caught the eye of The Houston Chronicle. They hired me as one of two full-time religion writers in 1986. Those were the salad days of covering the beat: the Jim-and-Tammy-Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart "Pearlygate" scandals, Pat Robertson running for president, a local United Methodist bishop dying of AIDS, Pope John Paul II’s swing through the southern USA and Oral Roberts’ claim that God would “take me home” if he was not able to raise $4.5 million. It was rich. 

I then attended an Anglican seminary in western Pennsylvania to get an MA in religion, spent a year as a city editor of a small newspaper in New Mexico, then moved to Washington, D.C. where for 14 years I was first culture page editor, then religion editor of The Washington Times. They sent me to Italy to cover the election of Pope Benedict XVI, to India to research female feticide and to Jerusalem to hang out during the millennial changeover in 1999-2000. I also wrote five books during these years on topics like why evangelicals are quitting church and a tale of the rise and fall of the charismatic movement, captured in the story of a mesmerizing priest who headed the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston. 

One theme in all of that. If I have a specialty, it’s a group that I’ve followed for 40 years and written two books on: pentecostals and charismatics. Check this 2006 Pew Forum study to see if that's an important subject.

I won a bunch of awards with the Times, but alas, I was laid off in 2010, after which I turned to freelancing and teaching. This included covering the latest Narnia movie for The Economist, writing up topics like Christian anarchists and Orthodox bishops for The Washington Post Sunday magazine, doing quirky pieces for More magazine about women trying to become Catholic priests and Lutheran pastor/tattoo queen Nadia Bolz-Weber and covering 20-something Appalachian Pentecostal serpent-handlers for The Wall Street Journal. (A book on the latter is in the offing). 

I also taught religion reporting at the University of Maryland for a semester, which led to a year of teaching journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., followed by 18 months at the University of Memphis, which just awarded me an MA in journalism this past December. Meanwhile, the University of Alaska/Fairbanks was casting about for someone to be their ninth visiting Snedden Chair of Journalism for the 2014-2015 academic year. I’m teaching there now.

Interests: Anything to do with Kurds, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, ballet, sushi, gymnastics, Iceland, movies by Hayao Miyazaki, covenant Christian communities, cats, the Pacific Northwest, classical music, playing lever harp, works by Philip Glass and all things Central Asian, including Kazakhstan, where my daughter Olivia Veronika was born nearly 10 years ago. 

EDITOR'S NOTE II: Because of her ongoing relationship with The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, Julia Duin will not be critiquing news coverage from that newspaper.

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