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Islamic and Christian Conversion in Prison

November 26, 2014

My latest article Religious Conversion in Prison: Prosocial V. Antisocial Identities appears in the International Journal of Education and Social Science, Research Institute for Progression of Knowledge. http://www.ijessnet.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/7.pdf.

In this article “Prisoner transformation through religious conversion is a varied pathway where the reasons for seeking change, for selecting religion as a means of change, the selection of a helper, the religious group affiliated with and the effect of social, cultural and political factors create subtle distinctions in how one experiences conversion or not and if so, how transformation develops and proceeds toward anti- or pro-social outcomes.  Does this tell us anything that we may later quantify and statistically base predictions upon? In responding to this question there are seven points worthy of consideration.

First, religious conversion and transformation in identity is a “much nuanced pathway”.

Second, what is found in both religions is that there are many “forks in the road” during the conversion process and transforming identities. Forks were evidenced in both the inclusivist and exclusivist religious community identity and in the incorporationist and rejectionist worldview identity.

Third, the narratives evidenced that religion is just one alternative for gaining knowledge of self. Other alternatives are education, counseling, and gangs.

Fourth, in comparing Christian and Islamic participants it emerged that not all of either faith who experience religious conversion and become inclusivist or exclusivist and in both types there are both incorporationists and rejectionists. Of the 22 participants 2 coding exclusive and 2 coding inclusive were rejecting of society. Moreover of those coding both exclusive and rejecting one was Christian and one was Islamic. Most participants were cooperative toward larger society whether inclusive or exclusive in religious identity.

Fifth, in each religion no definitive process of radicalization emerged although one participant professing Islam and that coded exclusive/rejecting spoke of hate of white people and racism. And, in another case a professing Christian that coded exclusive/rejecting spoke of leading people in violent opposition to government.

Sixth, the four participants coded rejectionist used particular words related to specific concepts that disassociated and sanctified their anti-social behavior even in light of their profession of religion and spirituality.

Seventh, descriptive words and phrases may be operationalized in relation to concepts and scales created to quantify findings in future studies.

Policy Implications for Corrections and Directions for Research

This research establishes a model study for giving prisoners a voice in their transformation, it offers guidelines for study of religious conversion in prison, provides assistance to the correctional system and supports the professional and volunteer chaplaincy as part of an overall prison treatment program designed to help individuals seeking to change their lives pro-socially to do so, to desist from crime and thereby reduce their chances of returning to prison. Findings support a conclusion that isolating one religion as a radicalizing source unduly burdens free practice of religion and fails to recognize other religions have similar tendencies. As noted by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (2008) restrictions on any non-Christian religion must not result in having their “free exercise” rights to practice religion unduly burdened by the state without a compelling interest.

Prison administrators, chaplains, psychologists, counselors are better equipped to understand how including religion or spirituality into correctional treatment assists desistance (stopping crime) and thereby helps prisoners help themselves not return to prison. It promotes a better understanding of how involving the felon in an active role will promote possible transformation to a pro-social member of society (Norcross & Wampold, 2010; Worthington, Hook, Davis, & McDaniel, 2010).

Importantly, the findings support the need for an interdisciplinary approach where treatment professionals and institutional administrators work holistically with religious services as part of an overall treatment program.  Simultaneously it speaks to the need for trained volunteers for all religious faiths served by the prison chaplaincy programs. It therefore provides support and direction for prison chaplaincy and volunteer programs and enhances chaplaincy as a correctional profession.

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