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Beyond the Muslim prisoner: understanding religious identification amongst Muslim offenders

Irfan, Lamia (2018) Beyond the Muslim prisoner: understanding religious identification amongst Muslim offenders. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.em49z5a81hzt


Muslim religious identity amongst offenders has acquired significance as Islam is the fastest growing religion in prisons in the UK. This increase in the number of Muslim offenders in prison is accompanied by fears and concern about the potential for Islamist terrorist recruitment and radicalisation in the prison setting. Despite these concerns, there are significant gaps in our understanding of how religion influences the identity of offenders throughout their life. My research uses life story interviews with Muslim offenders (N=17) to provide a holistic overview of the significance of religion at different stages over the life course. The sample includes both converts and born-Muslims to provide insight into the influence of religion on the identity of both groups. The thesis starts by bringing together insights from sociological and anthropological literature on religion, along with theoretical criminological perspectives on identity in prison as well as post-release. It then discusses the methodological underpinnings of this research. In the first empirical chapter I discuss the importance of religion in childhood; the next chapter examines shifts in religious identity during adolescence and early adulthood. After discussing the significance of religion in the prison environment, I conclude by looking at whether changes to identity that occur in prison are sustained upon release. This research provides an original contribution to knowledge by looking at the processual development of religious identity over the life course. It identifies three main ways in which religion is important in the lives of the participants over the life course. (i) Religion is regarded as important in developing and maintaining a connection to a fictive local kinship group based on shared attendance at a place of worship (ii) Spiritual sense-making is useful for dealing with times of emotional distress and material deprivation. This sense-making allows participants to feel a sense of wellbeing and personal meaning even when they are experiencing difficulties and setbacks (iii) Religion provides a moral understanding through which participants develop ideational social roles in their family, work place and in their community. Through these social roles participants can develop holistic ideals of selffulfilment and non-material personal goals. Although religion can play an important role in identity development, its influence rises and falls over the life course. Factors such as gender, class, age, local neighbourhood, personal biography and ethnicity remain more consistent influences on identity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Lamia Irfan
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Phillips, Coretta

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