A bold and
provocative interpretation of one of the most religiously vibrant places in
America—a state penitentiary
Baraka, Al, Teddy, and Sayyid—four black men from South
Philadelphia, two Christian and two Muslim—are serving life at Pennsylvania’s
maximum-security Graterford Prison. All of them work in Graterford’s chapel, a
place that is at once a sanctuary for religious contemplation and an arena for
disputing the works of God and man. Day in, day out, everything is, in its
twisted way, rather ordinary. And then one of them disappears.
Down in the Chapel tells the story of one week at
Graterford Prison. We learn how the men at Graterford pass their time, care for
themselves, and commune with their makers. We observe a variety of Muslims,
Protestants, Catholics, and others at prayer and study and song. And we listen
in as an interloping scholar of religion tries to make sense of it all.
When prisoners turn to God, they are often scorned as
con artists who fake their piety, or pitied as wretches who cling to faith
because faith is all they have left. Joshua Dubler goes beyond these
stereotypes to show the religious life of a prison in all its complexity. One
part prison procedural, one part philosophical investigation, Down in the
Chapel explores the many uses prisoners make of their religions and weighs
the circumstances that make these uses possible. Gritty and visceral,
meditative and searching, it is an essential study of American religion in the
age of mass incarceration.
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