America has the largest incarcerated population in the world. This staggering and troubling fact has driven a great deal of scholarship. Much of this research has shown that mass incarceration in America is facilitated by systemic racial discrimination, which disproportionately affects African-American and Latinx communities. Only recently have scholars focused on the role of religion in American prisons.
In American Prisons: A Critical Primer on Culture and Conversion to Islam
(First Edition Design, 2017), SpearIt
, Professor in the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, brings the subject of incarcerated Muslims into focus. The collection of essays synthesizes SpearIt’s legal and academic work on issues of conversion, radicalization, and Muslim prisoner rights. Overall, the collection demonstrates that prisons are a crucial space for understanding the history of Muslims in America. In our conversation we discussed how Muslims have shaped religious life in prisons, the everyday challenges of incarceration, prison as a center for religious conversion, reasons prisoners chose Islam while incarcerated, prison administrators’ and policy makers’ definitions of radicalization, Muslim hip hop in the age of mass incarceration, incarcerated Latinx communities, and strategies to improve the criminal justice system.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab
(Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled
The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes
Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and
New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.