Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison

Joshua Dubler. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-12070-2
University of Rochester religion professor Dubler (Bang! Thud: World Spirit from a Texas School Book Depository) takes readers where every American should go at least once—to prison. The highly religious United States also has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Examining chapel life at Pennsylvania’s maximum-security prison at Graterford, readers follow two prison guards, five chaplains, 15 prisoner-workers, 20 volunteers, one secular professor of religion, and hundreds of religious followers of Sunni Islam, Salafi Islam, Judaism, Nation of Islam, Moorish Science Temple, Evangelicals, Catholics, Christian Science, Native American Church, and more. His postmodern frame keeps Dubler, as the interpreter, always in plain view, while profitably weaving in Graterford’s social location (an era that prioritizes punishment, not rehabilitation), and historical context (Pennsylvania’s early experiments in reforming prisoners through religious instruction and solitary confinement). In this important book, Dubler reveals an essential American conversation that is complex, nuanced, highly intellectual, woefully uninformed, often humorous, and deeply theological among men held in violent, repressive circumstances. This book aptly proves Dostoyevsky’s claim that one can judge a society’s civilization “by entering its prisons.” Agent: Tina Bennett, WME. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/10/2013
Release date: 08/13/2013
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