The Prison Church: Historical, Theological, and Ethnographic Perspectives
Jason Sexton, Visiting Fellow, Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion
The modern penitentiary has both religious and theological impulses that have contributed to its current shape. In historical accounts from inception to the present, the structure has been meant, in various ways, to provide both punishment and rehabilitation for crimes. While we know that many prisoners have religious experiences in prison, there has not been a robustly theological understanding of this type of rehabilitation.
Among various carceral governance structures operative within the prison is that of the church, operating in the reconstitution of the humanity of prisoners. Presenting an interdisciplinary theological vision of religious rehabilitation as found in the material content of personal faith, this paper presents preliminary results of twenty-four interviews of former prisoners who participated in the incarcerated church. I interpret this ethnographic data in dialogue with the creedal formula, elaborating the in-depth interview data so as to begin presenting a coherent theological vision of what the members of the prison church both are and could increasingly become within the carceral context.
Jason Sexton is a 2016-2017 Visiting Fellow of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. He is a Lecturer in the Honors Program at Cal State Fullerton, where he teaches a variety of interdisciplinary courses. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews, and has written widely in the areas of California studies, prison studies, religious studies, and contemporary theology. He is the Editor of the UC Press-published, Boom: A Journal of California. He has also edited Theology and California: Theological Refractions on California’s Culture (Routledge) and authored The Trinitarian Theology of Stanley J. Grenz (Bloomsbury). He is currently writing a book that gives an interdisciplinary theological account of the incarcerated church.