Books and Publications


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

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.


2016. Mental Healthcare and the 2016 Election. The Hill.

2016. Beyond Opportunity. Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

2016 Uninsured in Texas, Then and Now. Health Affairs 13(9).

2016 Pennsatucky’s Teeth and the Persistence of Class. In Feminist Perspectives on Orange is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays. Pp. 128-139 in April Householder and Adrienne Trier-Bieniek (eds.). McFarland Press.

2016 Where are They Now?: Challenges of Health Care and Housing Instabilities. Community Catalyst Blog.

2016 The Social Implications of Zika. The Hill.

2016. Faces of the Newly Insured. Commonwealth Fund (photo essay with Adam Cohen.)

2016 What We Actually Know About the Opioid Crisis Might Not Be What You Think. The Hill.

2016 Questioning the ‘Opioid Crisis.’ MetroWest Daily News.

2016 Jamie Shupe’s Victory Over Binaries Run Amok. Daily Kos.

2016 If We’re Really in the Midst of an “Opioid Epidemic,” We’re Reacting in Just the Wrong Way. The Influence  (Re-printed in and in Alternet.)

2016 The Cavity in Health Insurance Coverage: Oral Health. The Conversation.

2016 Like the “Girl Who Hides a Razor Blade in Her Mouth,” Coerced Addiction Treatment Has Many VictimsThe Influence.

2016 Maternal Health and Rights Deserve Their Day. Our Bodies Ourselves.

2016 A Serious Response is Needed, But Let’s Not “Wage War” on Zika. CommonDreams.

2016 Poor and homeless face discrimination under America’s flawed housing voucher system.  The Conversation.

2016 Health is Where the Home Is. Truthout.

2015 Involuntary Hospitalization of Drug Users Is Bad Policy. Truthout.

2015 The Dark Side of Alternative Medicine and Holistic Healing. Alternet

2015 The Worst of Pinktober “Breast Cancer Awareness” Products. BitchMedia.

2015 The State(s) of the Affordable Care Act. Truthout.

2015 Alternatives to Incarceration: Be Careful What You Wish For. Truthout

2014 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk), Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility. University of California Press. (Received Honorable Mention: Betty and Alfred McClung Lee Book Award of the Association for Humanist Sociology, 2015.)

2014 Why Brain Science Won’t Cure Poverty. The Conversation.

2014 The Problems with Pinktober. BitchMedia.

2014 In California, Yes Means Yes. BitchMedia.

2014 Why Can’t the US Respond to the Ebola Outbreak Without “Waging War” and “Sending Troops.” CommonDreams.

2014 Be Careful About Sending Domestic Abusers to Jail. It Might Make them More Violent. Washington Post.

2014 America’s Shameful Ebola Ignorance: The Troubling Truth About Our Attitude Towards the Virus.

2014 What Pennsatucky’s Teeth Tell Us About Class in America. BitchMedia.

2014 “Medicalization of the Death and Other Penalties.”

2014 “Scripting Suffering in an Age of Personal Responsibility,” Contexts 13(2): 38-43.

2014 “Sex, Race and Prison’s Violent Double Standard: Incarcerating Men Hurts Women, Too.”

2013 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Criminalized Women and the Healthcare System: The Case for Continuity of Services,” Journal of Correctional Health Care 19(3): 164-177.

2013 “Post-Incarceration Volunteer Work Opportunities for Women: A Proposal.” Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights.

2013 “(Legal) Drugs and Women Behind Bars. Interview and report posted on WBUR.ORG (Boston’s NPR news station).

2013 “Our Prisons are Drugging Women.”

2012 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Criminalized Women and Twelve Step Programs: Addressing Violations of the Law with a Spiritual Cure,” Implicit Religion 15(1): 37-60.

2012 “Making the Corrections Master Plan Work for Women.” Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights.

2011 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Women and the Criminal Justice Landscape in Massachusetts: Where Are They Now?” Interview and report posted on WBUR.ORG (Boston’s NPR news station).

2011 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Mothering in the Shadow of the United States Correctional System,” in Michelle Walks and Naomi McPherson, eds., Mothering: Anthropological Perspectives. Toronto, Ontario: Demeter Press. Pp. 293-306.

2011 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Gender Overdetermination and Resistance: The Case of Criminalized Women,” Feminist Theory 12 (3): 317-333.

2011 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Whose Higher Power: Criminalized Women Confront the Twelve Steps,” Feminist Criminology 6 (4): 308-322.

2011 (with Marilyn Delle Donne Proulx) “Lessons for Women’s Health from the Massachusetts Reform: Affordability, Transitions and Choice,” Women’s Health Issues 21(1): 1-5.

2010 “Young, Sick, and Part-Time: The Vulnerability of Youth and the New American Job Market,” in Peter Conrad, ed. Sociology of Health and Illness, 8th edition. Worth Publ. Pp. 347-353.

2009 “A Right to Health Care, Response to Andrew Busch,” Claremont Review of Books, 9(4).

2009 “Ten Reasons Why Health Care Reform is a Massachusetts Women’s Issue.” Publication of Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, Suffolk University. (300 copies distributed by the Massachusetts Health Council, March 2009.)

2008 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Why Health Care Services for Postincarceration Women are Ineffective,” Women, Girls and Criminal Justice 9/6.

2008 Women and Health Care Reform in Massachusetts: Policy Brief,” publication of Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, Suffolk University.

2008 (with Amy Agigian) “Holistic Sickening: Breast Cancer and the Discursive Worlds of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners,” Sociology of Health and Illness 30(4): 616-631.

2008 “Taxonomies of Ritual Mixing: Ritual Healing in the Contemporary United States,” History of Religions 47(2-3): 221-238.

2008 (with Maureen Norton-Hawk) “Disrupted Lives, Fragmented Care: Illness Experiences of Criminalized Women,” Women and Health 48(1).

2007 (with Roger Lohmann) “Introduction: Objects, Gender and Religion,” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief 3:1.

2007 (with Linda Barnes) “Teaching Healing Rituals/Ritual Healing,” ed. Catherine Bell, Teaching Ritual. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 195-208.

2007 “Negotiating Women’s Roles and Power: The Practice of World Religions in Contemporary Asia: Prologue,” Religion 37(2): 111-116.

2005 (with Rushika Fernandopulle), Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity, University of California Press. 2nd edition with new Afterward, 2006.

2005 (co-editor, with Linda Barnes) Religion and Healing in America (Oxford University Press).

2007 Barriers to Health Care for Women who have been Incarcerated (with Maureen Norton-Hawk), publication of Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, Suffolk University.

2005 Threadbare: Holes in America’s Health Care Safety Net (with Catherine Hoffman), Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Washington DC.

2005 (with Rushika Fernandopulle) “Sick Out of Luck: What It Means to Be Uninsured in America,” Contexts 4(3): 27-32.

2005 “Healing as Resistance: Reflections upon New Forms of American Jewish Healing,” ed. Linda Barnes and Susan Sered, Religion and Healing in America. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 231-252.

2005 “Bodies and Souls: Jewish Healing in America,” Pastoral Sciences 24(2): 81-95.

2005 (with Ronald Nakasone) “Ritual Transformations in Okinawan Immigrant Communities,” Karen Leonard, Alex Stepick, Manuel Vazquez, Jennifer Holdaway, eds. Immigrant Faiths: Transforming Religious Life in America, Altamira Press.

2005 “Exile, Illness, and Gender in Israeli Pilgrimage Narratives,” pp. 69-90, Pilgrimage and Healing, eds. Jill Dubisch and Michael Winkelman, University of Arizona Press.

2004 At the Edge: Near-Elderly Americans Talk About Health Insurance, Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Washington DC.

2004 Religious Healing in Boston: Body, Spirit, Community (editor), publication of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University.

2003 “Health Care: The Critical Importance of Relationships,” Sh’ma 33/599.

2002 Religious Healing in Boston: Reports from the Field (editor), publication of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University.

2001 Religious Healing in Boston: First Findings (co-editor, with Linda Barnes), publication of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University.

2003 “Lexicons of the Supernatural,” Anthropological Forum 13(2): 213-218.

2002 “Healing and Religion: A Jewish Perspective,” Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, special issue “Spirituality, Religious Wisdom, and Care of the Patient.”

2002 “Naturally Healthy: Divine Priestesses of Okinawa,” Journal of Women and Religion, Vol. 18.

2002 “Towards a Gendered Typology of Sacrifice: Women and Feasting, Men and Death in an Okinawan Village,” pp. 13-38, ed. Albert I. Baumgarten, Sacrifice in Religious Experience (Studies in the History of Religions). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.

2001 “Replaying the Rape of Dina: Women’s Bodies in Israeli Cultural Discourse,” Contemporary Jewry, Vol. 21.

2001 “Religiously Doing Gender: The Good Woman and the Bad Woman in Israeli Ritual Discourse,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 13: 153-176.

2001 “Absent Men, Wonderful Women and God is Great,” Yael Azmon, ed. Will You Listen to My Voice: Representations of Women in Israeli Culture, Van Leer Institute / Kibbutz HaMeuhad Press (in Hebrew).

2000 What Makes Women Sick?: Militarism, Maternity and Modesty in Israeli Society, University Press of New England. This book was selected as a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and for the Koret Foundation Book Award.

2000 “Roundtable Discussion: Feminist Theology: Religiously Diverse Neighborhood or Christian Ghetto?” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 16(2): 104-108.

2000 “Jewish Women and the Shekhina,” Concilium 5: 78-90.

1999 Women of the Sacred Groves: Divine Priestesses of Okinawa, Oxford University Press.

1999 “‘You are a Number, Not a Human Being’: Israeli Breast Cancer Patients’ Experiences with the Medical Establishment,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 13(3): 223-252.

1999 “‘Woman’ as Symbol and Women as Agents: Gendered Religious Discourses and Practices” in Judith Lorber, Myra Marx Ferree and Beth Hess, eds. Revisioning Gender, Sage.

1999 “Women Pilgrims and Woman Saints: Gendered Icons and the Iconization of Gender at Israeli Shrines,” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 11(2): 48-71.

1999 “Talking about Mikveh Parties, or The Discourse of Status, Hierarchy and Social Control” in Rahel Wasserfall, ed. Women and Water: Niddah and Mikveh in Jewish Cultures, UPNE.

1998 “De-Gendering Religious Leadership: Sociological Discourse in an Okinawan Village,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66(3): 589-611.

1998 “A Tale of Three Rachels: The Natural Herstory of a Cultural Symbol,” Nashim 1(1): 5-41.

1998 (with Ephraim Tabory) “Accessibility of Information and Informed Consent: Experiences of Women Cancer Patients,” HaRefuah 134(2): 88-92 (in Hebrew)

1998 “Women’s Experiences with Breast Cancer: Focus upon Oncological Nursing” (with Ephraim Tabory) Oncological Nursing (in Hebrew).

1997 “Symbolic Illnesses, Real Handprints, and Other Bodily Marks: Autobiographies of Okinawan Priestesses and Shamans,” Ethos 25(4): 408-427.

1997 “Women and Religious Change in Israel: Rebellion or Revolution?,” Sociology of Religion 58(1): 1-24.

1997 “Arbiters of Female Purity: Conversations With Israeli Ritual Bath Attendants,” in Amia Lieblich and Ruthellen Josselson, eds. Narrative Study of Lives 5: 40-58.

1996 “Rosh Chodesh Observances among Older Sephardic Women,” in Susan Berrin, ed. Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh Anthology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

1996 “Mother-Love, Child-Death and Religious Innovation: A Feminist Perspective,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 12(1): 5-24.

1996 “Conversations with Rabbanit Zohara: An Exploration of Gender and Religious Autobiography,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63(2): 249-268.

1996 “Anthropological Reflections on the Book of Susanna,” (with Samuel Cooper) in Ellen Spolsky, ed. The Judgment of Susanna: Authority and Witness, Scholars Press.

1996 “Our Mother Rachel,” in Arvind Sharma and Katherine Young, eds. Annual Review of Women in World Religions, Volume 4. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 1-56.

1996 “The Structural Invisibility of the Religious World of Jewish Women in Kurdistan,” in Shlomo Deshen and Walter Zenner, ed. Jewish Societies in Muslim Lands. London: Macmillan and New York University Press.

1996 “Women and the Medical System: An Exploratory Study among Breast Cancer Patients,” in Amy Avgar, ed. Breast Cancer in Israel. Jerusalem: JDC-Brookdale Institute of Gerontology and Human Development (in Hebrew).

1995 “When Subordinates Lead: Paradoxes of Women’s Religious Leadership in Okinawa and Israel,” Okinawa Minzoku Kenkyu (Journal of Okinawan Folklore Studies) 15: 1-10 (in Japanese).

1995 “Rachel’s Tomb: The Development of a Cult,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 2(2): pp. 103-148.

1995 “The Religious World of Oriental Women in Jerusalem,” in Yael Atzmon, ed. Jewish Women in Mediterranean Communities. Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar, pp. 245-257 (in Hebrew).

1995 “Towards an Anthropology of Jewish Women: The Religious World of Elderly, Middle-Eastern Women in Jerusalem,” in Maurie Sacks, ed. Jewish Women’s Cultures. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 203-218.

1994 Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women, Oxford University Press. This book won the American Academy of Religion’s award for excellence in the study of religion (1995).

1994 “Husbands, Wives and Childbirth Rituals,” Ethos 22(2).

1994 “Ideology, Autonomy and Sisterhood: An Analysis of the Secular Consequences of Women’s Religions,” Gender and Society 8(4): 486-506.

1994 “‘She Perceives Her Work to Be Rewarding’: Jewish Women in Cross-Cultural Perspective,” in Lynn Davidman and Shelly Tenenbaum, eds. Feminist Perspectives on Jewish Studies. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 169-190.

1994 “Women’s Experiences with the Health Care System: Descriptive Research among Women with Breast Cancer,” Oncological Nursing 3(4): 4-7 (in Hebrew).

1993 “Religious Rituals and Secular Rituals: Interpenetrating Models of Childbirth in a Modern, Israeli Context,” Sociology of Religion 54(1): 101-114.

1992 Women as Ritual Experts: The Religious Lives of Elderly Jewish Women in Jerusalem, Oxford University Press. This book won a National Jewish Book Council prize in the field of Jewish thought (1993) and was chosen as an American Folklore Society Selection.

1992 (with Henry Abramovitch) “Pregnant Dreaming: Search for a Typology of a Proposed Dream Genre,” Social Science and Medicine 34(12): 1405-1411.

1991 “The Synagogue as a Sacred Space for the Elderly, Oriental Women of Jerusalem,” in Susan Grossman and Rivka Haut, eds. Daughters of the King: Women and the Synagogue. N.Y.: Jewish Publication Society.

1991 “Childbirth as a Religious Experience?: Fieldwork Among Women in an Israeli Hospital,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 7(2): 7-18.

1991 “Conflict, Complement, and Control: Family and Religion among Middle-Eastern Jewish Women in Jerusalem,” Gender and Society, 5(1): 10-29.

1991 “Rachel, Mary and Fatima,” Cultural Anthropology, 6(2): 131-146.

1991 “Gender, Immanence, and Transcendence: The Candle-­Lighting Repertoire of Middle-Eastern Jews,” Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 6(4): 293-304.

1990 “Women, Religion and Modernization: Tradition and Transformation among Elderly Jews in Israel,” American Anthropologist, 92: 306-318.

1990 “Women, Halacha, and Modesty,” Jewish Folklore and Ethnography Review, 12(1-2): 14-16.

1989 “Rachel’s Tomb: Societal Liminality and the Revitalization of a Shrine,” Religion 19: 27-40.

1989 “The Religion of Relating,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 6(3): 309-325.

1988 “Food and Holiness: Cooking as a Sacred Act Among Middle­-Eastern Jewish Women,” Anthropological Quarterly, 61(3): 129-140.

1988 “The Domestication of Religion,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society (Man, N.S.), 23: 506-521. Reprinted in Shlomo Deshen, Charles Liebman and Moshe Shokeid, eds. Israeli Judaism, Transaction Press, New Brunswick 1995 (Studies of Israeli Society, vol. 7).

1987 “Gender, Ritual and Morality,” Israel Social Science Research, 5(1 and 2): 87-96.

1987 “The Liberation of Widowhood,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 2(2): 139-150.

1986 “Rachel’s Tomb and the Milk Grotto of the Virgin Mary: Two Women’s Shrines in Bethlehem,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 2(2): 7-22.