I recently participated on a panel as part of a broader conference on Christianity, Race, and Mass Incarceration at Harvard Divinity School:
"Christianity, Race, and Mass Incarceration will gather scholars of various disciplines in conversation alongside activists, organizers, and formerly incarcerated persons. We hope to advance through this workshop a critical study of carceral punishment, especially as it relates to questions of Christian thought and practice, and to provoke awareness and activism around incarceration in America."
After a first, brilliant panel on "Religion and the Historical Roots of US Incarceration" followed by a second, equally brilliant and hard-hitting panel on "Race and Religion in Modern Mass Incarceration," the third panel was a "Theology and Humanities Roundtable" where scholars shared their perspectives on how their work relates to this pressing social and conceptual problem.
On the panel, I was accompanied by Michelle Sanchez, Todne Thomas, Cornel West, and Andre Willis:
My brief remarks, titled "Guilty Debt? The Economy of Carcerality" emphasized the role of debt in supporting imaginaries that deem pain and punishment an appropriate "repayment" for crimes committed and that construe indebtedness as moral culpability and guilt.
I also asked whether Christian theories of salvation that make repayment of the "debt" of sin a central piece might not be reinforcing this broader social imaginary that sacralizes and centers on debt. Can we rethink salvation outside of the terms of redemption, recompense or repayment?