The Word Confined: Bible Study in an American Prison

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Series: Religion and Society
BISAC: REL006000
DOI: 10.52305/OKUZ6671

For Christians, a thorough study of the practice of Bible study in the prison context can help deepen understandings of what constitutes effective ministry. For people outside of the Christian faith, a study of this practice could increase understandings about the complex relationships between faith, prison and personal growth in America. Many American Christians believe that Bible study is an emancipative practice that can help those forces seeking to resolve America’s enormous incarceration problem. Participants in penitentiary bible study (teachers and students) seek ways of showing that the light of God continues to shine even in the darkest places on earth like prisons. Belief in this theological perspective has led many Christians (as volunteers or as chaplains) to fight against the problem of mass incarceration by establishing religious practices in prisons.

The American prison system sees religion not only as a right to be preserved but also as one of the programs that help rehabilitate the prisoner before his or her return to society. Garden State Youth Correctional Facility (GSYCF) houses about 1200 young men between the ages of 17 and 27. Like most American prisons, GSYCF is required to offer opportunities for religious practice to prisoners. Through the approach of Pastoral Praxeology, this research observes the practice and the effects of Bible study on the lives of several incarcerated practitioners. The particular Bible study practice that this research project engages in is the Logos Bible Study (LBS) which is distinguished from other programs by its focus on the prayerful study of the Holy Scriptures and the promotion of critical self-reflection over time. After analyzing the interviews and surveys of a group of incarcerated participants in LBS, this study has found methods for creating a terrain of positive transformation within a territory of incarceration. These methods lead to Anakainosis-Desmios—a state of spiritual renewal only possible within prison that promotes the creation and expression of emancipatory and hospitable attitudes within an oppressive and hostile prison culture.
(Imprint: Nova)

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables



Chapter 1. The Socio-Historical Context of Prison Ministry and the Logos Bible Study

Chapter 2. The Logos Bible Study at Garden State Youth Correctional Facility

Chapter 3. Testimonies about the Logos Bible Study

Chapter 4. Scriptural Support for Prison Ministry

Chapter 5. Theoretical Perspectives on the Logos Bible Study as a Tool for Translation and Transmission of the Christian Faith

Chapter 6. Is the Logos Bible Study an Effective Christian Practice in Prison?

Chapter 7. Improving the Effectiveness of the Logos Bible Study with Anakainosis-Desmios



“This book is a gift to all those wanting to bring effective and significant biblical instruction to the incarcerated as it is a guide that bridges the gap between the Church and the Prison Community for effective biblical training, learning and spiritual enhancement.”  Reverend Dr. Thomas L. Brown, Pastor Emeritus, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, Professor at Martin University, Radio Host for the Harambee Broadcast, Instructor in Yoga Meditation

“What is amazing about Charles Atkins’ book is that he succeeds in interpreting a very long and very committed experience in prison chaplaincy with a very deep and a very extensive knowledge of penitentiary studies, adult education and Christian theology.”  Reverend Dr. Olivier Bauer, Professor Ordinaire, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

“Charles Atkins, Jr. places transformative religious education and transformative learning at the center of an approach to prison ministry that supports these pathways of development. This work centers on reflection and dialogue in an intentional environment where bible study meets the daily life concerns of late adolescents and young adults who seek to reconstruct their lives even as they dwell within the walls of incarceration. The Word Confined: Bible Study in American Prison provides a roadmap for a fresh constructivist approach to prison ministry.” Dr. James P. Keen, Co-author of Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World; Former Vice President and Professor at Antioch College; Former Millicent Fenwick Distinguished Research Professor at Monmouth University; Founding Executive Director of the Governor’s School of New Jersey; Visiting faculty in Applied Theology at Harvard Divinity School

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