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Dr. Malcolm L. Rigsby Presents Findings From Late Study on Religious Conversion in Prison

April 19, 2013

Thursday evening Dr. Malcolm L. Rigsby presented findings from his late study at the monthly meeting of the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue, hosted by the Little Rock Turkish Raindrop House.  The study, entitled Religious Conversion in Prison and its Directions: Community Identity, Religious Dogma, and Exclusivist or Inclusivist Religiosity in America Prisons responds to the need for methodological study of the potential for religion in prisoner transformation.

In prison many inmates turn to religion for a novel world-view fostering belonging, identity, and management of life. Dogma associated with religious conversion may reinforce anti-social, radical identity or it may encourage pro-social conformity (Sadri 2007, 2009). This study focuses on the role of conversion in prisoner rehabilitation and the potential for the radicalization of prisoners in context of religious conversion. Given the relative dearth of research on either of the above subjects, this study examines conversion in prison and the potential tendencies for, the inclusivist, or the exclusivist, the incorporationist, or the rejectionist trajectories of conversion.

Two categories of participants: prison chaplains, and prisoners, were recruited to this study. Twenty-two English-speaking adult prisoners who self-identified as either converts to Islam or Christianity consented to interviews. Semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions promoted deep narrative responses. All twenty-two chaplains employed by the Oregon Department of Corrections were asked to complete a short demographic questionnaire. From respondents, four chaplains were recruited to participate in an interview on their professional perceptions of prisoner conversion. Using NVivo software to assist in the analysis, open, axial, and selective coding revealed themes, linkages, and patterns about how converts described their conversions and how tendencies that are inclusive or exclusive in religion, and incorporationist or rejectionist in daily worldly transactions develop and are justified. These patterns were coded to identity types and portrayed in a typology.

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