Faithful Families Thriving Communities

Since 2007, I’ve been involved in leading an initiative from the NC Division of Public Health and NC State Extension called Faithful Families Thriving Communities (previously known as Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More).  From a pilot project in four counties in NC to a multi-state project covering the United States, it’s been such an honor to watch this program grow and be a part of the mission of inspiring faith communities to become catalysts for health in their communities.

Julia Yao and I were asked to write a piece for AJPH’s March issue on religion and health about Faithful Families’ state-level partnerships.  It was really lovely to get to reflect on 10+ years of the program, particularly at a time when we are talking with local and national stakeholders about where and how the project should grow.

The article was recently published here.  Let us know what you think, and visit our website to learn more.


Conversations with Food Pantry Directors

In light of the current Farm Bill debates, particularly around increasing work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, I wanted to post some food assessment reports that we carried out as part of our Voices into Action research.  As part of these reports, which were done in partnership with local coalitions and organizations, we interviewed food pantry directors about their capacity and needs.  We interviewed 28 pantry directors across the three counties, who talked with us about how they were already unable to meet the needs of their clients.

As we wrote about in our recent op-Ed, families facing hunger and food insecurity are already struggling to get food on the table.  And as our colleague Lindsey Haynes-Maslow’s research has demonstrated, SNAP benefits are currently not enough to help families in poverty afford a healthy diet.  This was echoed by the food pantry directors we talked with, who were intimately aware of the impacts that cuts to SNAP could have on their already precarious ability to serve individuals and families who are food insecure:

  • 96% of these pantry directors saw in increase in need for their services over the last year.
  • 60% said they were falling short of meeting their client needs.
  • 33% of pantry directors had to turn away a client bc they didn’t have enough food.

To read more about what they told us, and hear from families, farmers, and faith communities who are doing what they can to address these issues, check out our food assessment reports here:

SE Raleigh Food Assessment Report 2014

VIA-Lee County Food Assessment 2014

Harnett County Food Assessment Report 2014

Op-Ed in NYT

Recently Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and I published an op-ed in the New York Times, drawing on our Voices into Action research with mothers and children who are living in poverty and facing food insecurity.  In it, we argue that families that receive SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) are already struggling to keep food on the table.  Cuts to the program will only make that harder for these families. Check it out here.


When Religion Matters

Better late than never, but I wanted to share that my book exploring women’s healing practices in the aftermath of the Liberian Civil War was published by Wipf & Stock!  Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 8.56.12 AM

Read more about it here. Here’s an excerpt from the back cover:

How does starting with women’s statements that “God was there” in the moment of wartime violence shift the ways we think about religion, conflict, and healing? Religion and health scholar Annie Hardison-Moody examines this interdisciplinary question through several lenses–postconflict feminist theory, practical theology, and feminist and womanist theory and theology. Drawing on participatory fieldwork with a Liberian community in North Carolina, Hardison-Moody argues that religion matters for many survivors of violence, and that this fact must be taken into account in international conversations about women, violence, and healing. Consequently, she looks beyond the institutional forms of religion, instead studying the ways women live and profess healing and transformation as a part of their everyday lives. This, she argues, is the crucial task for postconflict transformation work. Understanding these “everyday” ways women experience and heal from violence is central to advancing our conceptions of healing and peace as they exist in a world rife with conflict. Scholars, activists, and caregivers will be able to draw on this resource as they attempt to understand and practice healing and transformation with those who have experienced violence and trauma.

Endorsements & Reviews

“Dr. Hardison-Moody’s breathtaking new book is lyrically written, even as it wrestles with the raw suffering of war as it affected Liberian women. This book expands our imagination by bringing to light the distinctiveness of the transformational work accomplished by women victimized by war. By emphasizing the powerful role of religion–as understood by women–new possibilities emerge for peace-building in the aftermath of a war that seemed to make every future impossible. Highly recommended!”
–Wendy Farley, Professor of Religion and Ethics, Emory University

“This exemplary book showcases the impact of religion on healing from the horrors of war. Using feminist practical theological tools, Annie Hardison-Moody takes up women’s cause with amazing verve and intellect, studying religion’s reconciling role, not (just) as an institutional or doctrinal matter but as an everyday force in people’s lives.”
–Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture, The Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion, Vanderbilt University; author of Christian Theology in Practice: Discovering a Discipline and Also a Mother: Work and Family as Theological Dilemma

Re-Thinking “Food Deserts”

We have learned a lot through the Voices into Action project about how and why families purchase and eat the foods that they do.  I’m excited to share that some of that research has just been published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition.  In this article, we pay attention to the ways that residents of areas labeled as “food deserts” (areas where residents lack access to safe, affordable, and healthy foods) talk about what they eat, where they shop, and why.  This research demonstrates that price and cost matter a great deal to families who are living on a limited budget.  Contrary to several other studies of “food deserts,” which assume that peoIMG_5708ple shop at the stores closest to their home, our study found that people are willing to travel outside of their local community to find the best prices.  Additionally, we found that the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), was very important for families living in poverty. These findings on SNAP are particularly important as Congress and the White House head into budget discussions for the coming years.

Blessings of Unintended Pregnancy

Photo credit: ‘-11’ by J.K. Califf on Flickr
Photo credit: ‘-11’ by J.K. Califf on Flickr

When I was a graduate student at Emory University, I had the opportunity to work on the Religion and Reproductive Health Project, a research project that ended up profoundly shaping the course of my work.  Not only did I learn about – and engage – ethnographic methods of research (which I later employed in my dissertation research), but I also was able to participate in a truly interdisciplinary project that brought together scholars from religion and public health.  (The RRH Project also led me to the subject of my dissertation project, which was on religion and healing in the context of violence.  For more on that journey, see this article.)

I’m excited to announce that after many years of collaboration, our team has published a paper out of that ethnographic work, in Medicine Anthropology Theory. The paper examines vernacular conceptions of “blessing,” used by mothers living in a homeless shelter to describe their unintended pregnancies.  The goal of the paper is to challenge rational choice models of choice and agency in public health research around reproductive health, instead arguing for a turn towards indigenous (in this case, religious) understandings of pregnancy and intendedness.

I’m excited to hear what you think!

New post at Mothering Matters – Life and Loss

This week, for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Week, I am re-posting my piece from Mothering Matters, Life and Loss.

October 15, 2014

the new babies 527_peWhen I found out I was pregnant after over a year of waiting for an adoption, coupled with seven previous miscarriages, I wasn’t very excited.  Instead, I was a nervous wreck.  When I started bleeding early on, I was sure this – like every other time – was the beginning of the end.  So at eight weeks pregnant, I dragged myself into the doctor’s office, eyes already red from crying, and sat down on the ultrasound table ready to hear the words we had heard so many times before, “Hm. The growth isn’t normal, and your bloodwork is inconclusive. Let’s bring you back again next week for more tests.” 

Instead, we heard a heartbeat.

For the first time in four years, a sign of life.

By the end of my appointment, the news about my story had spread throughout the doctor’s office (EIGHT pregnancies?!), so much so that even the woman who checked me out was offering me sweet words of encouragement and excitement. I was shocked. How did this happen? What would happen later? When, I wondered, would the other shoe drop?

As it turns out, the other shoe didn’t drop, but my experiences of loss did affect my pregnancy and delivery.  I didn’t allow anyone to buy Christmas gifts for the baby, because we were still shy of the end of the first trimester.  I didn’t allow our friends to host a shower until after 28 weeks (the so-called “safe zone”).  I put the word nursery in air quotation marks when I talked about converting my office to the baby’s room.  I often didn’t know how to be cheerful, when everyone around me was thrilled and so excited.  I worried.  A lot.

Loss was always at the edge of any joy I felt with this pregnancy.  My own losses, of course, were always present, but I also thought about dear friends who lost their children during pregnancy or in childbirth.  I felt, at times, like I was keeping my distance from this little one – so that if I couldn’t meet her at the end of this journey, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so badly.  What a foolish deception I was trying to pull.  

I met my sweet girl around 8pm, the night after my birthday, just three months ago last week.  As my husband brought her in to see me (I had a c-section, and she had to go to the nursery right away), I could barely see her through the haze of tears.  She was so tiny, just a little face peeking out of a giant bundle of blanket.  Because another woman lost her baby the same night, I was sent to the general recovery room without her, since the other family was (of course) recuperating in the birth center recovery room.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the other mother who came to the hospital just like me that day, only to leave without her little one.  I asked the nurses about her that night and the nights following (they, of course, couldn’t tell me much), and knowing about her loss made me constantly ask after my baby while I was in the recovery room, peppering the nurse with questions: “You would tell me if something happened with her, right?” Although the nurse assured me she would, I worried I was going to lose my girl – still.  A few minutes later, my husband started texting me pictures of her (thank goodness for technology! and come to think of it, how did I have my phone?) – screaming, red, and full of life.  

Life and loss, intermingled again that night at the hospital.  Is that what motherhood is, I wonder?  Or just being human?  As Judith Butler writes in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence:

Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.

This seems so clearly the case with grief, but it can be so only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. One may want to, or manage to for a while, but despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.

That’s how I felt that night of my daughter’s birth – undone.  Undone by my worry about whether she (or I for that matter) would survive the delivery.  Undone by the love I felt for her, knowing the magnitude of this love and joy mirrored the pain that was felt by the woman who labored with me that night.  Undone by the love we felt from everyone around us who was rooting for this baby, and our family.  Undone by the recollection of previous losses and the knowledge that loss will come again (it’s life, right?).



New Project! Mothering Matters: Parenting as Spiritual Practice & Source for Theology

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new project and blog, co-edited by Elizabeth Gandolfo, Claire Bischoff and yours truly.  In addition to the edited volume, we have launched a blog to widen the conversation about parenting, religious practices and theology.

From our page:

Mothering Matters began as a conversation several years ago between Annie Hardison-Moody, Claire Bischoff, and Elizabeth Gandolfo, during our time as graduate students at Emory University.   As we discussed how to balance motherhood (or the dreams of motherhood) and academic vocations, and how our experiences of becoming/being mothers influenced our own theological scholarship, we realized that we wanted to hear from others in our fields about how they have thought about mothering and parenting practices in relation to theology, ethics and religious studies.  We decided to venture out and begin a public conversation around these questions and intersections and began work on a proposal for an edited volume.

Mothering Matters: Parenting as Spiritual Practice and Source for Theology is an edited volume exploring the questions that arise at the intersection of the topics of motherhood studies, religious practice, pastoral care, and theology. Contributors to this interdisciplinary volume will be junior and senior feminist, womanist, Asian and Latina scholars. We aim to have a completed manuscript by Spring of 2015.

We recognize that an academic edited volume, while necessary, represents just the beginning of a larger conversation about mothering and parenting that needs to take place amongst theologians, scholars of religion, faith communities, and parents themselves.  So we developed this blog, which we hope will function as a shared space for reflection and conversation about mothering, parenting, religious practice, theology and ministry.  Our aim is that together we will open up fertile academic and ecclesial space for allowing the experience of parenting to challenge and inform spiritual practice and theological and ethical reflection more broadly.

My first post is also live, on pregnancy loss and grief.  It’s a very personal piece, and it was not easy to write, but I’m glad we are starting this conversation.

Check us out at the blog, on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@MotheringMatter) for more.  Can’t wait to hear what you think!

Women Under Siege: Liberia conflict profile

Earlier this month, Women Under Siege published a Liberia conflict profile, written by Pamela Scully, Sabrina Karim and Erin Bernstein.  The piece outlines a brief history of Liberia and its civil war, describes and provides data on how sexual violence was used as a weapon of war, and outlines the legal precedents that have been established in the aftermath.

As the report highlights, although a National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action has been written and laws have been amended to widen the definition of rape, issues of implementation still exist.

The authors write:

The Liberian National Police (LNP) has established the Women and Children Protection Sections in more than 21 locations in Liberia to improve the protection of women and children, particularly against sexualized violence. Liberia has developed an all-female civil police unit with special commitment to cases of sexualized violence.

But there remains a gap in access to legal remedy.

According to reports, 40 percent of survivors accessed the LNP, but only 23 percent accessed the courts. This suggests a fairly significant gap between a woman’s initial reporting of an instance of sexualized violence and that case being carried to the courts. There are several obstacles that prevent access, such as the costs and authority of traditional leaders to mediate disputes.

An Amnesty International report in 2011 found that other barriers exist for prosecution, including low rate of prosecution of rape cases; excessive pretrial prison time for accused perpetrators; shortage of social workers in health facilities to support survivors of gender-based violence; fast turnover of staff trained in clinical management of rape; high number of rape cases being dismissed; magistrates trying rape cases not under their jurisdiction; poor selection of jurors; delays in evidence collection and investigation; poor linkages in the justice delivery system; and lack of transportation to convey prisoners to prison.

Women, religion and rights

In 2011, I attended and led a discussion group for the Carter Center’s Human Rights Defenders Forum, with the theme of Religion, Belief and Women’s Rights.  You can learn more about that forum in my short post at the Immanent Frame.

The Carter Center, along with its partners across the globe, sponsored a follow-up to this forum in June of 2013, titled Mobilizing Faith for Women: Engaging the Power of Religion and Belief to Advance Human Rights and Dignity.  Although I wasn’t at that event, I’m viewing the web-cast several weeks later, after returning from vacation and a couple of busy weeks at work!

Much of my work has been at the intersections of women’s lives, religion and human rights, and it is exciting to see how much work organizations like the Carter Center have dedicated to exploring these issues with a vast range of academics, practitioners, and people on the ground.  As we continue to think about how these pieces and issues intersect, I think that it’s important to remember that religion matters in women’s lives in various and complex ways – not just by way of institutions or leaders, but also through the diffuse practices, traditions and beliefs that people hold.  As I’m revising my dissertation for a book project, it’s this nugget of a finding that sticks out to me.  As women talk about when “God was there” or as they turn to prayer and mothering practices to heal from conflict, post-conflict or gender-based violence, it’s not always the institutions or leaders that matter most (although they often do – and they can do so much to help and/or harm women and men who have experienced violence).  Sometimes it’s the more diffuse practices or affective ways of experiencing the divine that make the most difference in how survivors are able to heal (if and when they are).  More on this later, as I continue to dig back in to the writing.