Today, the Open Society Foundation announced its Soros Justice Fellows—a prestigious award with a hefty stipend to do a yearlong project:
The new fellows include Maureen Barden, a former federal prosecutor, who will seize upon the opportunities provided by the Affordable Care Act to ensure that people returning home from prison and jail have meaningful access to health care; Kylee Sunderlin, a graduating law student, who will combat the unconscionable practice of leveling child abuse and neglect charges against pregnant women based on their enrollment in methadone maintenance treatment; and Tyrone Werts, an activist who spent two decades as president of the “lifers” organization at Pennsylvania’s maximum security Graterford Prison, who will work with other formerly incarcerated men to address the problem of crime and violence.
Other 2013 Soros Justice Fellows include Luis Trelles, an investigative journalist, who will explore the dramatic contradictions surrounding Puerto Rico’s emergence as the “death penalty capital of the Caribbean;” and Calvin Duncan, who during nearly 30 years of wrongful incarceration at Louisiana’s notorious Angola Penitentiary became a renowned “jailhouse lawyer,” and who will now help others assert their post-conviction rights.
Among the winners is Dr. Tanya Erzen, who studies American religion's high-pressure points of contact with other aspects of American culture: she started with "ex-gay" conversion therapy and has recently been studying how our nation's prisons are becoming increasingly evangelical Christian institutions. That has all kinds of weird and sometimes deeply screwed-up effects, such as giving preferential treatment to prisoners based on their faith—or how well those prisoners fake their faith to get the benefits. She also wrote an ethnography of female Twilight fans titled Fanpire. (I think it's about how some women look wistfully at Twilight characters as masculine ideals they wish their own partners would embody, but I haven't read it.)
She and I have also had lively conversation about Mars Hill church and the phenomenon of "macho Christianity."
And, of course, she spoke at last year's Smoke Farm Symposium. Details about this summer's Symposium—our fifth so far—are coming soon.
Anyway: Congratulations, Tanya!