Dealing with Religious Differences in Italian Prisons: Relationships Between Institutions and Communities from Misrecognition to Mutual Transformation

  • Valeria Fabretti


Against the backdrop of the ‘formatting of religions’ thesis, this paper presents the outcomes of empirical research on religious assistance in ten prisons in the Italian region of Lazio. We construct a typology of the forms of relationships that exist between prisons and religious organisations in an increasingly pluralist context. These relationships can have their bases in (1) misrecognition, which is strictly speaking a form of non-relation; (2) adaptation, with a distinction drawn between instrumental adaptation, on the one hand, and formatting, on the other; (3) conflict; or (4) cooperation and mutual transformation. Each form of relationship is explained and discussed through the experiences of relevant individuals, with stories drawn from interviews conducted during our research. This typology shows that, in the Italian case at least, a context of religious pluralism and the coexistence of religious and secular worldviews and practices in public institutions do not necessarily have a ‘formatting’ effect on religious organisations, nor lead to any form of mutual transformation or ‘complementary learning’ process taking place. This ‘complementary learning’ process has been taken in our research as a working hypothesis. We take the term from the broader theoretical debate about the postsecular, but we want to make the point that the postsecular also has an empirical dimension which can be described and assessed through the kind of sociological research we conduct in this paper. This paper explores why no such complementary learning process has developed between institutions and religious groups in the Italian context, and briefly highlights how, conversely, this kind of postsecular relationship is promoted in the UK. At the same time, it argues that forms of resistance from religious groups to institutional formatting pressures can be observed in both the British context and in the results of our own research.


Prison Muslim chaplain Imam Minister Secularisation Religious diversity Postsecular Misrecognition Complementary learning 


  1. Becci, I. (2011). Religion’s multiple locations in prison. Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions, 153(2011), 65–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beckford, J. A., & Gilliat-Ray, S. (1998). Religion in prison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beckford, J. A., Joly, D., & Khosrokhavar, F. (2005). Muslims in prison: challenge and change in Britain and France. Basingstoke: Macmillan Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bellah, R. N., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M. (1985). Habits of the heart. Individualism and commitment in American life. Los Angeles/London: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. Casanova, J. (1994). Public religions in the modern world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Davie, G. (2007). The sociology of religion. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Fabretti, V. (2014). Le differenze religiose in carcere. Culture e pratiche negli istituti di pena alla prova del pluralismo. Roma: Universitalia.Google Scholar
  8. Garland, D. (1990). Punishment and modern society: a study in social theory. Chicago-Oxford: University Chicago Press-Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gilliat Ray, S. (2005a). ‘Sacralizing’ sacred space in public institutions: a case study of the prayer space at the millennium dome. J Contemp Relig, 20(3), 357–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gilliat Ray, S. (2005b). From ‘chapel’ to ‘prayer room’: the production, use, and politics of sacred space in public institutions. Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 6(2), 287–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gilliat-Ray, S. (2008). From ‘visiting minister’ to ‘Muslim chaplain’: the growth of Muslim chaplaincy in Britain, 1970–2007 (pp. 145–157). In E. Barker (Ed.), The centrality of religion in social life. Essays in Honour of James A. Beckford. Ashgate.Google Scholar
  12. Gilliat-Ray, S., & Ali, M. (2013). Understanding Muslim chaplaincy. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  13. Göle, N. (2005). Interpénétrations. L’Islam et l’Europe. Paris: Galaade Éditions.Google Scholar
  14. Göle, N. (2011). The disruptive visibility of Islam in the European public space: political issues, theoretical questions. Paper delivered at CSPS, University of Rome Tor Vergata on Thursday, 28 April 2011.Google Scholar
  15. Habermas, J. (2006). On the relations between the secular liberal state and religion. In H. de Vries & L. E. Sullivan (Eds.), Political theologies. Public religions in a post-secular world (pp. 251–260). New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Knott, K. (2005). The location of religion. A spatial analysis. London: Equinox Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  17. Lefebvre, E. (1991). The production of space. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Molendijk, A., Beaumont, J., & Jedan, C. (Eds.). (2010). Exploring the postsecular: the religious, the political and the urban. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  19. Rhazzali, M. K. (2010). L’Islam in carcere. L’esperienza religiosa dei giovani musulmani nelle prigioni italiane. Milano: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  20. Rosati, M., & Stoeckl, K. (2012). Multiple modernities and postsecular societies. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  21. Seligman, A. B. (2004). Modest claims. Dialogues and essays on tolerance and tradition. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Scienze e Tecnologie della Formazione’ DepartmentUniversity of Rome Tor VergataRomeItaly

Personalised recommendations