Why are U.S. Prisons so Religious? The Ascendance of Faith-Based Programs in an Age of Punitive Incarceration

A public lecture by Tanya Erzen, University of Puget Sound.

line drawing of a person in a chair talking, audience members, and a person with a microphone



Umrath Lounge Washington University in St. Louis

One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130



Tanya Erzen has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute for Advanced Study, Mellon Foundation, American Association of University Women and Social Science Research Council.

Erzen is currently the Catherine Gould Chism Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Puget Sound and was formerly an associate professor of religion and comparative studies at Ohio State University.  She is a founder and co-president of the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, a non-profit that works to increase access to educational opportunity through higher education programs in prisons.

She is the author of Fanpire:  The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It (Beacon Press, 2012), an ethnography of the fans of the bestselling Twilight series, and what the phenomenon reveals about girlhood, romance, and feminism.

Her first book, Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement (University of California Press, 2006) won the Gustave O. Arlt Book Award in the Humanities from the Council of Graduate Schools and the Ruth Benedict Prize Book Award from the American Anthropological Association.  She is also co-editor of Zero Tolerance:  Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City (NYU Press, 2001).

Erzen has been featured on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and MSNBC’s Weekend Edition, among other news and radio shows.

She is currently writing a book entitled God in Captivity: Becoming a Faith-Based Prison Nation (Harvard University Press) that addresses the role of religion and gender in prisons in the United States.


  • Tanya Erzen

  • R. Marie Griffith

    Director and John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities