Catherine Woodiwiss

Senior Associate Web Editor

I'm Senior Associate Web Editor for Sojourners, where I look for voices to contribute to conversations on faith, spirituality, justice, policy, culture, innovation, and daily life.

My favorite postures are ethnographer and producer — reporting on the spread of subcultures, ideas, objects, and beliefs through time and place; and creating the conditions for others'​ voices and talents to thrive.

In that capacity, I also co-founded a service design consultancy for creative businesses in emerging economies, and co-launched a DIY house show network to bring top local talent into supportive local living rooms. I was a speaker on collaborative solutions and the "Do It Together" culture at SXSW in 2014, and an ebook collection of my reporting for Sojourners on abuse and intimate partner violence in Christian congregations, 'I Believe You: Sexual Violence and the Church,' was published the same year.

My nonofficial, not-so-subtle goal is to "make DC weird." Hold me to it.

Posts By This Author

Why Teach About Islam in Public Schools?

by Catherine Woodiwiss 12-19-2015
An Interview With 'Faith Ed.' Author Linda K. Wertheimer

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I often find that the general public really has no idea that teachers are allowed to teach about the world’s religions in public schools. There’s a clear disconnect between what educators are doing and what the public thinks they can do. Then you add to this that people really don’t know that much about religions in general. The idea that a kid’s going to get converted by trying to write calligraphy, even if it’s a statement of faith — I mean, that seems like, really?

When Community Requires Boundaries, Who Gets Left Out?

by Catherine Woodiwiss 12-17-2015
Why Mennonites in Nairobi Are Building Luxury Condominiums

Amani Gardens. Image via Catherine Woodiwiss/Sojourners

The work of transformation — of land, or of legacy — is never complete. And for Western Christians, inheritors of a religion built and carried by ethnocentrism and economic exploitation, the work to detangle faith from the structures that continue to support it is an extra challenge. When survival of the church demands profit, what do you monetize? When community requires boundaries, whom do you leave out? 

How Sci-Fi and Fantasy Help Us Understand the Divine

by Catherine Woodiwiss 12-16-2015

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As a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction, my favorite stories were those set not only in a different time but a different world altogether. It’s exciting to enter into a wholly new landscape, and, as avid readers of both genres will say, there’s both power and joy in watching people and creatures do battle with the same forces we recognize in our daily lives (including, possibly, the power to overcome real-world social divisions — despite decades of the science v. religion binary, there’s ample evidence that both sides love hobbits).

The New Spirituality: Horizontal, Incarnate, Communal

by Catherine Woodiwiss 11-20-2015
An Interview With 'Grounded' Author Diana Butler Bass

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Let it be noted: Diana Butler Bass is not worried about the kids. 

The passage of time is ever-present in our conversation, and we linger often on the uncertainty of what's ahead for American religion, particularly among the growing numbers of unaffiliated young adults. But Bass seems at peace with — and at times, delighted by — the role she has assumed in this new faith landscape: that of witness, storyteller, and occasional wisdom-dispenser to an institution-overhauling younger generation. 

Bass, religious academic and author of nine books, has won numerous awards for her scholarship on American religious history. With her usual precision, Bass uses Grounded to elucidate the centuries-long power structures that have propped up hierarchical religion, and to define the parameters for where the current anti-institutional, spiritual-but-not-religious energy may take us. But Grounded is also intimately personal. Bass casts it as an almost devotional exploration of our material world, asking how we can draw closer to the spirit by paying closer attention to the earth, and eachother. This book — what she calls her "first second-half book" — makes its peace with a world in a constant state change and discovering.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A More Hallowed Eve

by Catherine Woodiwiss 10-29-2015

Of all the social indignities a child can suffer, not celebrating Halloween is surely near the top. In addition to the already-baleful list of oddities trailing my grade school self (fresh out of homeschool; in desperate need of braces; asking for more homework because I “liked it”), my panicked silence to the yearly question, “What are you dressing up as for Halloween?” — and my subsequent recusal from class before the festooned Halloween parade and glittering candy bonanza sugar rollercoaster that followed — burned my ears with everlasting shame.

But once safely away from judging peers, I actually never minded too much. I’d help give out candy at our door (“just getting some water from the kitchen” when kids my age came down the street), and tuck away a few treats for myself. The next morning, I’d come downstairs in the post-Halloween dawn to a row of neatly-folded gold origami baskets, filled with candy and homemade chocolates and a little note from my mom — a verse about light, or resurrection, or great clouds of witnesses.

For years, All Saints' Day was to me a kept secret, a holiday I learned to love and never share. I had to try desperately to get away with casually not-celebrating Halloween. I definitely couldn’t tell anyone in my nondenominational evangelical conservative town that I celebrated saints.

But I did. I wore saint costumes, and sang songs about the “faithful and brave and true.” I proudly paraded down the aisle of my church with my St. Catherine of Siena cape lovingly arranged just so, proud of my brother’s St. Martin of Tours impression (though I was too dignified to tell him. Saints don’t compliment each other’s outfits).

And the truth that my parents taught — and my young self intuited, beneath the social anxiety and denominational ritual — was this: Christians have an additional story to tell. And while I have never found Halloween and All Saints' Day to be mutually exclusive, for Christians, the former without the latter is anemic.

Halloween, great fun as it is, is simply a prelude to the symphony.

How a Global Christian Hackathon Is Reprogramming the Church

by Catherine Woodiwiss 10-05-2015

Image via  / Shutterstock

Do not be alarmed: there are no known bands of Jesus fish-sporting, vigilante hackers patrolling the cyber underworld.

But in 13 cities this weekend — including Jakarta, Bangalore, Addis Ababa, Guatemala City, London, Waterloo, Atlanta, and Raleigh-Durham — more than 800 Christian coders, developers, programmers, designers, pastors, and artists gathered together for a 48-hour simultaneous hackathon. They scripted, designed, collaborated, and competed to develop new apps and websites for global and local adherents to the faith.

Programmers speaking of transformational love, and pastors wielding code: Welcome to the first global Christian hackathon.

Majority of U.S. Catholics Accept 'Non-Traditional' Families

by Catherine Woodiwiss 09-02-2015

new survey released from Pew Research Center, conducted in the lead-up to the pontiff’s visit, examined U.S. Catholics’ attitudes on family, marriage, and sexuality, as well as on issues close to the pope’s heart — concern for the poor, care for the environment, and forgiveness of sins. The results found Catholics “remarkably accepting of a wide variety of non-traditional families.”

This is not to say longstanding church teaching on marriage has changed — the church very much still upholds lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage with children as the divine plan for coupleship, and nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say this is the ideal arrangement. But large majorities now say other familial arrangements are acceptable, too.  

According to the survey of U.S. Catholics, 85 percent say it is acceptable for a man and woman to live together as a couple outside of marriage, and 84 percent say it is acceptable for raise children in this arrangement. Two-thirds say it is acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children. And 70 percent say married couples who choose to not have children are choosing a lifestyle that is just as good as any other.

New Orleans, 10 Years Later

by JP Keenan, by Catherine Woodiwiss 08-27-2015

Image via YurkaImmortal/Shutterstock

President Obama is visting New Orleans today, the site of catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to honor 10 years of rebuilding and growth since the storm. 

The President is expected to comment on the pain, trauma, and destruction still evident, even while offering words of hope and admiration for the regrowth evident in the city over the last decade.

According to the prepared remarks, reports The Times-Picayune, Obama  will comment on the failure of government to "look out for its own citizens."

Below are some of the challenges facing New Orleans today, as well as points of rebuilding and hope in the city ten years after Hurricane Katrina.

8 Things About Pope Francis’ Upcoming Visit That Would Make Him Facepalm

by Catherine Woodiwiss 08-20-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

Look, we all know it — Pope Francis is a pretty unflappable guy. Anyone who earned a diploma in chemical technology, worked as a nightclub bouncer, and then emerged blinking into the sunlight as the world’s foremost religious leader only to politely ask the world to “pray for me” has got to be cool. (Seriously cool. In January he held an outdoor mass during a typhoon.)

But one thing Pope Francis won’t suffer is treating God’s commandments lightly. He is deeply serious about religion — its immense power to heal, shelter, and reconcile; and its limitless power, if abused, to degrade, divide, and injure.

So we’re willing to bet he’s got mixed feelings about coming to the U.S. in September. His visit will take him from a school in Harlem and interfaith services near the site of the September 11 attacks, to visiting Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., and a prison in Philadelphia — a trip with, as TIME writes, a “liturgy” of a schedule.

Naturally, we in the U.S. have gone all out to show just how excited we are for his visit. But that’s where things are getting a little screwy.

Here are eight things happening right now in the lead up to the papal visit that we’re betting would make #FrancisFacepalm.

The Voting Rights Act Turns 50 Today

by Catherine Woodiwiss 08-06-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

Today is the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, passed Aug, 6, 1965. The act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created key provisions to prevent racial discrimination in voting laws.

The Voting Rights Act has been called "the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress."

Today's anniversary is a bittersweet commemoration. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4, which had required Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia to seek federal approval before imposing changes to voter laws.