Down in the Chapel
Religious Life in an American Prison
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2013
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Biblical StudiesNew Books in Christian StudiesNew Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network March 19, 2014 Marshall Poe
In almost every prison movie you see, there is a group of fanatically religious inmates. They are almost always led by a charismatic leader, an outsized father-figure who is loved by his acolytes and feared by nearly everyone else. They’re usually black Muslims, but you also see the occasional born-again Christian gang. They promise salvation and, of course, protection. And they are scary.
But what’s religious life in prison really like? In order to find out, the intrepid and brave religious scholar Joshua Dubler actually moved into a prison. He lived among the inmates and those clerics who had devoted their lives to bringing them spiritual comfort. The picture he paints in his wonderful new book Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013) is nothing like the one you see on TV or in the movies. In fact, it’s so irreducibly complex that it almost defies description. The spirituality he finds behind bars is adapted to the harsh realities of prison life and the personalities of the religious (and quasi-religious) inmates themselves. Dubler reminds us that churches–of whatever type and wherever found–are made of people in all their idiosyncratic variety. Listen in to our fascinating and lively discussion.