“Theory On The Ground” | at NYU Center for Religion and Media

The NYU Center for Religion and Media series on RELIGION AND VIOLENCE presents THEORY ON THE GROUND: Religion and spirituality, repressing and redeeming the struggles for justice. A conversation about how religion, race, gender, and sexuality intersect in the battle to resist state violence.

When: November 5, 2015 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Where: 20 COOPER SQUARE, 4TH FLOOR

Theory-on-the-Ground-Poster-Version-5-622x1024Discussants: NYLE FORT (Princeton University), DEON HAYWOOD (Women With A Vision, Inc.), JOSEF SORETT (Columbia University). Moderated by LAURA MCTIGHE (Columbia University).

You can read more about them here.

CO-SPONSORS: NYU PRISON EDUCATION PROGRAM AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES

Poster Artwork: “Study” by Pete Yahnke Railand

Prison Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning with Imprisoned Writers

This edited collection will address educational practices and pedagogies for teaching writing in prisons.  The collection’s framing concept argues for social and political consciousness within prison writing education that represents equal and shared learning between writers and teachers.  The collection will offer material that advocates an equalitarian pedagogy for prison writing education while exploring how writing projects can model student/teacher collaboration in order for learning to occur for both teacher and student.  More directly, how do knowledge, writing, and social activism combine in writing classrooms within a prison setting?

Essays of interest might include autobiographical discussions of learning as a result of teaching writing in prisons; pedagogical issues and methods specific to prison education; politics of teaching writing in prisons; gender and minority status in prison writing; impact of security levels on writing programs, particularly educational offerings to supermax residents; interaction of writing and performance for inmate writers; teaching different genres of writing in prison; and U.S. prison writing in languages other than English.

The editors are particularly interested in essays focused on the work and meanings of writing in prison, and the social context in which incarcerated writers pursue individual and group writing.  We invite essays from prison teachers and administrators, education volunteers, educational administration professionals, rhetoric & composition communities, and education faculty at universities. Essays from those teaching outside prisons should make clear the basis of their teaching engagement with inmate writers.  We welcome and encourage theoretical discussion, but essays should employ clear and accessible language.

Please send 250-word abstracts, or full draft manuscripts of previously unpublished material, to the co-editors no later than January 31, 2016 for consideration.  Include a 100-150 word bio.  Authors will be notified by February 15, 2016.  Where relevant for contributors from academic institutions, a copy of IRB approval must be submitted upon acceptance, and a permissions chart must be submitted with the final draft.  Final drafts of selected abstracts or manuscripts will be due on June 30, 2016. Essays should not exceed 10,000 words; bibliography in Chicago style; and 11 pt. Courier font with one inch margin.  Anticipated date of manuscript completion to be submitted to the publisher for peer review is planned forDecember 1, 2016. Revisions will be required in early fall of 2016. This volume is under consideration by a major university press; however, publication of individual manuscripts cannot be guaranteed.

Send proposals and submissions as Word file attachments via email to Joe Lockard (Joe.Lockard@asu.edu), Department of English, Arizona State University, and Sherry Rankins-Robertson (sjrobertson@ualr.edu), Department of Rhetoric and Writing, University of Arkansas-Little Rock. Queries are welcomed.

Trust Black Women: God Is Change

In this article, Religion and Incarceration co-founder Laura McTighe reflects on social change and accountability in the wake of the Charleston massacre. Guided by the work of her colleagues and comrades from Women With A Vision, Inc. in New Orleans, she explores what it means to participate in the visionary fiction demanded and crafted by Black women, and why our future quite literally depends on doing so.


Trust Black Women: God is Change

By Laura McTighe
The Revealer | June 24, 2015

Author’s Note: In the last two weeks, our national conversation about race has moved from the absurd interrogation of Black womanhood because a white woman donned blackface, to the calculated massacre of Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Depyane Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson under the guise of protecting white women’s purity. The #NotInOurNames hashtag has emerged as an affirmation that white people will not be complicit in racist terrorism any longer. Black women started us chanting and tweeting #BlackLivesMatter. If we are going to realize their vision, we must learn to embrace the leadership they have been providing for centuries – and we must confront the ways in which when we have unwittingly and willfully erased their work.

***

Photo: Andy Katz/ Corbis via For Harriet

Photo: Andy Katz/ Corbis via For Harriet

“All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change. God Is Change.” In the Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler breathed to life a new religion – Earthseed – based not in the sacred scriptures of elders and prophetic pasts, but in the presents and possible futures of the living. In accepting that God Is Change, believers were called to stand in their own power, to shape themselves, to shape the universe, to shape God. “Why is the universe? To shape God. Why is God? To shape the universe.”

My reintroduction to Octavia Butler came from Walidah Imarisha at a conference I co-organized with Josef Sorett last Fall, Are the Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality?: Religion and the Burdens of Black Sexual Politics. At the conference, Imarisha introduced us to the idea of “visionary fiction” that she and her co-editor, adrienne maree brown, had employed in their newly published anthology, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements. As Imarisha explained, “Visionary fiction is not neutral. It does not purport to be neutral. The goal of visionary fiction is to create social change. All organizing is science fiction.”

It’s a jarring idea to bend your mind around. Every organizer, every change maker, every visionary is writing science fiction. Envisioning a world in which every person has the full freedom to be their full self is science fiction. Affirming that #BlackLivesMatter when nine Black people are gunned down in one of the oldest Black sacred spaces in the country is science fiction. As any organizer will tell you, vision is essential to social change. It’s the end that every protest held, every call made, every sign flown is pointing towards . It’s the hope for dreaming the impossible into existence.

As we struggle to realize the vision that Black lives matter, we have had to swallow yet another bitter truth. Amid the everyday terror of anti-Black violence in the United States, some Black lives matter more than others. We called out for Michael Brown, but could not remember Tanisha Anderson’s name. We set Baltimore ablaze for Freddie Gray, but forgot to light a candle for Rekia Boyd. Activists and scholars alike have pointed out the irony of this occlusion given that the #BlackLivesMatter movement was started by Black women, and that Black women’s leadership has defined what it means to defend the dead. Just as this violence has a history, so to does this occlusion. In the long and unbroken state of emergency in the United States, it is impossible to understand the contours of anti-Black violence and Black people’s resistance without reckoning with the history of how Black womanhood has been produced as a category of non-being – of how Black women’s very humanity has been made illegible.

Photo by Walidah Imarisha

Photo by Walidah Imarisha

That work of exclusion and erasure is also science fiction, albeit of a different sort than what Octavia’s Brood is writing. When Imarisha calls all organizing science fiction, she implores us to think about the gap between what is and what could be, and about how organizers strive to prefigure the future society they are working towards in their everyday political lives. I am calling Black women’s “paradox of non-being” science fiction because it is not reflective of Black women’s actual lives and work; it bespeaks a debased society that totally and completely erases Black women’s lives. The truth is, Black women face real and horrific state, structural, and interpersonal violence every single day. And it is also true that Black women are leading the movements to end this violence. They’ve been doing so for generations. To not speak this truth, to not #SayHerName, is science fiction. When we do not speak this truth, when we do not Trust Black Women, we become part of bringing to life this sick and twisted universe; we help write a future that looks far too much like our present and past…

Continue reading at The Revealer….


Laura McTighe is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. Through her dissertation project, “Born In Flames,” she is working with leading Black feminist organizations in Louisiana to explore how reckoning with the richness of southern Black women’s intellectual and organizing traditions will help us to understand (and do) American religious history differently. Laura comes to her doctoral studies through more than seventeen years of direct work to challenge the punitive climate of criminalization in the United States and support communities’ everyday practices of transformation. Currently, she serves on the boards of Women With A Vision, Inc. in New Orleans, Men & Women In Prison Ministries in Chicago and Reconstruction Inc. in Philadelphia. Laura’s writings have been published in Beyond Walls and Cages: Bridging Immigrant Justice and Anti-Prison Organizing in the United States (2012), the International Journal for Law and Psychiatry (2011), Islam and AIDS: Between Scorn, Pity and Justice (2009), and a variety of community publications.

Making Time: Religion & Black Prison Organizing, an Interview with Hakim ‘Ali

Who makes time in prison? And how do they make it?

In this article, Religion and Incarceration co-founders Laura McTighe and Hakim ‘Ali speak about Islam and black prison organizing in 1970s Baltimore in anticipation of the NYU event, “Making Time: Discipline and Religion in America’s Prisons” on April 10, 2015. More information about this roundtable conversation can be found here.


Making Time: Religion & Black Prison Organizing, an Interview with Hakim ‘Ali

by Laura McTighe
The Revealer | March 27, 2015

hakim

Hakim Ali.

It is shortly after the Fajr morning prayers and snow is falling as big as fists. Hakim’s deep laughter punctuates the steady chug of the steam radiator in the corner, as he launches into another tale of a Philadelphia long since passed. I smile in knowing recognition. Hakim has an unparalleled gift for storytelling. We have been talking for almost an hour.

Colloquially, folks often speak about incarceration as “doing time.” What Hakim and I have been discussing is the idea of “making time.” Can we better understand the everyday work of building geographies of confinement, as well as the complex strategies for transforming our darkest of institutions, if we think about time as “made” rather than “done”? Who makes time in prison? And how do they make it? Hakim knows the world of prisons far better than most: he spent forty years of his life behind bars. “And it is only, ONLY by the grace of Allah that I am sitting here having this conversation with you,” Hakim reminds me, with a sudden somberness. “I am a Black Muslim man, 71 almost 72 years of age, and I understand fully what that means in this day and time, in this country, and in the world.”

Hakim and I met in Philadelphia more than a decade ago. Our connection was one of intention as much as coincidence: in 1978 – the year I was born – he had been transferred to the federal prison in Lewisburg, PA – the town I lived in as a teenager. Over the years, we have built a relationship of closeness and reciprocity, as beloved friends and comrades. Through our work together, I have come to know Hakim as a poet, an educator, a revolutionary, a father, and a confidant. He rarely talks about how he survived the hell of the local, state and federal prisons that held him captive, and I know better than to ask. Those silences in his life story have been built up because of too many small abuses to count, because of great and incomprehensible ones.

But this morning, under the guise of “making time,” with the snow showing no sign of relenting, Hakim began to speak about his conversion to Sunni Islam, his work with the Revolutionary Action Movement, and the Baltimore bank robbery that catapulted him into the caverns of justice in America. The year was 1972. The date was February 23rd.

* * *

When we got popped, the Baltimore cops told us the folks in Philly were calling a citywide holiday. The “Philly 5” they called us in Baltimore. Of the five, three of us were Sunni Muslim and one of us was Nation of Islam. And the other one, because of his association with us, was sympathetic to Islam, even though he wasn’t Muslim. So Islam was our point of unity as we were doing what we were doing, existing before the trial, and even during the course of the trial in the way that we were referred to, you know.

A National Guardsman watches detainees in the Baltimore city jail on April 10, 1968, six days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. (Weyman Swagger/Baltimore Sun)

A National Guardsman watches detainees in the Baltimore city jail on April 10, 1968, six days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. (Weyman Swagger/Baltimore Sun)

So one day while we were in the city jail, we were in the yard – something had just happened, a dude had tried to escape earlier – and they had everybody out of the buildings and we were in the yard, with the police around us. I saw this brother walking down the yard, and he had this paper rolled up in his back pocket. And I saw different parts of words – something about Islam, and the some parts of the Arabic… So I approached him, and asked him, “You mind if I look at that?” and he said, “Man, you can have it.” And he gave me the paper. So I opened up the paper, I was reading it, and it was in fact a newsletter coming from this masjid in West Baltimore. It had an address and contact information, so I got together with the other brothers and showed them the paper and we decided to see if we could get some materials sent in for us to read.

Just to be clear: Sunni Islam was not in Maryland. Anything related to Islam was the Nation of Islam, or this little small group of dudes who were Five Percenters. At the start, we didn’t have intentions of establishing anything in the jail. We were just seeing if we could get some materials, something to read, or a contact. But eventually this effort on our part led to us establishing traditional, orthodox Sunni Islam in the Maryland system.

First, we started with the city jail, where we were awaiting trial. Eventually we got somebody to come out. The first visit was a personal visit – the Imam, Ali Akbar, came out and met with one of the people in our group. Then Ali came back again, and we created an opportunity for him to meet not only with ourselves but also with a couple of other brothers that we found out were there and were Sunni Muslim. They had been existing under the radar, you know what I mean? Because the Baltimore jail is transitional, and folks were focusing on their case.

So we got to the point – and I’m really, really, really summarizing this – that we were able to get this brother Ali from the masjid to come in and meet with the Superintendent of Baltimore city jail and we literally got jummah started there. It was the first time that the dude had heard about jummah, it was the first time that Muslims from the community had even entertained the thought of coming into the city jail. And from that, later on down the line, a position was created where Ali got appointed as the community Imam – the representative of Islam for the Baltimore jail.

That was sort of our first political/religious statement, with all the other stuff we were doing prior to coming to Baltimore and getting locked up. We believed that we were in the course of revolutionary action, taking from the government, supporting the people… It was the same sort of concept as what the Black Panther Party was doing, but we had not been building institutions. We mostly just focused on meeting the community’s immediate needs – helping folks with rent, paying their bills, getting food… So this was the first real thing that we literally did in an institution, and to this day what we started still exists.

So that was a real spiritual change for me….

Continue reading at The Revealer….


Laura McTighe is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. Through her dissertation project, “Born In Flames,” she is working with leading Black feminist organizations in Louisiana to explore how reckoning with the richness of southern Black women’s intellectual and organizing traditions will help us to understand (and do) American religious history differently. Laura comes to her doctoral studies through more than seventeen years of direct work to challenge the punitive climate of criminalization in the United States and support communities’ everyday practices of transformation. Currently, she serves on the boards of Women With A Vision, Inc. in New Orleans, Men & Women In Prison Ministries in Chicago and Reconstruction Inc. in Philadelphia. Laura’s writings have been published in Beyond Walls and Cages: Bridging Immigrant Justice and Anti-Prison Organizing in the United States (2012), the International Journal for Law and Psychiatry (2011), Islam and AIDS: Between Scorn, Pity and Justice (2009), and a variety of community publications.

Tracing the Theo-Logics of Criminalization

We are excited to continue our Religion and Mass Incarceration: New Scholarly Directions series with a blog post from Andrew Krinks explores the the secularized theo-logics that make possible the contemporary hyper-criminalization and incarceration of poor and non-white communities in the U.S.!


Tracing the Theo-Logics of Criminalization

by Andrew Krinks

From the Atlantic Monthly’s March 1, 1982 cover story by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson entitled, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety.” This article served as a foundational theoretical contribution to what would become the institutionalization of a new wave of the criminalization of poverty, homelessness, and non-whiteness in the 80s, 90s, and today.

From the Atlantic Monthly’s March 1, 1982 cover story by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson entitled, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” which served as a foundational theoretical contribution to what would become the institutionalization of a new wave of the criminalization of poverty, homelessness, and non-whiteness in the 80s, 90s, and today.

My project is catalyzed by the fact that the United States of America incarcerates poor communities and communities of color at rates wildly disproportionate to those of white and non-poor communities. From my perspective, incarceration is an inherently destructive solution to the harm that communities experience. Indeed, as my project seeks to demonstrate, while incarceration is purported to be a means of properly dealing with harm, it most often functions instead as a perpetrator of further harm in that it controls, contains, and disappears whole communities that are already the inheritors of centuries of dispossession and displacement.

The question that drives my project, then, is: What logics undergird the operation of systems of criminal justice in the U.S. that make the hyper-incarceration of non-white and poor communities not only possible but so deeply entrenched? With other scholars and activists whose work seeks to chip away at the prison-industrial complex, I deny the racist and classist position that reconciles the disproportionalities of American incarceration by concluding that black and poor communities must simply be predisposed to “criminal” behavior. Rather, I take the position that the racial and class-based disproportionalities of incarceration in the U.S. are indeed the result of a racism and classism that manifests in the form of a phenomenon known as “criminalization.”

The term “criminalization” here designates those processes whereby non-normative or marginal populations are constructed in the popular imagination as inherently prone to criminal behavior, which in turn justifies the disproportionate application of the law through policing and legislation, which, in turn, filters a disproportionate number of non-white and poor persons into the criminal justice system, thereby controlling, containing, and disappearing populations deemed a risk or threat to the good order of society. It is a vicious cycle, and one whose inner dynamics my project seeks to uncover.

But my project is not simply an exercise in sociological analysis or political theory, though such work is necessary and has bolstered my own in indispensible ways. Rather, my project seeks to follow the trail of the “theological” in the hyper-criminalization and incarceration of poor and black communities. Put another way, my project explores the ways in which the criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color and poor people in the U.S. constitutes a phenomenon whose rational structure and undergirding logics may be said to be, in significant part, theological.

It is often the assumption of historians of penal institutions that, unlike early American experiments with incarceration, contemporary prisons have become thoroughly secularized such that the function of prisons may no longer be described as bearing any religious or theological character. My project seeks to problematize this account by drawing out the secularized theo-logics that continue to undergird policing and prisons today.

In brief, my theological analysis investigates carceral theological anthropologies and soteriologies (doctrines of the human and salvation) that undergird the hyper criminalization and incarceration of black and poor communities. I argue that moral virtuousness and normative personhood are articulated in and through the category and inhabitation of whiteness, as a transcendent, god-like subject position and mode of being spatialized in the form of property, such that blackness, which is marked by what I call “original criminality,” is always already trespassing in a nation that is essentially and constitutively white space. Likewise, by tracing the lineage of contemporary broken windows policing to earlier vagrancy laws, I demonstrate how the contemporary sin of poverty is bound up with the immorality of refusing participation in the capitalist economy, or in literally transgressing the boundaries of property upon which one’s presence can only ever be a contamination and blockage of the moral flow of capital.

Through theological and genealogical analysis of archival material, policy manuals guiding broken windows policing, property law, interviews on experiences of criminalization and incarceration, and popular rhetoric on race, poverty, and criminality, my project seeks to make legible the logics that undergird the contemporary hyper-criminalization and incarceration of black and poor communities as secularized theo-logics, all in order that new, liberative theological modalities might enter in to contribute to the dismantling of the racist, classist machinery of the prison-industrial complex.


Andrew Krinks is a doctoral student in Religion at Vanderbilt University

Haunted Passages: On Carrying the Past and Envisioning Justice

What do we do with our collective histories of violence?

In this photo-essay, Religion and Incarceration co-founder Laura McTighe descends into the bowels of Johannesburg’s notorious Number Four prison, and reflects on on how we remember, what we work to forget, and whether we are willing to be haunted by those histories that are not really past.


Haunted Passages: On Carrying the Past and Envisioning Justice

by Laura McTighe
The Revealer | February 24, 2015

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones – and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals.” -Nelson Mandela

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones – and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals.” -Nelson Mandela (Photo by Laura McTighe)

“That’s because you live in the United States of Amnesia!” my friend chided as we descended into the bowels of Johannesburg’s notorious Number Four prison. “Indeed,” I laughed in agreement. Back home, I was far more accustomed to the “it wasn’t that bad” approach to our nation’s past, as if whitewashing our collective histories of violence would make them go away. For more than a century, the “Moonlight and Magnolias” myth of life in the antebellum South has dominated our national consciousness. Only one plantation in the United States – Louisiana’s Whitney Plantation – tells the story of slavery from the perspective of the enslaved, and it only just opened on December 8, 2014 after a long, embittered struggle led by local Black residents. Entering Number Four, I was unable to contain my shock at how meticulously the curators of this prison-turned-museum had documented the perversions of apartheid justice perpetrated within the carceral complex.

Number Four is a relic of apartheid governance: even in their confinement, people classified as native, coloured and Asian had to be kept separate from whites. In its heyday, Number Four held some of the most notable leaders of the liberation struggle. But the vast majority of those confined were the hordes of Black people arrested every day under the Pass Laws that controlled their movement in and out of the townships to which they had been forcibly relocated. Today, the hallowed walls and recesses of Number Four are filled with the oral and written testimonies of former political prisoners, creating a painful, if imperfect, archive of life inside.

Ekhulukhuthu (the deep hole) isolation cells extended along the furthest-most wall of Number Four. Each concrete box is fixed in time, stripped of bedding with only a small beam of natural light filtering through the peep hole guards used to spy on those confined. Now, only one cell door remains bolted shut. When I turned to my friend for explanation, his finger was already outstretched: “That cell is haunted.” I nodded slowly, as my gaze refocused on the closed isolation cell door: “I think this whole place is haunted.”

(Photo by Laura McTighe)

(Photo by Laura McTighe)

* * *

Continue reading at The Revealer….


Laura McTighe is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. Through her dissertation project, “Born In Flames,” she is working with leading Black feminist organizations in Louisiana to explore how reckoning with the richness of southern Black women’s intellectual and organizing traditions will help us to understand (and do) American religious history differently. Laura comes to her doctoral studies through more than seventeen years of direct work to challenge the punitive climate of criminalization in the United States and support communities’ everyday practices of transformation. Currently, she serves on the boards of Women With A Vision, Inc. in New Orleans, Men & Women In Prison Ministries in Chicago and Reconstruction Inc. in Philadelphia. Laura’s writings have been published in Beyond Walls and Cages: Bridging Immigrant Justice and Anti-Prison Organizing in the United States (2012), the International Journal for Law and Psychiatry (2011), Islam and AIDS: Between Scorn, Pity and Justice (2009), and a variety of community publications.

Sustainable Activism, Prison Abolition, & the Spirituality of Recovery

We are excited to continue our Religion and Mass Incarceration: New Scholarly Directions series with a blog post from Mauricio Najarro on 12-Step Program spiritualities and our collaborative work of liberation and prison abolition!


Sustainable Activism, Prison Abolition, & the Spirituality of Recovery:
Christian Dispassion as the Affective Dimension of Liberation

by Mauricio Najarro

Photo by Skip Goodman, castrocountryclub.org

Photo by Skip Goodman, castrocountryclub.org

Confronting the problem of mass incarceration in the United States today requires not only commitment and investment, but also endurance, compassion, and humility. It is, however, very difficult to cultivate these virtues while honestly and courageously acknowledging the debilitating emotional reactions that accompany sustained contact with police brutality, radical socioeconomic inequality, and the disavowals and apathy that constitute the privilege of some achieved at the expense of others.

Theological reflection on liberation from enslavement to the emotional consequences of structural sin can provide orientation and inspiration leading to sustainable activism. Affective liberation, freedom for action and from affective attachment, has the ability to ground both conscientious educational initiatives inside prisons and spiritually nourishing activist movements beyond prison walls.

Working within prisons and towards prison abolition, while building communities and coalitions, demands a significant investment from individuals who are called not only to action but also to self-examination. Learning the truth of oppression often elicits a deep and debilitating rage. Anger, particularly in the form of self-righteous indignation, is a toxic fuel that poisons the communal atmosphere and corrodes the possibility of meaningful dialogue. Individuals both inside and outside prisons must transform their justified anger from self-righteous and corrosive indignation to orienting, productive, and enabling outrage. Outrage, unlike resentment, results in liberating praxis that recognizes the dangers of codependency in social justice work. Liberation in its broadest sense thus includes a struggle for justice within a freedom from affective attachment and codependent obsession.

Non-attachment, coupled with effective and vigorous action in the world, is the affective dimension of liberation that is deeply resonant with ethical and political dimensions of theological reflection originating in the work of Latin American liberation theologians and US Latino/a liberationist thinkers committed to critical thought and strategic interventions in the service of the brutalized and oppressed. Jesuit theologian Ignacio Ellacuría writes:

Liberation is a concept that represents the very essence of the revealed message and God’s salvific gift to humanity. That message and that gift may be viewed from other points of view, but if they are not viewed from the perspective of liberation, they remain substantially reduced and often mischaracterized.[1]

Drawing from the work of Paul L. Gavrilyuk, Angela Y. Davis, Ignacio Ellacuría, and R. Michael Wyatt, I present 12-Step Program spirituality as a model for the liberating praxis of sustainable Christian activism inside and outside prison walls. 12-Step Program spirituality, with “its somatic focus, its reservations about cognition, and its reliance on the mutually informing life of the group,”[2] offers unique and valuable insights into the daily discipline of freedom from active addiction and codependent obsession.

In my work, I recover Christian Patristic authors’ concept of dispassion (apatheia) as the affective dimension of liberation, enabling and sustaining the ethical and political engagement required of authentic Christian discipleship. Dispassion, which is never apathy, complacency, or inaction, can be understood as the freedom to feel feelings that do not control or determine behaviors. Contemporary ethical and political engagement requires the rigorously honest recognition of the dangers of codependence masquerading as Christian care. A dispassionate approach to activism requires a healthy skepticism regarding the vociferous and passionate enthusiasm that is often mistaken for deep and abiding commitment. Building coalitions and fostering relationships among unlikely allies requires both mindful discernment and the active cultivation of impersonal instrumentality. This is a kenotic emptying of selfhood and a rejection of an egotism that binds. Such an approach can be depicted as a grafting of the Patristic notion of dispassion to the practices of liberation — at once “physically concrete and spiritually open”[3] — of men and women in recovery from active addiction.

——

[1] Michael E. Lee, Ignacio Ellacuria: Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2013), Kindle Locations 812-814.

[2] R. Michael Wyatt, “Experience and Community: Twelve-Step Program Theory, American Pragmatism, and Christian Theology” (PhD diss., Emory University, 1996), 3.

[3] Wyatt, 199.


Mauricio Najarro is a doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union