Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

“It’s Not Equality”: How Race, Class, and Gender Construct the Normative Religious Self among Female Prisoners

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Abstract:  Prior sociological research has demonstrated that religious selves are gendered. Using the case of female inmates—some of the most disadvantaged Americans—this article shows that dominant messages constructing the religious self are not only gendered, but also deeply intertwined with race and class. Data from 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork on religion inside a U.S. state women’s prison reveal that religious volunteers—predominately middle-class African American women—preached feminine submissiveness and finding a “man of God” to marry to embody religious ideals. However, these messages were largely out of sync with the realities of working class and poor incarcerated women, especially given their temporary isolation from the marriage market and the marital prospects in the socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods to which many would return. These findings suggest that scholars must pay attention to how race, class, and gender define dominant discourses around the religious self and consider the implications for stratification for those who fail to fulfill this dominant ideology.

Keywords:  class; gender; prison; race; religion; religious self; stratification



© Rachel Ellis. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.