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, ...

Listen Now

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

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

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.

 Fund the RSP while you shop! Use an Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com affiliate link whenever you make a purchase. There’s no additional cost to you, but every bit helps us stay on the air! 

We need your support!

Want to support us directly? Become a monthly Patron or consider giving us a one-time donation through PayPal

Related Resources

The Twilight of Esoteric Wanders and Academic Ponders

Response

"If one is to understand esotericism as a general term of identification reproduced through articulated fields of discourse, Western esotericism can be treated as a historical phenomenon without being nominalistic or idealistic, but instead as a field of discourses of interpretation interacting." One of the most influential scholars in the contemporary academic study of Western esotericism is beyond doubt the erudite and highly productive Wouter J. Hanegraaff, professor ...
The Collaborative Experience of Religion and Health Research

Response

I am beginning to worry that clergy feeling the need to conduct their own research to prove their value in healthcare settings may be a sign that the faithful are starting to identify with (or at least play by the rules of) their scientific captors. A Jew, Muslim, Christian, and non-believer were all in the same room for the same reason: Where were they? They were at Duke University attending Dr. Harold Koenig's summer workshop on conducting research in religion and health this past summer.
The Burning Saints, Fire-Walking Rituals of the Anastenaria

Podcast

It’s dark outside. The moon hangs in the sky and the soft smell of smoke permeates the warm air as it stings your eyes. Looking down, you notice the glow from burning coals, as hot as 535 degrees C, scattered on the ground below. When Saint Constantine calls you to become a firewalker – you answer - at least if you are one of the Anastenaria.

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

Popular Culture Studies and Bruce Springsteen: Escaping and Embracing Religion

Podcast

"There's always the risk in popular culture studies - first of all, it's so fluid, you know, things change so fast - that the minute you've said something, it's obsolete. And there's always the risk that the material can't bear the weight of analysis," said Kate McCarthy in 2013, shortly after the re-release of her co-edited volume God in the Details. However, ...
Religion, Space and Locality

Podcast

Over the past decade or so, the academic study of religion has become infused with a (re-)appreciation of the importance and impact of space, place and location upon its field of study. Of course, scholars have for a long time been aware of the need to situate ‘religion’ in context, however, the spatial analysis goes far beyond mere description of physical or cultural spaces, ...
Editors’ Picks 1: Losing Religion

Podcast

In this, the first of four summer break Editor's Picks "repodcasts", Louise Connelly reintroduces Chris's interview with Callum Brown, first broadcast on 30/4/2012. How can we use historical approaches in the study of religion? More specifically, can we use historical approaches to understand why people are losing it? Professor Callum Brown tells us why historical approaches have much to tell us about religious change.
Material Religion

Podcast

"...religion happens in material culture - images, devotional and liturgical objects, architecture and sacred space, works of arts and mass-produced artifacts. No less important than these material forms are the many different practices that put them to work. Ritual, communication, ceremony, instruction, meditation, propaganda, pilgrimage, display, magic,...
Applied Religious Studies at Georgia State University

Podcast

In this episode, Professor Molly Bassett, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Georgia State University speaks about her program’s efforts to develop applied religious studies master’s certificates in “Religion and Aging” and “Nonprofit Management.”
Brian Victoria on Zen Buddhist Terrorism and Holy War

Podcast

Is there something particular about religion which makes it a more potent ‘violence enabling mechanism’ than other factors? Are some religions more likely to inspire violence than others? And why should scholars even care? In this interview, Chris discusses these issues and more with Professor Brian Victoria, who, in addition to his scholarly credentials, is a fully ordained Zen Buddhist priest.

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).