(Ad)ministering God’s Yes in a World of No: Karl Barth and a Practical Theology of Prison Chaplaincy

“The resurrection of Jesus occurs precisely at a site of carceral death; by creatively inhabiting Christ, prison chaplains are bearing witness to the cost and power of honoring life in the face of death. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Sarah C Jobe Duke University Divinity School Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

My dissertation seeks to unearth how chaplains are (ad)ministering life in the face of carceral death by engaging in a nation-wide study of current and former prison chaplains, the first nation-wide set of interviews with prison chaplains ever conducted. Prison chaplaincy is morally complex work with a high burnout rate. Prison chaplains are part of a wider field of corrections workers that, according to the US Department of Justice, “are at higher risk of suicide, substance abuse, and divorce, while their mortality rate is the second highest of any occupation” (Henning and Cherniak, 2019). My research shows that prison chaplains struggle with their professions in ways that are both consistent with overall correctional trends and particular to the tensions of being ordained to transformational ministry in an institution resistant to human flourishing. My dissertation will name what I am learning from chaplains, while placing their witness in conversation with the theology of Karl Barth, who was himself arrested, tried, and convicted in Germany while later serving as a prison preacher and volunteer chaplain in Basel, Switzerland. I hope to offer a descriptive and constructive theological vision for inhabiting Christ in prison that will challenge and sustain chaplains, incarcerated people, and the wider church alike.