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Kate Bowler

Historian, author, and inspirational speaker

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  • About Kate Bowler

    Kate Bowler has always been fascinated by the way people explain their own successes. After Mennonites in her hometown gave their pastor a motorcycle—which he then rode onstage—she became obsessed with uncovering how formerly modest religious traditions could become so materialistic. Bowler spent the next decade interviewing megachurch leaders and believers of the prosperity gospel about how they made spiritual sense of the good and bad in their lives. Her first book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, is a history of the movement that manifests itself in everything from “#blessed” social media posts to American politics.

    At thirty-five, Bowler had become a professor at the school of divinity at Duke and a new mother when she received the earth-shattering diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer. Reckoning with the news, Bowler discovered, to her chagrin, that she would have to learn how to give up her own “prosperity gospel.” As she struggled to find the balance between optimism and delusion, she wondered how to accept her own finitude without feeling like she was giving up.

    In “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me,” her viral New York Times essay exploring life in the aftermath of her diagnosis,  she re-examined her research on the prosperity gospel and its quest to “solve the riddle of human suffering.” Her upcoming book, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved (February 2018), is an inspirational memoir that explores the appeal of “outrageous certainties,” the difficulty of surrender, and the burden of positivity—but also the way that life’s beauty is often intertwined with suffering.

    As she learns to live with cancer as a chronic condition, Bowler speaks powerfully about the ways in which her brush with mortality transformed her. She also frankly addresses the uniquely American concept that tragedy is a test of character, and looks at the different ways that people try to rationalize suffering and catastrophe, for better or worse.

    Kate Bowler is an assistant professor in the school of divinity at Duke University. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, her work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Guardian, TIME, Christianity Today, The Economist, The Washington Post, and NPR. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and son.

  • Speaking Topics

    Living Between the Possible and the Impossible

    When Kate Bowler was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, she had to reconcile her idea of what her future would be with the likely reality of it, questioning the limitations of positivity when possibilities have been drastically narrowed. At the same time, she discovered a beauty that emerged and made itself evident most every day despite the suffering taking hold in her life. In this frank lecture, she shares how to retain agency, empowerment, and hope for any kind of future, even when you might not be included in it.

    The Prosperity Gospel and Me

    As a divinity scholar, Kate Bowler wrote the only book on the prosperity gospel movement, which equates spirituality with financial status and health. She saw firsthand the power of encouragement and positive thinking, but also the damage this philosophy can inflict when people’s lives take a turn for the worse. When she fell ill herself, her research became personal as she came to terms with her diagnosis. In this informative and personal lecture, Bowler asks: what happens when you lose your own prosperity gospel?

    Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved

    Kate Bowler shares her reflections on faith, friendship, love, and death. From contending with surrendering control over her future to navigating the complicated healthcare and treatment universe, her warm, honest, and often funny stories pull audiences into her journey.

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  • Praise for Kate Bowler

    Praise for Everything Happens for a Reason

    Throughout, the author delivers raw emotion, realistic description, and candid assessments… An inspiring story of finding faith—in God, in family, and in oneself—while walking close to the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

    Kirkus Reviews

    I don’t remember why I opened Everything Happens for a Reason, but once I did, I fell hard and fast for Kate Bowler. Her writing is naked, elegant, and gripping—she’s like a Christian Joan Didion. Her spirit and perspective are so beautiful that halfway through- I closed the book, turned to my wife and said: ‘I have to call someone to find out how this ends. I need to know before I keep reading if she’s okay.’ I don’t think Kate wrote Everything Happens for a Reason to save anybody: she was just telling the truth about her life. Regardless, I left Kate’s story feeling more present, grateful, and a hell of a lot less alone. And what else is art for? Everything Happens for A Reason is art in its highest form—and Kate Bowler is a true artist—with the pen, and with her life.

    Glennon Doyle, author of the #1 NYT Bestseller Love Warrior and president of Together Rising

    Praise for Blessed

    This is a stunningly empathetic book. By pushing far beyond caricature, Bowler has produced a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the prosperity gospel and how it is, even now, remaking the American religious landscape.

    The Christian Century

    Bowler shows how the prosperity gospel movement has drawn from multiple denominational, racial, ethnic, and even secular subtraditions. She identifies both the dazzling diversity and the common understandings that have given the prosperity gospel coherence.

    Christian Century

    [A] riveting historical account.

    Publishers Weekly

    This book propels Kate Bowler into the first rank of younger historians of religion in America. The author’s keen ear, her perceptive insights, and her command of history make this a remarkable and unforgettable book-and her conclusion that the ‘prosperity gospel consecrated America’s culture of optimism’ rings very true.

    Randall Balmer, author of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America
  • Books by Kate Bowler

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  • Kate Bowler travels from Durham, North Carolina

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