Kate Bowler: up against time and how to appreciate what we have

Written for UEA Live by Liesl Hammer

On Wednesday 23rd March, UEA Live will be delighted to present Kate Bowler who will be talking about her new memoir No Cure for Being Human. This professor, mother and activist is no stranger to giving inspirational talks about religion and the heart-breaking discovery of stage IV cancer at the young age of 35. Her newest book is all about how you come to terms with knowing you only have a finite time to live. What I love about this is that anyone can benefit from thinking about this, whether you have cancer or not. We live in a society, I think, where we rarely think about the sanctity of life and therefore many seem to just exist, but we don’t live. This book promises to make you appreciate life and try to experience as much as possible.

Kate Bowler has got a PhD and is an associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School. Although she never believed in it herself, she devoted her time to researching “prosperity gospel”—which promises that God will reward you with health and wealth if you have the right kind of faith. Ironically just before she got diagnosed, she wrote her book, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, in which she spoke to many people across America and Canada about how the “prosperity gospel” has shaped different lives. When she got cancer however, she realised how attached she really was to her research as she felt a sense of betrayal because if she was a good person, like she thought she was, surely she shouldn’t have cancer. This is the kind of profound self-analysing that makes me really excited to listen to her speak and read her book.

I am very open minded when it comes to religion, and I strongly believe that as long as you are not hurting anybody you should be able to live your life however you see fit. However, as a non-religious person myself, I was worried that Kate Bowler’s interviews and talks would be very preachy and claim that her cancer was part of Gods plan. Even though she talks about how God helped her through trauma regarding her cancer, in her TED Talk Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved she laughs when people say that it’s all part of God’s plan.

On a personal level I really connected and related to the preachy attitude some people take when they discover that you’re ill in some way. I have Cerebral Palsy, a condition that I’ve had from birth which means I use a wheelchair and my body doesn’t work as efficiently as I would like it to. Even though able-bodied people may think this is the worst thing that could ever happen to someone, I strongly disagree. It’s all about perspective at the end of the day. My perspective is that I have never experienced an alternative and there’s nothing I can do about it so why would I waste my energy mopping around when I could have a wonderful life, on wheels. I’m sure Kate has her own version of this. In addition, like myself, she uses humour to talk about her experiences which I really appreciate as even though talking can help, it must be so hard to talk about your very personal traumas in every interview.

What I found the most interesting about her talks is her social analysis that everyone seems to require answers to everything, and that for religious people, this is God. As she says in the TED Talk; she isn’t a bad person “I haven’t committed any homicides, yet” and therefore doesn’t believe God would shorten her life like this.

In a recent interview, Bowler explains that the title of her memoir No Cure for Being Human, was brought into existence to counter other self-help messages, such as “You Can Conquer Everything!” Kate explained, “[This book] is my desperate, loving attempt to try to get back to something a little gentler and a little truer, which is that we’re all a lot more fragile than we expected. We’re all in need of each other, community, and love. And that our limitations are, in a way, much more constitutive of who we are than these wonderful fantasies that we can do all things.”

Overall, from what I have uncovered in my research, I think Kate Bowler is going to have a brilliant and unique way of conducting a talk promoting her new memoir. I have never been to a non-fiction book talk before and so I think we can expect not only readings, but also insightful, if hard to digest, discussions on the importance of life and how not to fall into the trap of simply surviving.

I hope to see you there.

Liesl Hammer is a second year English Literature with Creative Writing student at UEA. She absolutely loves reading and, as an aspirating writer, events like these are perfect for gaining writing tips. Even though she is not religious person, she empathises with people like Kate Bowler who are unfortunately underestimated because of an illness they might have. She too, wants to use her writing to remove this stigma that disabled people struggle a lot more than able-bodied people. 


Image credit:

Header Image: Gabrielle Touchette

Index Image: Gabrielle Touchette

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