Greetings! I’m the new religion writer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I write about people’s faith traditions, spiritual practices, ethical tenets and worldviews —secular or religious — and how these play out in thought, word and action.
Today we’re launching my new blog, “Popular Belief.” In this blog, I’ll be going into greater depth into the issues raised by the news of the day. I’ll also be looking at stories that might not necessarily get in the paper, or that might have originated in places far from southwestern Pennsylvania, but that we'd care about here.
First, a brief introduction. I’ve been here since November. I'm a Connecticut native with nearly 30 years’ experience in journalism. I come here most recently from Louisville, Kentucky, where I was religion writer for The Courier-Journal. (I guess I'm splitting the difference now, geographically speaking.) Before Louisville, I covered religion and other topics throughout North America and Europe in the late 1990s as a correspondent for Religion News Service, The Boston Globe, The Prague Post and other publications. And before that, I wrote and edited for various papers in New England. I earned a bachelor’s degree from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma and a master’s of arts in religion from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Although I'm new to Pittsburgh, I’ve visited family here over the years. Plus, I find a certain familiarity in moving from one Ohio River city (Louisville) to another. Both are marked by coal-barge traffic, riverfront sports venues and long histories as industrial hubs and immigrant magnets. And both have a strong, historic presences of Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians and Methodists, although I find fewer Baptists and Disciples of Christ in these parts and more Lutherans and Eastern Christians. My first impressions are that Pittsburgh has a robust ecumenical community -- promoting cooperation among Christian churches -- while Louisville has more extensive interfaith ones, collaborating across religious lines. I'm surrounded by more Slavic and other eastern European names, foods and congregations here than in Louisville, but this takes me back to another chapter of my life, when I spent two years based in the Czech Republic, covering the resurgence of religion in formerly communist lands from Poland to Croatia.
I love dogs, classical and folk music and photography. My sports interests mainly run to baseball, following the Red Sox for four decades, or long before that became fashionable in certain circles. But I do have a vacancy for a National League loyalty, especially if it has an elegant riverfront stadium. Got any ideas? I can also claim a slender local gridiron connection: The flag football team I played on as a kid was named the Steelers, and our coach insisted that he got our helmet stickers directly from Chuck Noll himself. It must have been true, because he said so.
When it comes to religion coverage, I seek out the most compelling stories, whether of individuals, small congregations or global institutions. I write about the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. That means covering scandal and redemption, growth and decline, change and controversy. I cover popes and evangelists, lamas and imams, street saints and clerical criminals, faith healers and foxhole atheists. I cover the wrenching demographic changes that are transforming America religiously, racially, economically and in the family, and in the always-contentious battles over the role of faith in the public square.
I plan to cover religious groups with a historic and influential presence here — such as Catholics, Jews, Orthodox Christians and Protestants — and also those that may be newer to the region, or newly growing — such as Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, the spiritual-but-not-religious and the none-of-the-above.
My aim is to post regularly on weekdays — sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the rest of the workload. I won’t be blogging on every topic that’s trending in religion new worldwide, but I’ll bring a unique angle or observation to the news where I can.
And it won’t all be serious. If I come across something funny, sublime or quirky — like the story a few years ago about the astrology website that closed due to unforeseen circumstances — I’ll share.
And speaking of sharing, that’s where you come in. Share your thoughts in the comments field as I post, or contact me directly at
or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith. The usual rules apply: No libel, hate-mongering or otherwise abusive language. But you can step on my blue-suede shoes. They’re steel-toed.