Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
How might we think about religious ethics — Christian ethics, particularly — as less derived from textually based or revealed theological concepts and, instead, as engendered more through the making of place in the world? In a paper based on fieldwork with a local Mennonite-based prison chaplaincy organization and inside the (interfaith) “faith dorms” of a max-security state prison in Southern Alabama, I examine this question of ethical place-making as a kind of religious “sharedness” by exploring how an interfaith notion of (Christian) grace is an ethical phenomenon in Alabama, which shapes conceptual and physical space within the prison among Muslim and Christian inmates, chaplains, and purported “secular” state officials. Within a “grace-based” faith-dorm community where I work, there is no specific religious “practice” or “orthodoxy” per se, but there is a securitized body experience that is both a form of penal “compliance” and locates that carceral experience on a novel moral horizon of selflessness and service in ways informed by the prison even as they outstrip and disrupt its security apparatus through an investment in grace. Embedded within a broader vocabulary of Christian space — such as: “down here in the Bible Belt” or “we understand Jesus in Alabama” — the ‘located’-ness’ of prison experience is neither “isolated” nor a “black site," but, rather, it points toward a shared experience of place continuous with local discourse (Crewe 2015, Garces 2015), and it reveals the power of such place-making religious narratives in the Christian exceptionalism of Alabama or ‘The South’.