Service Beyond Bars: How Correctional Chaplains Mediate the Movement of Religion in Prisons and Jails
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This ethnography explores the movement and restriction of religion as mediated by prison and jail chaplains in correctional institutions. Spread across four chapters are conversations with eleven interlocutors, including nine correctional chaplains working across the country, the director of a nationwide nonprofit generating Islamic education for those incarcerated, and a currently incarcerated "field minister" in Louisiana. I found that given the broad freedom of movement enjoyed and essentialized by correctional chaplains across centuries, religion too, as propelled by chaplains, has a rare fluidity and permeability in prisons and jails. I term this twofold phenomenon dual movement. Simultaneously, this movement is restricted and controlled by the dual confinement of the incarcerated person’s body and spiritual direction by corrections administrators and chaplains alike. I contend that analyzing the mechanisms of dual movement and dual confinement inherent to these facilities is the key to understanding the fluidity of religion and the power structures between chaplains and the incarcerated people to whom they minister. These power structures are remade each day in either relational and reflective pastoral counseling conversations, material-rich or lacking religious services, or explicitly “rehabilitative” religious programs that reframe vintage rhetoric of religious salvation as attempts at molding imprisoned people into models of self-discipline. As long as these institutions are still widely regarded as indispensable and security remains the ultimate concern of the state, I argue that chaplains, positioned at the junction of penal and spiritual power, are most capable of introducing and sustaining life-affirming and dignifying care.
Available for download on Thursday, May 18, 2028
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