I’m Susan Sered, a Professor of Sociology at Suffolk University in Boston, MA, and author of Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility. I also am Senior Researcher at Suffolk University‘s Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights. Before coming to Suffolk (in 2004) I had the opportunity to develop and direct the Religion, Health and Healing Initiative at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions. The first decade of my career I was a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

Over the decades I have morphed from identifying myself as an historian of religion, to considering myself an anthropologist, a medical sociologist, and now a social justice activist. Most of all, I love getting out into communities and meeting people whose life circumstances and choices have not been widely recognized or validated. My work is not limited by the walls of the university. I am committed to advocating for human rights through speaking, writing and participating in networks and movements.

All of my work explores how individuals and groups experience suffering, illness, death and birth as well as the ways in which powerful institutions manage, or do not manage, to exert control over those experiences. Over the years I have carried out projects that get at these issues from a variety of perspectives. I have studied the domestic lives of pious elderly Kurdish Jewish women in Jerusalem, the ritual practices of Okinawan priestesses, the ideologies of holistic healers who work with breast cancer patients in the US, the struggles of Americans who do not have health insurance, and most recently – the experiences of criminalized women in the Boston area. You can read more about my research here. 

Friends ask me when I plan to study something upbeat. I’m not sure if this is a complete answer, but it’s what I can offer right now: I observe wonderful acts every single day when I see people around the country engaged in fighting inequalities and challenging policies that cause millions of people to suffer. Sometimes these acts are the small acts of generosity of impoverished women who give their last quarter or share their last cigarette with people who have even less than they have. Sometimes these acts are the high visibility political work of my home state’s Senator Elizabeth Warren. And often these acts are the daily grind of tens of thousands of activists who don’t give up in their fight to create a more just society.