One of the most dynamic and unique manifestations of global Pentecostalism has been
inside of Brazilian prisons. This dissertation examines Pentecostalism inside of the jails
and prisons of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and engages with the following three research
questions: Why is Pentecostalism so successful in the prisons and jails of Rio de Janeiro,
how is the faith practiced by inmates, and what impact does prison Pentecostalism have
on the streets and surrounding communities outside of prison? To address these
questions, the author collected qualitative data inside of the prisons and jails in Rio, over
The dissertation argues that Pentecostalism is strong inside of prison partly because it is
the dominant faith in the neighborhoods where the vast majority of inmates lived before
they were incarcerated. Another component of the faith’s success is the inmate-led
Pentecostal churches that operate inside of prisons in Rio de Janeiro. These churches rely
on the charismatic leadership of an inmate pastor and replicate the organizational model
of Pentecostal churches on the streets. Their legitimacy as a autonomous force inside of
prison is reinforced by the criminal gangs who do not subject the Pentecostal inmates to
Pentecostal practice offers more than simply a means for inmates to escape the pains of
imprisonment. It offers a counter-cultural identity and corresponding dignity to people
who have been historically marginalized, treated as less than full citizens by the state, and
who larger society views as expendable. The songs, rituals and communal practices of
Pentecostalism offer inmates an opportunity to live dignified lives in the context of an
extremely difficult situation.
Though Pentecostalism in Rio lacks an explicit, coherent political agenda, the consistent
presence of Pentecostals inside of prison is a political act that has material consequences.
Pentecostals have achieved an elevated position in prison by providing for the material
needs of inmates and directly intervening on their behalf during life threatening crises.
The unique space Pentecostals occupy also exposes the problematic nature of their
intimate involvement with the inmate population as accusations of illicit financial
relationships between some Pentecostal pastors and prisoners have cast a shadow of doubt over the motives of visiting Pentecostal groups.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2012. Major: Sociology. Advisor: Dr. Penny Edgell. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 197 pages.
Johnson, Andrew Reine.
If I give my soul: Pentecostalism inside of prison in Rio de Janeiro..
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.