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Pulitzer Center Update March 29, 2022

What We Can’t Control—and What We Can

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This project explores the relationship between mental health, religion and spirituality, with...


Spirit matters
Image by Gemma Green-Hope.

A global pandemic, the worst in a century. A long-evaded reckoning with racism, in the midst of viciously polarized politics. And now the most brutal war on the European continent since World War II, with senior Russian officials explicitly threatening the use of nuclear weapons.

Is it any wonder that we’ve seen rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide sharply spike? Reporting Fellow Sofie Isenberg, of Boston University, in a deeply reported, deeply moving essay for The Sunday Long Read, shares her own sense of lost moorings during the pandemic: “I met my own eyes in the mirror and accidentally made room for a terrifying thought,” she writes. “I found myself wishing I didn’t exist.”

In the dozens of interviews and research that followed, Isenberg found that such feelings were widespread—but she also found they were significantly less prevalent among people with religious faith or who are otherwise “spiritual” in their approach to life. Across a wide spectrum of faiths and practices, common characteristics in this latter group included a greater sense of meaning in life, a greater sense of engagement with others, and equally important, a greater acceptance of the many things beyond our control.

“The folks who seemed most content had a kind of superpower,” Isenberg writes. “They were great at knowing the difference between problems they could tackle and matters beyond their control.”

Isenberg came to journalism mid-career, after earning a master’s in anthropology and spending several years in international development work. She is among the hundreds of Reporting Fellows who have worked with the Pulitzer Center through our Campus Consortium, a network of 35 institutions that include graduate schools of journalism, public health, and the environment, undergraduate liberal arts programs, community colleges, and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The Reporting Fellows report from all over the world, with mentorship from the Pulitzer Center staff and from our professional journalism grantees. We are constantly amazed by the quality of their work—and their insights into the challenges we face.

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Grantee Irina Werning has won a 2022 World Press Photo Award in the South America Stories category for her Pulitzer Center-supported project La Promesa [The Promise], which followed 12-year-old Antonella’s life within Argentina's pandemic-era inequalities. Werning had been photographing Argentina’s long-haired girls for over a decade, exploring why women and girls like Antonella keep their hair longer than women in other regions of the world.

“The photographer looks beyond the narrative of victimhood and approaches the issue in a positive and uplifting manner,” the jury said of Werning’s work. “She highlights the young girl's creative and personal form of resistance in a way that transcends cultural boundaries and connects to diverse meanings of hair around the world.”

This message first appeared in the March 25, 2022, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.

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