The Effects of Religious Diversity on Spiritual Care: Reflections from the Dutch Correction Facilities

Detention centers


Juvenile institutes


Forensic-psychiatric institutes


Detention centers for illegal incomers




Table 3.2
Preferences of detainees for spiritual care, and staff of chaplains (2010)

Preference (in %)

Number of positions for chaplainb






























a19 % of detainees indicated no need for spiritual care, 3 % had other preferences

bDistribution of staff is exact according to the preferences of the detainees

The diversity in supply actually exceeds the diversity in demand. Not only is chaplaincy also provided, in some instances, to the substantial non-religious group, but there is also a great diversity in religious beliefs and practices, as well as differences in salience among those detainees who consider themselves as belonging to one of the aforementioned religions (see also Beckford in this volume).

In some instances, there are aspects of religiosity that are not directly linked to spiritual care. Examples include some of the things we observed in the Muslim community: when Muslim prisoners decide to pray together during labor time (which is not allowed); when Muslim prisoners do not want to work with products containing pork; when Muslim prisoners do not shake hands with female staff and/or refuse to receive orders from them; when they make statements that are associated with ideological motives such as takbira (loud utterance of Allahu Akbar); when suddenly their religiosity is highlighted through outward signs (long beard, clothes, religious attributes such as prayer rug); or, when some become interested in often orthodox and radical literature and audio material. These examples raise the question of whether the role of Muslim spiritual care givers is to indicate which religious behavior is “honored” and accepted.

In this chapter, we will elaborate on the effects that the (increasing) religious diversity has on spiritual care, more specifically, on its legitimization and organization. We will show that this legitimization is increasingly phrased in terms of generic care (by all participants), and that the organization and coordination of this diversity brings along a standardization of practices. In our view, these processes should not be seen as forms of formatting religion, but rather, the elaboration of the dimension of care may be interpreted as a form of innovation, and the dimension of standardization as a form of professionalization of prison chaplaincy (Ajouaou and Bernts 2014). Innovation is the process of developing new goals, practices, and competences in view of changing contexts. With professionalization, we specifically mean the development of clear competences and standards for daily practice, a clear view of the goals of prison chaplaincy, an optimal organizational structure, and a system of feedback and quality control.

We will first explore the legitimation of spiritual care by the state (and the correction facilities), by the religious traditions and other (humanistic) sending organizations, and by the detainees themselves. Secondly, we will describe the organizational management of religious diversity . There are several parties involved in, and responsible for, concretizing religious freedom in the detention context: the state, and more specifically the correctional facilities on one hand, and on the other hand the sending organizations. We will examine these different roles and responsibilities.

We will demonstrate these effects at a general level, throughout prison chaplaincy, and more in detail as they occur within the Muslim chaplaincy. We have chosen this religion because it has, in the recent years, rapidly grown and is now one of the four major religions, and because it has attracted widespread public and political attention. Due to these particularities of Muslim chaplaincy, the presumed effects of religious diversity on the professionalization and innovation of prison chaplaincy are eminently visible.

3.2 Religious Diversity and the Legitimation of Spiritual Care

As we saw above, the legitimation of spiritual care in a constitutional state is anchored in the freedom of religion that the state should implement, at the minimum in sectors it bears direct responsibility for. For that matter, the government has, as we shall see, an interest of its own in this, it has its own agenda, and sets conditions for this collaboration with the sending organizations. The legitimation by the government, however, is not sufficient, and requires legitimation from the other actors, namely the churches and other sending organizations, and of course from the detainees themselves.

From a Christian perspective, the legitimacy of spiritual care is found in the Christian holy sources (Ganzevoort and Visser 2009: 333). In its humanistic canon, the Dutch Humanist Society refers to the sixteenth-century humanist, Dirck Volkertsz. Coornhert. Presumably, he set down the basic principles for humanistic spiritual care in his Comedie van Lief en Leedt. In Islam, the Quran requires that prisoners receive attention (Quran 76: 8). Al-Khalifi reports that the first prison in an Islamic context was a wing of a mosque. Prisoners could thus benefit from the religious atmosphere with respect to their wellbeing and rehabilitation. According to Al-Khalifi, in the eighth and ninth centuries, the sultans Ibn Mansur al-Mahdi and Harun al-Rashid introduced spiritual counselling for prisoners, with a view to expediting their social rehabilitation (Ajouaou 2014: 21). Similar foundations of spiritual care can be found in other religious and worldview traditions.

The legitimation of spiritual care by churches and other sending organizations is also important because of the ideological and actual separation of church and state. Within a democratic constitutional state, the state is barred, by law, from doing anything more than facilitation. In the Netherlands, the sending organizations are partners of the state, and they determine the (theological) frameworks of spiritual care with regards to content. This legitimation is not limited to the spiritual care inside the correctional facilities, but extends to other forms of (after)care. Here, one can think of the involvement of volunteers in providing spiritual care and various other forms of care for ex-detainees. The involvement of volunteers, by spiritual caregivers in the care of detainees, is an aspect of the “practice of the religion of one’s community.”

In general, the commitment to provide care for those who are vulnerable is the most important stimulus, although the “sending or mission mandate” (Evangelization, dawa in Islam) provides an extra motivation. The “mission mandate” is sometimes the most important motivation for supporting and recognizing the work of spiritual caregivers and the communities behind them. The mission mandate, however, had to be abandoned after the government took over the financial obligations of spiritual care. In the Netherlands, the decision to finance spiritual care from general funds goes back to 1824, when the government (King William II) appointed spiritual caregivers and provided adequate remuneration (Abma 1990: 103).

Legitimation, from the perspective of the detainees, is somewhat intertwined with the legitimation given by the government. Spiritual care is, on the basis of the principles of human rights, a right of the individual, and not, or no longer, the right of the church or of any religious organization to impose its religion, and even less an obligation for the individual to respond to the spiritual care offered (until the beginning of the nineteenth century, detainees were obliged to attend religious services) (Abma 1990: 102). Legitimation by the detainee is also important because his or her religiosity affects the degree and the way in which religious facilities and spiritual care is given shape to. Thus, the processes of secularization, depillarization, and deinstitutionalization (Taylor 2009:674-675) immediately invoke the question of whether detainees expect spiritual care along traditional pillars from the various religions, as is now the case, or if they need spiritual care at all. In line with this, the following question also arises: how can the dominance of the classical religions (three quarters of the spiritual caregivers at this time are either Christian or Muslim) be explained in this secularized and individualized society? Does the religious landscape in detention differ from that landscape outside the prison, and does the model of spiritual care provide “artificial protection” against the “the corrosive acids of secularization?” (Beckford 2001: 374).

It does indeed seem that the legitimation of spiritual care sketched above does stand against a crisis, when we consider its context in a strongly secularized and depillarized society like that of The Netherlands (Henneken-Hordijk and Mol 2010). There are a number of possible explanations for this. Secularization could, in light of constitutional legitimation, simply be a shift in the worldview of the perspective from which spiritual care must be provided—for example, more from the humanist or atheist viewpoint. In addition, secularization seems to be less an issue for new religions, such as Islam , than for the established religions, according to the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP (Maliepaard and Gijsberts) 2012: 133). There has also been a decision to use the so-called “behoeftepeiling” (need gauge). Here, since 2004, the detainees have been asked what type of spiritual care they desire. Detainees apparently express their need for spiritual care in terms of the various existing religious and worldview traditions. That could be due to the intensification of the religiosity and spirituality of people in “anxious” situations. In detention, this could lead detainees into returning to their religious and worldview roots. Another explanation could be that the spiritual caregivers, including those associated with the traditional religions of the Western prison system, have expanded and adapted their care and guidance repertoire to a target group of people who are largely secularized, but have not completely deserted the old religious frameworks (Taylor 2009: 675). Detainees’ appreciation of spiritual care, their statement that they desire it in its currently existing form, is a sign of the legitimacy the service enjoys. Various studies point to this. A list from the Custodial Services Agency on the actual amount of detainees in November 2012 shows that the capacity of Dutch prison detention is around 10,500, excluding the capacity in private youth detention centers and private forensic psychiatric treatment clinics. In 2005, this capacity still averaged 14,108, and a drop to an average of 8875 is expected by 2015 (Molenaar 2010). This means that one spiritual caregiver is available for every 90 detainees. About 70 % of the detainees make use of spiritual care (Spruit et al. 2003: 2–5; Oliemeulen et al. 2010: 62). These 70 % ask for a spiritual caregiver from one of the denominations mentioned above. Interestingly, a third of those with no religious affiliation also have a strong need for spiritual care (Spruit et al. 2003: 145). Hence, the criterion of belonging or not to a religion does not clearly determine the need and use of spiritual care. Therefore, the 30 % of the detainees who do not make any use of spiritual care do not exclusively include individuals who have no religious or worldview background. This percentage only concerns those who have no need for, or make no use of, the service of spiritual care. In sum, the various religions and worldviews, including humanistic spiritual care, appear to correspond greatly with the detainees’ need for spiritual care. According to a survey among detainees carried out by the Custodial Institutions Service (Mol and Henneken-Hordijk 2007: 46):

In general, people are very satisfied with the service of spiritual care…. If that satisfaction is viewed according to the spiritual caregiver with whom the detainees have had contact, then the detainees who have had contact with a minister or a humanist are often more satisfied than those who have had contact with a rabbi (both 79 % (very) satisfied versus 62 % (very) satisfied). Of those who have been in contact with an imam, 72 % are (very) satisfied. For the pandit and the pastor, it is 77 % who are (very) satisfied.

Why are detainees satisfied with the services of the spiritual caregivers? A detainee with a Muslim background indicates one possible answer:

Many people see you as a, as crap, as finished, you know! The [detainee for them] is not human. And then say she is finished, you know. That is how they see you … that’s the image they give you. With an imam you are not part of those people [who are seen as ‘crap’ and who are quickly forgotten].

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