Special Journal Issue: The Ethics of State Punishment

To advance our collective work of interrogating the theological underpinnings of punishment, we are happy to share that Studies in Christian Ethics has released a special issue on “The Ethics of State Punishment.” The articles gathered in this issue were first presented at the third annual McDonald Symposium in Theological Ethics at Cambridge University, 13−15 May 2013.

In introducing the issue, Sarah Coakley explains, “The notable turn back to a ‘neo-classical’ retribution theory in this period, the relentless and punitive crack-down on minor drugs offences, the increasing privatisation of prisons, and the more recent and haunting fear of terrorist attack: all these factors have been undeniably important in the rise in prison populations, but they cannot explain the overall cultural acceptance of such an extraordinary state of affairs in ‘the land of the free’.”

Please scroll down for article links…

Studies in Christian Ethics

The Ethics of State Punishment

August 2014; Vol. 27, No. 3


Introduction: Ethics, Theology and the Contemporary Conundrum of State Punishment

Sarah Coakley


Moral and Philosophical Problems of Long-Term Imprisonment

Alison Liebling

Response to Alison Liebling’s presentation

Loraine Gelsthorpe

The Ethics of Punishment and the Ethics of Restoration: A Critical Analysis

William J. Danaher, Jr.

Probing the Logic of Forgiveness, Human and Divine

Cristian Mihut

Trusting the Untrustworthy: The Theology, Practice and Implications of Faith-Based Volunteers’ Work with Ex-Prisoners

Ruth Armstrong

Response to Ruth Armstrong

Tim Winter

Change from Within? A Response to Ruth Armstrong’s Article

Jamie Bennett

Can Persistent Offenders Acquire Virtue?

Anthony Bottoms and Joanna Shapland

Response to the Work of Professor Steiker

Charles Mathewes


Reflections on Ferguson from Laura McTighe

To Take Place and Have a Place:
On Religion, White Supremacy & the People’s Movement in Ferguson

The Revealer | September 18, 2014

FranceFrancois“I CANNOT BELIEVE I STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS SHIT!!” the block pink letters of France Francois’ sign fired with exasperation. The date was August 14, 2014. Michael Brown had been shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer, Darren Wilson, just five days prior. Francois was one of thousands who took to the streets in cities across the country as part of the National Moment of Silence/Day of Rage. People in Ferguson had not left the streets since Michael Brown’s murder. “I think, throughout the nation, we’re all asking ourselves this question: ‘How did we come here again? How did we find ourselves in this very same space?’” Francois told AlterNet in an interview shortly after the protest. Indeed, how did we?

Undeniably, the death of Michael Brown has erupted onto the national scene in a way that few murders of black and brown people by police have. That itself is remarkable. In the wake of Ferguson, there are many questions that have been bubbling through the country… Why Ferguson? (Where is Ferguson?) Why not New York? Who will be next? The question I have found most troubling is the repeated inquiry by activists, pundits and scholars alike: Will Ferguson be a moment or will it become a movement?

At face value, this might not seem like an inappropriate question to ask. The uprising in Ferguson has shone a vital and painful spotlight on the everyday terror of anti-black violence in our country. Many worry that this attention will be fleeting; they wonder if the organizing in Ferguson will be able spur a more radical transformation of the people, policies and institutions that perpetuate the devaluing of black life.

What I want to call our attention to is a pair of claims that are embedded in the moment vs. movement juxtaposition: first is a claim about how change happens; second is a claim about what counts in American history.

Of the many articles that have been penned in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, two in particular put a point on the vision of social change swirling around the moment/movement question: educator Josie Pickens’ August 18th article in Ebony magazine, “Ferguson: What’s Respectability Got to Do with It” and historian Jeanne Theoharis’ August 26th piece for MSNBC, “The arc of justice runs through Ferguson.” Both criticize reporting that has portrayed the protesters in Ferguson as disorganized, reckless, even dangerous. Moreover, both call us to examine how a sanitized version of the civil rights movement – stripped of its poor, young and female leadership – undergirds such critiques. In Theoharis’ words, “Such framings memorialize a civil rights movement without young people in the vanguard, without anger, without its longstanding and ongoing critique of the criminal justice system.” Through these fables, we are made to believe that Ferguson must be a moment, because “real movements” do not look like this.

These fables also resign us to a jack-in-the-box approach to social movement history. “Real movements” are past and temporally bounded. A “real movement” pops UP when people make a large (but not too large) demand; it goes DOWN (or is put down) when that demand is met (or is too threatening). It is a thing for the history books. By this account, “real movements” are not only sanitized; they are exceptionalized. And so, too, are the social conditions they seek to address. In this way, we can only ask if Ferguson will become a movement, because we are telling a story of the United States in which there is no continuity of black struggle, much less a need for it.

What power dynamics are at work when the protests in Ferguson are treated like the colorful explosion of the jack-in-the-box? What is at stake in viewing black resistance in such an episodic way? What cannot be seen when it is viewed this way? These questions are at the heart of the #BlackLivesMatter systematic call to action – a call issued in response to the ways in which black lives have been devalued and black suffering has been rendered illegible. In this tradition, I want to call us to a deeper appreciation for the movement being carried forward at Ferguson. To do so, we must commit ourselves to resurrecting events that have systematically been made to vanish from our consciousness. We need to appreciate the often-untold history of black poor people’s movements, as well as the long tradition of black critiques of the everyday rituals of white supremacy. We also need to account for the ways in which our notions of justice and liberation are inflected by religious language and sensibility. This takes us back not simply to the Civil Rights era, nor even to Jim Crow, but rather to the founding of the American republic. It is an uncomfortable history, but it is vital for us to tell it if we are to appreciate what it means to be living into the possibility of justice with the movement still-alive in Ferguson.

Click here to continue reading at The Revealer

Beyond the Walls: A Conversation on Gender, Race, Religion and Incarceration


Lehigh University | Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies 
Co-sponsored by: Religion Studies
Wednesday, September 17, 2014 – 4:00pm
Umoja House #102

Laura McTighe and Hakim ‘Ali have worked together for more than a decade, providing immediate relief to people in prison and those returning home, and advocating for the transformation of the policies of mass criminalization that cripple so many in this country. In this public conversation, they bring stories of people they have worked with and of themselves to reflect on the intersection of gender, race, religion and incarceration. They are concerned not only with the specific experience of those held in women’s facilities and those held in men’s, but also with how prisons themselves are constituted by and constitutive of racial and gender injustice in American society at large. Moreover, they are interested in how gender and race have been refracted differently through the complex history of religion and incarceration – from the theologies that undergirded the rise and expansion of the prison industrial complex (PIC) to the religious truths that drive communities in working towards its abolition today. Building knowledge that straddles the prison walls, they will leave those in attendance with a picture of what life looks like everyday in this police state and how communities are daily working to change that.

LauraLaura McTighe is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. Her research unfolds at the intersection of religion, race, gender and migration in North America, with a particular focus on the American South. Through her dissertation, “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) Black history, American history and religious history differently. Laura comes to her doctoral studies through more than fifteen years of direct work to challenge structural policies of criminalization and support everyday practices of community transformation. Currently, she serves on the boards of Women With A Vision (New Orleans), Men & Women In Prison Ministries (Chicago) and Reconstruction (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.
hakimHakim ‘Ali was born in Washington, North Carolina, and came to Philadelphia with his family at a very young age. He has 5 brothers and 1 sister. He has been a practicing Muslim since 1969, and has held the position of Imam (i.e. spiritual leader), in both Federal and State correctional institutions, where he served 40 years. During his incarceration, Hakim received an “AA” degree from Hagerstown Junior College in Maryland, and his “BS” from Morgan State University, also located in Maryland. Since his release in 2003, Hakim has been involved with many community organizations addressing prison-related issues. Currently, he is the PR/Outreach Coordinator for Reconstruction Inc., and serves as the Administrative Assistant for the projects/programs within Reconstruction’s umbrella. He is also a member of Decarcerate PA, a Pennsylvania coalition working to stop prison construction and to establish whole, healthy communities. Hakim made a determination that it is far better to give back to his community, than to deprive it of the wealth and safety that it deserves, and he views himself as: “the voice of the voiceless.”

Ferguson and Theology: A Special Symposium

This week Syndicate Theology is hosting a special symposium on “Ferguson and Theology.”  Each day they will publish a different essay by a leading ethicist or theologian, exploring what it might mean for Christian theology—and the Christian church—to respond justly to the death of Michael Brown and the on-going protest and resistance efforts in Ferguson, Missouri.  Begin Reading Now


From Syndicate Theology:

We are in the midst of harsh and brutal times. In such times theology can appear most distant, most irrelevant, most tone-deaf to the kinds of material challenges that human persons face in the struggle for their voices to be heard, for their bodies to be recognized, and for their deaths to be properly grieved. In the coming week, Syndicate Theology will feature five significant essays by leading and emergent ethicists and theologians, exploring what it might mean for Christian theology—and the Christian church—to respond justly to the death of Michael Brown and the on-going protest and resistance efforts in Ferguson, Missouri. Diverse perspectives and experiences are voiced here, and there are indeed important differences that will surface between our panelists. What does unite these voices is the plea for a radical, interventionary theopolitics: the initiation of a political project, aimed at dismantling a white supremacist world order by, as Slavoj Zizek suggests, “intervening from the standpoint of its repressed truth,” in such a way that changes the coordinates of possibility.

Begin Reading Now

Reflections on Ferguson from Vincent Lloyd

No Justice, No Peace:
Reflections on the Tragedy of Ferguson

Political Theology Today | August 19, 2014


Three years before, Eleanor Bumpurs had been shot. A sixty-six year old black woman shot by a white police officer. Shot twice. With a shotgun. In her home. A case against the police officer wound through the courts in fits and starts. In 1987 the officer was acquitted. It was then, on the streets in front of the courthouse, that the press recorded for the first time the chant, “no justice, no peace.”

It is a chant that has been heard frequently in Ferguson, Missouri over the past several days, and it has been heard frequently across the country over the past quarter century when incidents of racial injustice surface. The chant expresses and justifies anger – perhaps something stronger, perhaps the opposite of peace, violence.

In a nation that likes its minorities peaceful, especially when they protest, in a nation that remembers its greatest racial struggles of the past century as essentially non-violent, this chant is disconcerting. It challenges the anodyne equation of love and justice. More fundamentally, it challenges the illusory consensus that love and justice are the way we, as a nation, will make ourselves better.

Does “love and justice” secularize into “no justice, no peace”? Once the Christian moral message of the civil rights movement has finally faded, are we left with irreligious fury?

These questions presume that “no justice, no peace” has a normative rather than a descriptive meaning. In other words, they presume that violence is commended as a response to injustice. What if we hear the two beats of the chant together, describing our world, or our neighborhood. There is both no justice and there is no peace: we are far from the land of milk and honey.

Click here to continue reading…

Graduate Student Workshop on Religion and Mass Incarceration

The rapid growth of prisons in the United States, and globally, has recently attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. How have religious ideas and practices contributed to the rise of mass incarceration, and how might religious ideas and practices contribute to its demise? How have religious traditions themselves been affected by a culture that now equates justice with “law and order”? We intend to bring together graduate students whose work investigates these issues using a variety of methods (ethnographic, historical, theoretical, textual) and at a variety of sites (various religious traditions, inside the US and beyond, inside and outside prison walls). We are particularly interested in projects that participate in, reflect on, or attempt to catalyze grassroots organizing around these issues. Participants will provide feedback to each other as well as receive feedback from faculty. They will also be asked to compose a blog post summarizing their project for a general audience. The workshop is organized in conjunction with the Central New York Working Group on Religion and Mass Incarceration (a joint project of Cornell, Syracuse, and Rochester) and the Religion and Incarceration Network (https://religionandincarceration.com).

artwork by mary tremonte, justseeds.org

artwork by mary tremonte, justseeds.org

The workshop will be held at Syracuse University on Friday, October 31, 2014. We will reimburse travel and accommodation expenses. We invite applications from doctoral students in any discipline whose research is relevant to this topic. To apply, please submit a 2 page abstract (~750 words) of the work that you would present as well as your CV to Vincent Lloyd (vwlloyd@syr.edu) by July 20, 2014. Questions can also be addressed to Vincent Lloyd. Notification by August 1, 2014.

Please forward widely!

Soulful Resistance on Tennessee’s Death Row: Reflections from Andrew Krinks

When we launched Religion and Incarceration, we aimed to build an interactive forum for engaging with the resources religious traditions have to interrogate and oppose mass incarceration, knowing that such explorations unfold most productively through partnerships of academics and activists.

Today, we are grateful to be able to share a series of critical reflections from Andrew Krinks on his collaborative work with men on Tennessee’s death row.  In the blog post below, Krinks discusses how together they revisited the familiar critiques of mind-body dualism from the context of confinement – asking what it means to be human on the way to death and positing a complex theology of soulful resistance.

If you have a post, article or reflection to share, please use our online submission form!


Soulful Resistance on Tennessee’s Death Row
by Andrew Krinks

Derrick Quintero – “If My Journey Were a Book Title” (mixed media. The figure’s head is made from toilet paper and glue.)

Derrick Quintero – “If My Journey Were a Book Title” (mixed media. The figure’s head is made from toilet paper and glue.)

Throughout 2012 and 2013, I had the opportunity to spend time with men on Tennessee’s death row here in Nashville, where I’m also a doctoral student in theological studies at Vanderbilt. Prior to these visits, I had the pleasure of interacting with a few of these guys during unrelated gatherings, so it was a gift to spend more extended and intentional time among men whose magnanimity continues to surprise and enlighten me. The original purpose of these visits was related to an assignment for a class in which students were assigned to conduct field interviews about experiences of embodiment in a particular environment. But after the class ended, the paper took on a life of its own, and the fruit of those interactions was published a few weeks ago at The Other Journal under the title “Soulful Resistance: Theological Body Knowledge on Tennessee’s Death Row.” You can read it at the links below (it was published in two parts).

Part 1: http://theotherjournal.com/2014/02/17/soulful-resistance-theological-body-knowledge-on-tennessees-death-row-part-one/

Part 2: http://theotherjournal.com/2014/02/20/soulful-resistance-theological-body-knowledge-on-tennessees-death-row-part-two/

I share this project here with scholars of incarceration and religion because the essay consists of interviews with men facing execution in Tennessee about their experiences of embodiment in the context of confinement, and about the theological frameworks through which they find meaning in a seemingly horizonless and futureless environment. More specifically, my questions had to do with their material surroundings, the nature of touch and relationality on death row, and their conceptions of body and soul and the relationship between the two. As a student of theology familiar and at home with critiques of so-called mind-body dualism, I faced what was for me an unanticipated challenge when my interviewees articulated what seemed to me to be rather extreme descriptions of the body’s lowliness and the soul’s preeminence, descriptions of the way one must negate the body in order for the soul to be free. I knew that it would not suffice to simply frame their responses as bad theology or to psychologize their perspectives from the comfort and freedom of movement I enjoy outside those concrete walls and razor wire fences. So the task was to make some sense of their articulated theologies in light of their material and relational realities in a way that did justice to their experiences and that presented and synthesized those experiences in a way that might constructively challenge fellow critics of traditional dualisms.

There is no question that I did not fully capture the depth of the experience of life as experienced by my friends on Tennessee’s death row; that would be impossible. But I hope I have done some justice here, by providing a small glimpse into what it looks like to be human in the context of confinement on the way to death. And I hope that these reflections are of some use to you, my colleagues and fellow engaged scholars of incarceration and religion. Thanks, and be well.


Andrew Krinks is a doctoral student in theological studies at Vanderbilt University. His research engages theological frameworks operative in systems of incarceration and constructions of criminality. He also studies the theological dynamics of personhood, agency, and encounter in situations of suffering and oppression.