Thomas Thornton

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Johns Hopkins U.

Grant number

Gr. 9493

Approve Date

April 27, 2017

Project Title

Thornton, Thomas Frederick, Johns Hopkins U., Baltimore, MD - To aid research on 'Incarceration, Christianity, Obedience: Ethical Life Inside a Maximum-Security Faith Dorm,' supervised by Dr. Naveeda Khan

THOMAS FREDERICK THORNTON, then a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, was awarded funding in April 2017 to aid research on ‘Incarceration, Christianity, Obedience: Ethical Life Inside a Maximum-Security Faith Dorm,’ supervised by Dr. Naveeda Khan. From September 2017 through February 2018, the researcher began an ethnographic study of inmates and Christian chaplains inside and around a maximum-security prison in Alabama. The researcher examined the relationship between prison security and Christianity ‘ how two doctrines of obedience (a penal ethic and a Christian ethic) are combined through having a ‘faith dorm’ in prison. Based inside this faith dorm, this research sought to understand the kind of ethical lives emerging through the paradoxical position of Christianity: offering possibilities of salvific freedom transcendent to the prison while remaining subordinate to penal security. To follow the ethical lives and possibilities the faith dorm affords, the researcher worked extensively with inmates, attended regional chaplaincy meetings deciding how religious practices and penal security fit together, and followed missionary chaplains through their Anabaptist-based chaplaincy organization and in their pastoral work to disciple inmates. The researcher observed how security’s focus on the body conditions the ethical work Christianity does inside (and outside) the prison ‘ making bodies ‘faster than the flesh.’ From this research more attention will be directed toward how a space of discipline is made into a space of ethics through examining the bodily engagement with the penal environment.