Books

Can't Catch a Break

Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility

Based on five years of fieldwork in Boston, Can’t Catch a Break documents the day-to-day lives of forty women as they struggle to survive sexual abuse, violent communities, ineffective social and therapeutic programs, discriminatory local and federal policies, criminalization, incarceration, and a broad cultural consensus that views suffering as a consequence of personal flaws and bad choices. Combining hard-hitting policy analysis with an intimate account of how marginalized women navigate an unforgiving world, Susan Sered and Maureen Norton-Hawk shine new light on the deep and complex connections between suffering and social inequality.

Uninsured in America

Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity

Uninsured in America goes to the heart of why more than forty million Americans are falling through the cracks in the health care system, and what it means for society as a whole when so many people suffer the consequences of inadequate medical care. Based on interviews with 120 uninsured men and women and dozens of medical providers, policymakers, and advocates from around the nation, this book takes a fresh look at one of the most important social issues facing the United States today. A new afterword updates the stories of many of the people who are so memorably presented here.

Priestess Mother Sacred Sister

Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women

In this fascinating and pathbreaking work–the first comparative study of women’s religions–Susan Starr Sered explores the meaning of religion in women’s lives through the centuries and across the globe–from Korean shamanism, nineteenth-century Spiritualists, and the Sande secret societies of West Africa to Christian Science, the Caribs of Belize, and the contemporary Feminist Spirituality movement. Looking for a common thread linking these diverse groups, Sered finds that motherhood and motherly concerns play a vital role in these female-dominated groups. Religion not only enables women to find sacred meaning in their daily lives, from the preparation of food to caring for their families, but can offer intense and personal relationships with deities and spirits, as well as opportunities to celebrate and mourn with other women.
Offering a new understanding of the role gender plays in determining how individuals grapple with the ultimate questions of existence, Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister not only highlights the profound differences between men and women, but the equally important ways in which we are all alike.

Women of the Sacred Groves

Women of the Sacred Groves: Divine Priestesses of Okinawa

Okinawa is the only contemporary society in which women lead the official, mainstream, publicly funded religion. Priestesses are the acknowledged religious leaders within the home, clan, and village–and, until annexation by Japan approximately one hundred years ago, within the Ryukyuan Kingdom. This fieldwork-based study provides a gender-sensitive look at a remarkable religious tradition. Susan Sered spent a year living in Henza, an Okinawan fishing village, joining priestesses as they conducted rituals in the sacred groves located deep in the jungle-covered mountains surrounding the village. Her observations focus upon the meaning of being a priestess and the interplay between women’s religious preeminence and other aspects of the society.

Sered shows that the villages social ethos is characterized by easy-going interpersonal relations, an absence of firm rules and hierarchies, and a belief that the village and its inhabitants are naturally healthy. Particularly interesting is her discovery that gender is a minimal category here: villagers do not adapt any sort of ideology that proclaims that men and women are inherently different from one another. Villagers do explain that because farmland is scarce in Okinawa, men have been compelled to go to the dangerous ocean and to foreign countries to seek their livelihoods. Women, in contrast, have remained present in their healthy and pleasant village, working on their farms and engaging in constant rounds of intra- and interfamilial socializing. Priestesses, who do not exert power in the sense that religious leaders in many other societies do, can be seen as the epitome of presence. By praying and eating at myriad rituals, priestesses make immediate and tangible the benevolent presence of kami-sama (divinity).

Through in-depth examination of this unique and little-studied society, Sered offers a glimpse of a religious paradigm radically different from the male-dominated religious ideologies found in many other cultures.

What Makes Women Sick

What Makes Women Sick?: Maternity, Modesty, and Militarism in Israeli Society

Scrutinizing the Israeli military, medical, and religious establishments, Susan Sered discloses the myths, policies, and pressures that encumber and endanger Israeli women in their roles as soldiers, brides, and mothers. Framed by the question of why the life expectancy and health status of Israeli women is poor in comparison to women in other developed countries, What Makes Women Sick? conjoins medical anthropology, gender studies, and women’s health to show how female bodies in Israel are controlled through public policy, symbolic discourses, and ritual performances. Looking at issues such as disputes over women serving in combat, the rape of a former “Miss Israel,” and government incentives for bearing children, Sered develops a passionate ethnography of Israeli society that resonates universal truths about women, power, and authority.

Women as Ritual Experts: The Religious Lives of Elderly Jewish Women in Jerusalem

This ethnography explores the religious beliefs and rituals of a group of elderly Jewish women, originally from Kurdistan and Yemen, who now live in Jerusalem. Sered visited the women in their homes and accompanied them on trips to holy tombs, local ethnic synagogues, and Judaica classes. She finds that, though mainly illiterate and excluded from formal religious practices, the women are experts in rituals aimed at safeguarding the well-being of their extended families. By analyzing their rituals, daily experiences, life-stories, and non-verbal gestures, Sered uncovers the strategies these women have used to circumvent the patriarchal institutions of Judaism, and how they have developed their own “little tradition” within and parallel to the “great tradition” of Torah Judaism.

Religion and Healing in America

Religion and Healing in America

Throughout much of the modern era, faith healing received attention only when it came into conflict with biomedical practice. During the 1990s, however, American culture changed dramatically and religious healing became a commonplace feature of our society. Increasing numbers of mainstream churches and synagogues began to hold held “healing services” and “healing circles.” The use of complementary and alternative therapies-some connected with spiritual or religious traditions-became widespread, and the growing hospice movement drew attention to the spiritual aspects of medical care. At the same time, changes in immigration laws brought to the United States new cultural communities, each with their own approaches to healing. Cuban santeros, Haitian mambos and oungans, Cambodian Buddhist priests, Chinese herbalist-acupuncturists, and Hmong shamans are only a few of the newer types of American religious healers, often found practicing within blocks of prestigious biomedical institutions.This book offers a richly comprehensive collection of essays examining this new reality. It brings together, for the first time, scholars from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives to explore the relatively uncharted field of religious healing as understood and practiced in diverse cultural communities in the United States. The book will be an invaluable resource for students of anthropology, religious studies, American studies, and ethnic studies, health care professionals, clergy, and anyone interested in the changing American cultural landscape.