2023 Commencement Speaker
Kate Bowler, Ph.D., is a New York Times bestselling author, podcast host, and a professor at Duke University. She studies the cultural stories we tell ourselves about success, suffering, and whether (or not) we’re capable of change. In her twenties, she became obsessed with writing the first history of the movement called the “prosperity gospel”—which promises that God will reward you with health and wealth if you have the right kind of faith. She researched and traveled across Canada and the United States interviewing megachurch leaders and televangelists and everyday believers about how they make spiritual meaning out of the good and bad in their lives. The result was the book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, which received widespread media attention and a lot of puns about being #blessed.
At age 35, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, causing her to think in different terms about the research and beliefs she had been studying. She penned the New York Times bestselling memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved), which tells the story of her struggle to understand the personal and intellectual dimensions of the American belief that all tragedies are tests of character. Her third book, The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities follows the rise of celebrity Christian women in American evangelicalism. Whether they stand alone or beside their husbands, they are leading women who play many parts: faithful wife, spiritual authority, and Hollywood celebrity.
On her popular podcast, Everything Happens, Kate speaks with people like Malcolm Gladwell, Matthew McConaughey, and Anne Lamott about what wisdom and truth they’ve uncovered during difficult circumstances. Out of this work, Kate and her producer co-wrote a book of spiritual reflections called Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection. Kate’s latest memoir, No Cure For Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear), grapples with her diagnosis, her ambition, and her faith as she tries to come to terms with limitations in a culture that
promises anything is possible.
Kate’s work has received wide-spread media attention from NPR, The Today Show, The New York Times,
The Washington Post, the TED Stage, and Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She lives in Durham, North Carolina,
with her family, continues to teach do-gooders at Duke Divinity School, and stockpiles anecdotes about
the hidden benefits of being from the middle of Canada.