As this year’s American Society of Criminology conference approaches, I am feeling particularly excited about the trans-Atlantic panel I will be participating in. Chaired by Dr James Densley from Metropolitan State University in Minnesota, the panel will have a title of ‘Disengagement from Gangs: The Role of Religion and Spirituality’. In addition to James and myself, the panel will have inputs from Dr Andrew Johnson (also from Metropolitan State University), Dr Malcolm Rigby from Henderson State University in Arkansas and Dr Simon Harding from University of West London, who will act as Discussant.
Collectively, we will examine the role of religion and spirituality in the negotiated process of gang disengagement. Drawing on empirical work on the streets and in prisons in Europe, North America and South America, and grounded in theory and research on distance from crime, offender rehabilitation and continuity and change in gang membership and gang embededdness, each of our papers will explore the ways in which religion and spirituality can encourage de-identification with gangs and both facilitate and communicate disengagement.
In my own paper, I will draw on insights from my forthcoming book ‘Gangs and Spirituality’ (due to be published by Palgrave MacMillan in the summer of 2018) to explore the potential that religion and spirituality may have in enabling marginalised young men to contest gang masculinity and to support gang exit. Drawing from qualitative data from three continents of the world, I will present some key insights about the challenges that gang members face and the links between their socially constructed views of masculinity, their fundamental moral and ethical precepts and their participation in gang violence. In addition, I will present insights from international case studies to examine the potential relationship between religious and spiritual participation and desistance efforts among gang members. Insights from spiritual and faith-based interventions in the USA, Europe and Asia will be drawn upon to illustrate the way in which spiritually-oriented programmes hold potential to assist gang members in re-focusing their masculine orientations and the impact this has on supporting them to reform. Implications will be made in terms of the way in which spiritual processes, resources and bonds may be drawn upon as a trigger for gang desistance in the future.
Presenting this paper within the panel will be a terrific way to receive initial feedback on the insights from my new book, of which I now only have one remaining chapter to write. It will be a privilege for me to work with James, Andrew, Malcolm and Simon on this panel and to visit Philadelphia for the first time. In addition to the panel, I am looking forward to the wider conference inputs which focus around the overarching ASC theme of ‘Crime, Legitimacy and Reform.’ I know I will meet up with some of the most prominent criminologists in the world at the conference, and look forward to finding new opportunities for future collaborative work.