Portrait of Caryle Murphy

Caryle Murphy is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Passion for Islam, which explores Islam's contemporary revival and the roots of religious extremism in the Middle East. She recently spent three years living and working in Saudi Arabia. While a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC from 2011 to 2012, she researched and wrote her latest book, A Kingdom's Future: Saudi Arabia Through the Eyes of Its Twentysomethings.

A Kingdom's Future

A Kingdom's Future

Passion for Islam

Passion for Islam Book
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A long-time reporter for the Washington Post, Murphy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting and the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting for her coverage of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and subsequent 1990-91 Gulf War.

While at the Post, Murphy served twice as a foreign correspondent, first in Southern Africa during the tumultuous era that followed the Soweto uprising and police slaying of black leader Steve Biko. In the early 1990s, she was appointed the paper's Cairo bureau chief, responsible for covering the Arab world.

In 1990, Murphy was in Kuwait when Iraq forces crossed the border and occupied the emirate. She remained there for almost a month, part of that time in hiding from Iraqi troops. She escaped from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia in the back seat of a Range Rover that was part of a caravan of Kuwaitis fleeing their homeland across the desert. In the months that followed, Murphy was part of the Post team that covered the Gulf War from Saudi Arabia.

When not overseas, Murphy covered U.S. immigration policy, U.S. federal court in Alexandria, Va. and religion for the Post. In 2005, she did a three-month tour of duty in Baghdad.

She was the 1994-1995 Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Her first book, Passion for Islam, explores Islam's contemporary revival and the roots of religious extremism in the Middle East. It examines Islam's resurgence through the prism of Egypt, where Murphy lived for five years.

Murphy left the Post in 2006 to pursue an independent journalism career. She worked for five months at the paper's web site, where she helped launch "On Faith," the Post's online feature dedicated to religion.

From 2008 to 2011, she was based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she reported for the Christian Science Monitor, GlobalPost and The National.

She was a public policy scholar in the Middle East program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC from 2011 to 2012. Her fellowship was spent researching and writing her forthcoming book, A Kingdom's Future: Saudi Arabia Through the Eyes of Its Twentysomethings.

Before deciding to become a journalist, Murphy spent two years teaching in Kenya. She also climbed two mountains (Kenya and Kilimanjaro) and trekked in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Her first stint as a foreign correspondent was in Angola, where she reported on its post-independence civil war as a stringer for Newsweek, NBC Radio, the London Sunday Times and the Washington Post. Upset at Murphy's reporting, Angolan authorities put her under house arrest for ten days and then expelled her. She joined the Post shortly afterwards.

Murphy was raised in Massachusetts in a large, boisterous and affectionate family. She is a graduate of Trinity University in Washington, D.C., and Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.


  • Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting - 1991
  • George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting - 1990
  • Edward Weintal Diplomatic Reporting Prize - 1991
  • Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award - 1994
  • Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation - 1990
  • Knight Luce Fellowship for Reporting on Global Religion 2011
  • Gerald A. Renner Enterprise Religion Report of the Year Award (second place) from Religion Newswriters Association - 2012

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In "A Kingdom's Future", published by the Wilson Centre, a Washington think-tank, Caryle Murphy argues that the education system ... has become one of the worst in the Middle East, despite the enormous sums lavished on it. "They are teaching us religion," one student complains, "when we need IT."

Drawing on her experience as an American journalist in the Saudi kingdom from 2008 to 2011, Ms Murphy depicts a generation subject to a host of new influences, from the internet to the Arab spring, yet trapped in a society of stultifying conformity. Young Saudis want change, but not revolution. They want jobs, affordable homes and sports clubs. They suffer from boredom, depression, obesity and drug abuse. They adhere to Islam, but are less respectful of the clerics than their elders are. Young women increasingly demand the right to work and to choose their husbands.

"The youth has started thinking," a student tells her. "Before, thinking was something forbidden."

The Economist - January 26, 2013

Murphy, who lived in and reported from Saudi Arabia between 2008 and 2011, conducted in-depth interviews with 83 twenty-something year-old Saudis. Representing a broad cross-section of society and geographic diversity across the country, the interviewees candidly discuss with Murphy their views on religion and politics, the always touchy subject of gender relations, their career hopes, and “how they see their country evolving in the next decade.”

One thing that comes across clearly in the interviews is a growing impatience with the status quo. Connectivity to the rest of the world is encouraging critical thinking, and leading to doubts among Saudi youth. As one interviewee puts it, “everyone is questioning everything.”

Isobel Coleman, Council on Foreign Relations - March 20, 2013

“Veteran journalist Caryle Murphy presents a nuanced portrait of Saudi youth and explains the challenge they pose to the government and society of a pivotal economic and regional power…[She] does not foresee an end to the monarchy or rejection of the country’s conservative Islamic faith and traditions. But she does predict more pressure for acceptance of individuality, growing rejection of official interpretations of Islam and increasing demands for economic justice…Overall, Murphy predicts a challenging future for a pivotal Arab and regional state.”

Barbara Slavin in Al-Monitor - Jan 7, 2013

"Caryle Murphy's careful reporting and cogent analysis present readers with an indispensable opportunity to understand how the variegated strands of Islam -- tolerant reformist traditions as well as militant anti-Western ones -- have taken root in the Arab world's most vital civilization."

Emran Qureshi in the Washington Post's Book World - December 8, 2002

"Well-chosen vignettes -- the terrorist, the Islamist lawyer dying in prison, the Islamist ideologue, the cynical secularist, the Coptic Christian, and others -- describe the confrontation between Islamists and the authoritarian state in Egypt. Murphy often presents incidents that can explain more than extended analysis could. For example, as she describes a faxed message (sent to a Western news office in Egypt) that decries the "loot plundered by senior officials from the toiling masses," she envisages the anonymous author as a formerly devout Marxist who had "become a devout Islamist without retooling his political slogans." Showing that in addition to extremists there are moderate Islamists and secularists, she indicates the possibility of an accommodation between state and society but has no illusions about that prospect. Her penultimate chapter moves to an overview of the Arab-Israeli confrontation and the need for a settlement there, adding yet another informed argument against those who maintain that the plight of the Palestinians can be decoupled from the issue of Islamists against the state in Egypt or elsewhere."

L. Carl Brown in Foreign Affairs - January/February 2003

"Murphy did a nice job of explaining how the struggle in Egypt today is a struggle between modernity- where the majority of Egyptians are comfortable- and extreme Islam- where there are a vocal minority. She writes about the Saudi attempt to influence the Muslim population towards a more fundamentalist view point. She also does a really good job of pointing out that Islamists are in some ways like our own politically active evangelical Christians. When she makes these comparisons, it is done in an objective way. Egypt has their own Christian population- the Coptics, who predate the Muslims. She also explains in the book how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a major issue for Egyptians. The writing is good and it is a fast read. Since 9-11 it is important that we try to understand Islam as a world movement. This is another good step."

Customer Review, Amazon.com - January 1, 2008

"The author does a good job of describing the various participants in the movement, and explains the roots of the Muslim Brotherhood, the start of extremist Muslim thought in Egypt and the place Ayman al-Zawahiri got his start in politics, before he went on to become #2 in Al Qaeda...The result of the book is a clear picture of how Islamist thought, and extremism, have spread in Egypt, and why. I enjoyed this book a great deal, and thought that I learned a great deal from it. I would recommend if to almost anyone interested in the subject."

Customer Review, Amazon.com - July 27, 2006

"Caryle Murphy has made a major contribution to literature on the current status of the Islamic resurgence. Not only has she accurately assessed the status quo, she has identified the issue that will dominate the immediate future...The challenge is to create a modern Islamic discourse in which relevant content can be expressed in a meaningful framework. The need, as Murphy notes, is 'for Muslims who are unafraid of critical thinking'...This book would make an excellent text for introducing college students to Islamic world today."

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Astronomer and President & Director of Minaret of Freedom Institute - Spring 2003

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