Special Issue "Carceral Intersections: Christianity and the Crisis of Mass Incarceration"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 December 2018)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Douglas A. Campbell

Professor of New Testament and Director, Certificate in Prison Studies, The Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, 27708 NC, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: the Bible, Paul, politics, ethics, mass incarceration, restorative justice
Editorial Assistant
Rev. Sarah Jobe

Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, 27708 NC, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: carceral theologies, biblical studies, black feminist theory, feminist theology, practical theology, mass incarceration

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

With rising public focus on the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States, scholars have increasingly produced articles and monographs addressing carceral issues from a wide variety of fields. This Special Issue, “Carceral Intersections: Christianity and the Crisis of Mass Incarceration,” addresses the relationship between various constructions of Christianity and the crisis of mass incarceration, especially as it plays out in the United States today. Mass incarceration is a complex issue which elicits and requires multiple and interdisciplinary engagements, and this issue is intentionally interdisciplinary and intersectional in its responses. We acknowledge that there are very different perspectives and wide-ranging types of engagement with prisons in the United States and this issue seeks to bring those various perspectives into one location for scholarly comparison and cross-pollination.While brief descriptions of the problems of mass incarceration are included here for unfamiliar readers, this issue presses beyond description to name how Christian theologies and practices are woven into the fabric of ongoing carceral systems, in both death-dealing and restorative ways. “Carceral Intersections” explores theologies, biblical interpretations, and past and present Christian practices that exacerbate, remediate, and arise from within the prison context. Not simply a study of mass incarceration and the theological disciplines, these articles prioritize prison as a site from which and a lens through which to interrogate Christian theology, interpretation, and practice.

Prof. Dr. Douglas A. Campbell
Guest Editor
Rev. Sarah Jobe
Editorial Assistant

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

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Keywords

  • mass incarceration
  • the Bible
  • theology
  • Christianity
  • prison
  • politics
  • race
  • ethics
  • gender
  • interpretation
  • carceral
  • intersectionality

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Abolition Theology? Or, the Abolition of Theology? Towards a Negative Theology of Practice
Religions 2019, 10(3), 192; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030192
Received: 7 January 2019 / Revised: 7 March 2019 / Accepted: 9 March 2019 / Published: 14 March 2019
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Abstract
On February 8, 1971, Michel Foucault announced the formation of Le Groupe d’information sur les prisons (the Prisons Information Group [GIP]), a group of activist intellectuals who worked to amplify the voices of those with firsthand knowledge of the prison—reflected in their motto, [...] Read more.
On February 8, 1971, Michel Foucault announced the formation of Le Groupe d’information sur les prisons (the Prisons Information Group [GIP]), a group of activist intellectuals who worked to amplify the voices of those with firsthand knowledge of the prison—reflected in their motto, “Speech to the detainees!” In highlighting and circulating subjugated knowledges from within prisons, the GIP not only pursued political and material interventions, but also called for epistemological and methodological shift within intellectual labor about prisons. This essay turns to the work of the GIP, and philosophical reflection on that work, as a resource for contemporary theological methodology. Counter to the optimistic and positive trend in theological turn to practices, this essay draws on Foucault’s work with and reflection on the GIP to argue for a negative theology of practice, which centers on practice (those concrete narratives found in any lived theological context) while, at the same time, sustaining its place in the critical moment of self-reflection; this means theology exposes itself to the risk of reimagining, in the double-movement of self-critique and other-reponse, what theology is. In order to harness and tap into its own moral, abolitionist imagination, this essay argues that theology must risk (paradoxically) and pursue (ideally) its own abolition—it must consider practices outside of its own theological and ecclesial frameworks as potential sources, and it must attend closely, critically, and continually to the ways that Christian practices, and accounts of them, perpetuate and produce harm. Full article
Open AccessArticle “Using the Language of Christian Love and Charity”: What Liberal Religion Offers Higher Education in Prison
Religions 2019, 10(3), 169; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030169
Received: 7 February 2019 / Revised: 25 February 2019 / Accepted: 26 February 2019 / Published: 7 March 2019
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Abstract
This article explores what religious frameworks and institutions have to contribute to college-in-prison. We first provide an historical overview of higher education programs in American prisons. Then, we limn the role religion can play in motivating people to commit themselves to educating incarcerated [...] Read more.
This article explores what religious frameworks and institutions have to contribute to college-in-prison. We first provide an historical overview of higher education programs in American prisons. Then, we limn the role religion can play in motivating people to commit themselves to educating incarcerated people. Because this work is so thorny, we document some of the generic challenges programs must face and show how religious languages can be an asset in navigating these challenges. Next, we present the pedagogical practices and educational philosophies expressed among the programs in our study. We conclude with some broader reflections about teaching incarcerated people, and, after wrestling with objections, we encourage our colleagues in religious studies—those with faith commitments as well as those without them—to get involved. Full article
Open AccessArticle “The Real Victim of Lynch Law Is the Government”: American Protestant Anti-Lynching Advocacy and the Making of Law and Order
Religions 2019, 10(2), 116; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020116
Received: 22 December 2018 / Revised: 4 February 2019 / Accepted: 10 February 2019 / Published: 17 February 2019
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Abstract
This article examines American Protestant anti-lynching advocacy in the early twentieth century. In contrast to African American Protestants, who framed their anti-lynching efforts in ways that foregrounded the problem of racism and black experiences of suffering, white mainline Protestant critiques of lynching regularly [...] Read more.
This article examines American Protestant anti-lynching advocacy in the early twentieth century. In contrast to African American Protestants, who framed their anti-lynching efforts in ways that foregrounded the problem of racism and black experiences of suffering, white mainline Protestant critiques of lynching regularly downplayed race and framed the crime in terms of its threat to American civilization and national law and order. This article connects these latter concerns to the national war on crime of the 1930s and 40s and the early history of the modern carceral state. Full article
Open AccessArticle Experiencing Justice from the Inside Out: Theological Considerations about the Church’s Role in Justice, Healing, and Forgiveness
Religions 2019, 10(2), 108; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020108
Received: 2 January 2019 / Revised: 13 January 2019 / Accepted: 13 January 2019 / Published: 14 February 2019
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Abstract
Recent suggestions have been made that theology may have more to offer on matters related to the subjects of punishment, corrections, and rehabilitation than has often been acknowledged in the scholarly literature. This essay sets out to explore the merits of such claims [...] Read more.
Recent suggestions have been made that theology may have more to offer on matters related to the subjects of punishment, corrections, and rehabilitation than has often been acknowledged in the scholarly literature. This essay sets out to explore the merits of such claims with regard to how they might assist ongoing efforts to address mass incarceration, including the theological dimensions of punitive justice along with other potentially redemptive realities that theological reflection may illuminate and make more visible. Consideration will be given to the ongoing role that religion plays in the life of the prison before giving consideration to the ontology of the church as a social actor, especially as locally-constituted within the prison—the ecclesia incarcerate, or the prison church. The theological rationale for the basic existence of such an actor is explored along with the effects of such a vision for this kind of transformation the church may experience along with both promises and potential challenges that come with the church having its own ontology, not as a given, but as a creature of grace. Full article
Open AccessArticle Carceral Hermeneutics: Discovering the Bible in Prison and Prison in the Bible
Religions 2019, 10(2), 101; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020101
Received: 16 December 2018 / Revised: 29 January 2019 / Accepted: 5 February 2019 / Published: 10 February 2019
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Abstract
This essay introduces the concept of “carceral hermeneutics,” the art of interpreting Scripture from within prisons as, or alongside, incarcerated persons. Reading the Bible in prison reframes the Bible as a whole, highlighting how the original sites of textual production were frequently sites [...] Read more.
This essay introduces the concept of “carceral hermeneutics,” the art of interpreting Scripture from within prisons as, or alongside, incarcerated persons. Reading the Bible in prison reframes the Bible as a whole, highlighting how the original sites of textual production were frequently sites of exile, prison, confinement, and control. Drawing on the work of Lauren F. Winner, the author explores the “characteristic damages” of reading the Bible without attention to the carceral and suggests that physically re-locating the task of biblical interpretation can unmask interpretative damage and reveal alternative, life-giving readings. The essay concludes with an extended example, showing how the idea of cruciformity is a characteristically damaged reading that extracts Jesus’ execution from its carceral context. Carceral hermeneutics surfaces a Gospel counter-narrative in which Jesus flees violence and opts for his own safety. Jesus as a refugee (Matt 2), a fugitive (Matt 4:12–17), and a victim escaping violence (Luke 4:14–30) stand alongside Jesus as an executed person to offer a wider range of options for a “christoformity” in which people can image God while fleeing from violence in order to preserve their own lives and freedom. Full article
Open AccessArticle Natives Need Prison: The Sanctification of Racialized Incarceration
Religions 2019, 10(2), 87; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020087
Received: 17 December 2018 / Revised: 19 January 2019 / Accepted: 24 January 2019 / Published: 29 January 2019
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Abstract
This paper draws on literary scholar Susan Ryan’s work to show how Americans worked out national as well as racial identities through benevolent activity, including forms of reformative incarceration. Reformers operated as true citizens by sustaining themselves and providing for others. Recipients, on [...] Read more.
This paper draws on literary scholar Susan Ryan’s work to show how Americans worked out national as well as racial identities through benevolent activity, including forms of reformative incarceration. Reformers operated as true citizens by sustaining themselves and providing for others. Recipients, on the other hand, functioned as people in need. Ryan argues that benevolent activists ascribed need to entire groups of people. As a result, “the categories of blackness, Indianness, and Irishness…came to signify need itself.” Elite Americans thereby “raced” need, assigning essential difference to populations they sought to relieve. Ryan’s work on racialized need can help us understand the connections between Christianity, race, and mass incarceration. I explore how one nineteenth-century military prison—and the disciplinary institutions later modeled on it—was created in direct response to presumed (and raced) need among Native Americans. I also consider how Christian reformers obscured and concealed the racialized nature of this institution—and how, in that avoidance, they came to sanctify mass incarceration for racial minorities. Finally, I look at two incarcerated Native artists’ drawings to show how people caught up in racialized renderings of their need have something else to say about who they are and what prison is. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Repairing the Breach: Faith-Based Community Organizing to Dismantle Mass Incarceration
Religions 2019, 10(1), 42; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010042
Received: 14 December 2018 / Revised: 8 January 2019 / Accepted: 8 January 2019 / Published: 10 January 2019
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Abstract
Public awareness of the injustices of mass incarceration has grown significantly over the last decade. Many people have learned about mass incarceration in church contexts through book groups, study campaigns, and denominational statements. In recent years, faith-based community organizing (FBCO) networks have increasingly [...] Read more.
Public awareness of the injustices of mass incarceration has grown significantly over the last decade. Many people have learned about mass incarceration in church contexts through book groups, study campaigns, and denominational statements. In recent years, faith-based community organizing (FBCO) networks have increasingly turned their attention to mass incarceration in light of the growing awareness of many Christian individuals, congregations, and denominations. Mass incarceration, however, presents three distinctive challenges to FBCO. First, dismantling mass incarceration requires overtly and conscientiously confronting white supremacy and advancing racial and ethnic equity; faith-based community organizers have avoided this work in the past for fear of dividing their base. Second, streams of Christian theology based in retributivism have provided justifications for increasingly punitive practices and policies, thus contributing to mass incarceration; FBCO networks must construct and uplift alternative theological streams to support alternative practices and policies. Finally, several practices and policies tied to mass incarceration deplete the political power of individuals, families, and communities most deeply impacted by it. Organizing against mass incarceration requires new strategies for building social capital and creating coalitions among groups who have been disenfranchised, marginalized, and undercounted by these practices and policies. Together, these challenges have required FBCO networks to adapt assumptions, strategies, and relationships that had previously been effective in addressing other issues, such as healthcare, employment, education, and transportation. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper explores the insights, struggles, and innovations of ISAIAH, a network in Minnesota, as its members work to dismantle mass incarceration and confront its unique challenges. Full article
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