Conclusion and Perspectives

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
Irene Becci and Olivier Roy (eds.)Religious Diversity in European Prisons10.1007/978-3-319-16778-7_12

12. Conclusion and Perspectives

The Diversification of Chaplaincy in European Jails: Providing Spiritual Support for New Inmates or Countering Radicalism?

Olivier Roy 

Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, Via delle Fontanelle 19, San Domenico di Fiesole, 50014 Florence, Italy



Olivier Roy

The institution of prison chaplaincy reflects the church/state relationship specific to each of the European countries, hence the great diversity of both the institutional forms it can take and the functions it is intended to perform. Is the raison d’être of chaplaincy to be part of a process of redemption and reintroduction into society, or is it just a way to provide a social service: to care for the spiritual needs of individual inmates? Who controls the chaplaincy: the state or the different church institutions? In other words, should chaplaincy be subcontracted to a given religion and church (Italy) or should it be a service provided by the state (France)?

The first answer to these questions is to be found in history. Chaplaincy has everywhere been shaped according to the specific history of the state/religion relationship, or more exactly in Europe, state/church relations. For instance, in France, chaplains should only provide spiritual support to people who ask for it (even if they do not belong to the same faith community); there is no right to proselytize or to distribute Bibles or Qurans to people who do not ask for them, or even to meet inmates who have not put themselves on the list of those requesting assistance; worshipping rooms are multifaith. In Italy, the Catholic chaplain is expected to play a larger role of spiritual and social support for all inmates, he may meet inmates at his own will and there is usually a church or chapel inside the prison compound. There is no symmetry in Italy between the Catholic chaplains and the representatives of other faiths, who come from outside and are only entitled to meet their coreligionists.

Such specific configurations not only mirror the state/church relations but also the place of religion in a given society more generally. Prisons reflect society, a fact that might explain why chaplaincy has rarely been a political issue; they were seen as a subset of the larger society (even though, from a sociological point of view, this has never been true because the social backgrounds of inmates never match the society outside).

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