Down in the Chapel

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Down in the Chapel

Religious Life in an American Prison

Joshua Dubler, Rodney Gardiner


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A bold andprovocative interpretation of one of the most religiously vibrant places inAmerica—a state penitentiary

Baraka, Al, Teddy, and Sayyid—four black men from SouthPhiladelphia, two Christian and two Muslim—are serving life at Pennsylvania’smaximum-security Graterford Prison. All of them work in Graterford’s chapel, aplace that is at once a sanctuary for religious contemplation and an arena fordisputing the works of God and man. Day in, day out, everything is, in itstwisted way, rather ordinary. And then one of them disappears.

Down in the Chapel tells the story of one week atGraterford Prison. We learn how the men at Graterford pass their time, care forthemselves, and commune with their makers. We observe a variety of Muslims,Protestants, Catholics, and others at prayer and study and song. And we listenin as an interloping scholar of religion tries to make sense of it all.

When prisoners turn to God, they are often scorned ascon artists who fake their piety, or pitied as wretches who cling to faithbecause faith is all they have left. Joshua Dubler goes beyond thesestereotypes to show the religious life of a prison in all its complexity. Onepart prison procedural, one part philosophical investigation, Down in theChapel explores the many uses prisoners make of their religions and weighsthe circumstances that make these uses possible. Gritty and visceral,meditative and searching, it is an essential study of American religion in theage of mass incarceration.