Review of Religious Research

, Volume 60, Issue 3, pp 331–365 | Cite as

“Four Gods” in Maximum Security Prison: Images of God, Religiousness, and Worldviews Among Inmates

  • Sung Joon JangEmail author
  • Joshua Hays
  • Byron R. Johnson
  • Michael Hallett
  • Grant Duwe
Original Paper


This paper extends research on images of God, which prior researchers based mostly on national survey data, to a study of offenders in prison. We first explore whether the distribution of Froese and Bader’s (America’s four gods: What we say about god–& what that says about us, Oxford University Press, New York 2010) four images of God among prison inmates is similar to that in the general population. We then examine whether an inmate’s image of God is associated with the inmate’s worldviews: beliefs and attitudes toward the law, other inmates, moral responsibility, and ultimate meaning and purpose in life. Finally, we test whether an inmate’s belief in a forgiving God and religiousness explain the association. We analyzed data from a survey of 2249 inmates at America’s largest maximum-security prison, the Louisiana State Penitentiary. We found the distribution of God-images among inmates was the same as that in national samples in terms of rank order. As hypothesized, we also found inmates with an image of an engaged God tended to report lower levels of legal cynicism and sense of illegitimacy of punishment and higher levels of collective efficacy, existential belief, and moral responsibility than those with images of a disengaged God or no God. Finally, we found an inmate’s belief in a forgiving God and religiousness to mediate partly relationships between images of God and the inmate’s worldviews.

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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Studies of ReligionBaylor UniversityWacoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminology and Criminal JusticeUniversity of North FloridaJacksonvilleUSA
  3. 3.Minnesota Department of CorrectionsSt. PaulUSA

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