"An unchristian institution": Christian prison chaplains and penal abolition

Scott, David (2024). "An unchristian institution": Christian prison chaplains and penal abolition. In: Phillips, Elizabeth and Stone-Davis, Férdia J. eds. Catholic Social Thought and Prison Ministry: Resourcing Theory and Practice. Explorations in Practical, Pastoral, and Empirical Theology. London: Routledge.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003290407-12


This chapter explores the relationship between the role of the Christian prison chaplain and the moral and political ideas and sentiments of penal abolition. The chapter starts with a reflection on the author’s research in prison chaplains since the mid-1990s (Heavenly Confinement? 1996). The chapter revisits several findings, including the tensions between established carceral Christian theologies which are tied to the state and the more radical and implicit if not explicit abolitionist liberation theologies. The chapter then “looks back” to some of the salient voices of the prison and their approach to penal abolition at the time. Following on from this, the chapter “looks forward” to reflect upon how some of the ideas in contemporary penal abolitionist and socialist ethics, notably those around the ethics of dignity, empathy, freedom, and the “paradigm of life”, could help inform an abolitionist theology for Christian prison chaplains to draw upon when working in and against an “unchristian institution”.

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