Religious diversity in residential faith-based and character-based prison program

A. Wild

University of Cambridge,

This paper considers religious diversity in residential faith- or character-based prison units that are housed in men’s medium-maximum security facilities in the United States. The religious diversity of American prisons has been the focus of a growing body of scholarship, but most studies focus on prison chapels rather than religious life in the dormitories where prisoners spend much of their time. Residential faith-based units provide a different site for considering ‘lived religion’: one that foregrounds prisoners’ experiences of cohabitation. Drawing on ethnographic work in three faith-based prison units, this paper pays particular attention to narratives of non-Christian prisoners. The experiences of religious minorities in these units are important to understanding what “faith-based” means in practice. This paper describes religious pluralism in faith-based dormitories, exploring how space is shared by people of different faiths and why prisoners practicing religions other than Christianity choose to participate in programs that are operated by a Christian organisation. The narratives of religious minorities in these faith-based units allow for fuller consideration of what fairness and consent mean in the context of voluntary prison programs.


Abigail is doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK, and currently lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was awarded a Gates Scholarship and a Harvard-Cambridge Fellowship to support her research at Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. Her PhD thesis is an ethnographic study of three residential prison programs in the United States operated by a faith-based organization. Abigail has been a member of the Prisons Research Centre (Cambridge) and involved in the Yellow Ribbon Project, Singapore. She serves on the board of Sun Strategies Innovations, a US and Singapore-based investment company focused on emerging growth businesses.


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