If I give my soul: Pentecostalism inside of prison in Rio de Janeiro.

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If I give my soul: Pentecostalism inside of prison in Rio de Janeiro.

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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 twelve months. 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 their rules. 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.

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Johnson, Andrew Reine. (2012). If I give my soul: Pentecostalism inside of prison in Rio de Janeiro.. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/137508.

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