Legal Punishment as Civil Ritual: Making Cultural Sense of Harsh Punishment
44 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2013 Last revised: 28 Feb 2014
This work examines mass incarceration through a ritual studies perspective, paying explicit attention to the religious underpinnings. Conventional analyses of criminal punishment focus on the purpose of punishment in relation to legal or moral norms, or attempt to provide a general theory of punishment. The goals of this work are different, and instead try to understand the cultural aspects of punishment that have helped make the United States a global leader in imprisonment and execution. It links the boom in incarceration to social ruptures of the 1950s and 1960s and posits the United States’ world leader status as having more to do with culture than crime. This approach has been largely overlooked by legal scholars, yet ritual studies enhance understanding of law and legal institutions. A ritual perspective illuminates the religious history of criminal justice, challenges traditional dogmas that hold punishment as a rational response to crime, and explains why some people must suffer so that others may feel secure.
Keywords: Crime, Punishment, Ritual, Civil Religion, Civil Rights, Prison, Lynching
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