For Brazil’s “killable people”, there are two prevalent ways to deal with the relative hell of prison - both involving allegiance and devotion. You can give your life to the gang or give your life to God. Only three types of people dare to venture into the heart of a Minas Gerais prison: the condemned, the pentecostal pastors leading the prison ministry, ...

About this episode

BRASIL-997Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is a city of over six million people; it is known for its exotic nightlife, white sand beaches, crystal blue water, and of course, one of the most famous bosa nova songs ever: The Girl From Ipanema. However, beyond the sunny beaches, veritable entertainment, and soothing music lies a very different scene – the Rio de Janeiro prison system. Inside the towering grey concrete walls live Rio’s os serés matáves, or roughly translated into English as, “the killable people”These “killable people” are comprised mostly of proletariat and unemployed minorities with crimes ranging from the benign to the bloody. Gangs rule the prison and every day at 6 pm deafening war cries echo out from within the concrete walls as prison gangs scream allegiance to their “commander” – the head gang leader who runs the prison. The guards largely remain on the outskirts of the prison, they don’t control much of what happens within, as it is too dangerous to go inside. [Note: While the prison system is, of course, very dangerous, the guards’ absence is also due to the penology practiced in that country.]
_MG_9222
Dr. Johnson inside the prison with other inmates during worship.
For Brazil’s “killable people”, there are two prevalent ways to deal with the relative hell of prison – both involving allegiance and devotion. You can give your life to the gang or give your life to God. Only three types of people dare to venture into the heart of a Rio de Janeiro prison: the condemned, the pentecostal pastors leading the prison ministry, and curiously brave sociologists such as Dr. Andrew Johnson.   BRASIL-1017-1 In his interview with Thomas J. Coleman III, Dr. Johnson begins by discussing the preparation leading up to his ethnography of the Pentecostal prison ministries in Rio de Janero Brazil. He takes the listener through the streets and slums of Rio, and into a prison cell-block. Here, we learn about the gang life that largely runs the prison, and the “gang like” life (Pentecostal prison ministries) that can provide a temporary escape from the physically and psychologically damaging conditions of the jail, and might just provide eternal redemption through the faith of the pious prisoner. Johnson discusses the role of politics in the prison system, why Pentecostalism dominates the jails in a predominately catholic country such as Brazil, and “answers” the question of how to tell if someone is truly faithful. He discusses how prisoners are viewed by their community after their release, and upon conversion as an allegedly devout pentecostal. In closing, Dr. Johnson speculates about the future of pentecostal prison ministries in Brazil, and argues for “the religious lives of inmates being taken seriously apart from recidivism rates”. Be sure to check out Dr. Johnson’s plenary address, the world debut of his documentary If I Give My Soul, at the 2014 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference in Indianapolis Indiana October 31st – November 2nd. You can register for the conference here: SSSR registration link. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

Related Resources

The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies

Podcast

It is generally accepted - at least as far as most academics are concerned - that there is a distinct difference between religious studies and theology. As you shall see from this interview, however, things are much more complicated, and Professor Wiebe is particularly qualified to present his own take on the relationship between these two distinct disciplines.
The Faith-Spangled Banner: Changes in American attitudes and belief in all directions

Response

In contemplating a response to Prof Ariela Keysar’s interview with the Religious Studies Project over her work as Associate Director of ISSSC and its most famous endeavour, ARIS, I was struck by the dilemma faced when introducing myself to people here in the UK and telling them where I am from. The replies range from everywhere and between,
Identity and Capitalism

Podcast

This interview with Craig Martin explores the limits of identity formation under modern Capitalism. Martin's work Capitalizing Religion: Ideology and the Opiate of the Bourgeoisie focuses on the ways in which culture and religion are produced for consumption.

Responses to this episode

The Faith of the Killable: A Faith for Empowerment?

This framework of socioeconomic disparity and violence is key to understand how entire population sectors in Río become and remain killable people, and to assess the serious restraints that inmates who proceed from these sectors will face again, once their time in prison is finished. As one listens to Dr. Johnson describe the high homicide rates of Río de Janeiro, the gap in between the haves and the have nots, as well as the appalling conditions he witnessed –through use of an admirable methodology– in this city’s prison system, ...

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

Stereotyping Religion: Critical Approaches to Pervasive Cliches

Podcast

"Religions are belief systems", "Religions are intrinsically violent", "Religion is Bullshit"... these are just some of the pervasive cliches that we might hear from time to time in the English-speaking world about our central topic of discussion on the RSP, 'religion'.
Nonreligion, Religion, and Public Health

Podcast

The link between religion/spirituality (RS) and health is a recurring theme in the empirical literature within the psychology and sociology of religion, medical studies, and other disciplines. Although this research is usually limited to correlational studies, RS is often interpreted to be an important causal factor in positive health outcomes. This has led some academics, NGO's, and governments to argue that the putative health benefits of RS might be harnessed for public health and public policy more broadly. For example, the United States Army has recently launched a “spiritual health” program, and in the United Kingdom there is an ongoing debate about whether mindfulness meditation should be taught in schools. Government initiatives aside, what if the nonreligious are equally as healthy? In this podcast, Thomas J. Coleman III interviews Dr. David Speed on how research using nonreligious and nonbelieving samples problematizes some of the underlying assumptions of the relationship between RS and public health.
LDS Garments and Agency

Podcast

A candid discussion with Nancy Ross about Mormon women's experiences with wearing LDS garments. From the paper "LDS Garments and Agency: A Qualitative Study of Meaning" by Nancy Ross and Jessica Finnigan: "The form of LDS garments has changed over time, from wrist-to-ankle, single-piece long underwear, to versions that included short sleeves and legs, to the two-piece styles that are common today. One of the most difficult aspects of studying garments is that talking about them is a transgressive act." This is that boundary pushing discussion.
Religious Demography in the US

Podcast

In this week's podcast we focus on religious demography and identification, survey tools used for religious demography in America, differences between religious identities and identifications, Americans’ shifting religious identifications, correlations between religion and social positions such as ethnicity or generational cohort, and correlations with various social and political issues.
Challenges and Responsibilities for the Public Scholar of Religion

Podcast

In this interview, Megan Goodwin examines the current state of public religious studies scholarship. “Public scholar” has become a buzzword in some corners of the discipline of religious studies, variously referring to scholars who share their research to a broader audience on social media platforms, in popular media outlets, or through multimedia such as podcasts and online video. As more scholars have entered these ranks, the broader field has taken notice.
Religion and Globalization

Podcast

What do we mean by globalization? What does this concept have to say to the study of religion? How have religions been agents in the globalization process? What theoretical and methodological issues arise when trying to answer such questions? All of these questions and more are tackled in an interview which touches on post-colonialism, secularization theory, theodicy, ...

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).