Learning to Live: Social Death, Redemptive Practices, and Theological Education in a Women's Prison Restricted; Files & ToC

Green, Rachelle (Summer 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/6q182m105?locale=en


In 2009, the Certificate in Theological Studies program (Theology) began as the first academic theological program for women in prison. The program promoted the formation of leadership skills, self-dignity, and social awareness amidst a US criminal punishment system that is fundamentally intertwined in and sustained by the processes and practices of social death. Social death is the state or condition of not being accepted and treated as fully human and its practices function toward the calculated and purposeful destruction of human dignity. This dissertation explores the lives of students in the Theology program in an attempt to understand what good theological education is in a prison steeped in social death practices.

Student experiences suggest that ultimately, the good of theological education in prison rests in its ability to participate in God’s work of redeeming life in the presence of social death. This project shows how critical theological education engaged in a prison classroom that embraces redemptive practices transforms contexts of social death into contexts that value and sustain human life. The redemptive practices of coming together, considering one another, choosing names, critical questioning, and creating theology are just some of the many practices that seek to redeem life in prison. These practices form the substance of redemptive pedagogy that can in turn shape a redemptive community.

I contend that redemptive practices free students from the totalizing effects of social death and cultivate skills for analyzing and responding to the systems that oppress them. In a prison classroom, redemptive practices are political because they cultivate critical agency and support beliefs in the ability of incarcerated students to be positive agents in their own healing and futuring. Redemptive practices are the saving work in critical theological education in prison ushering in God’s redemptive reality. The good of theological education in prison and for the future is in its willingness to conceive of itself as a life-saving practice opening its doors to a wider, more diverse, and more expansive group of human beings committed to learning so they might live.

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