November 19, 2013

The Prodigals (Choir of the Missouri Medium Security Prison), “This is the Way I Pray” (n.d.)

Prisoners at Prayer (Nu-Sound Records) was arranged and produced under the auspices of Chaplain Earl-Clayton Grandstaff. Grandstaff was an ordained Baptist minister and the author of A Study of Correctional Chaplaincy Service (1966). His was a mixture of benevolent reform, faith in redemption, and spectacle. The novelty of reformed criminals is quite palpable on this album. As deviant peculiarity gives way to choral coordination in your ears and in front of your eyes, you cannot help but think of the Foucauldian framing, perhaps only through it.

Album Insert“Prisoners are people . . . yet visitors never cease to marvel at the personality and performance of prisoners,” says Superintendent Ed Haynes of the Missouri Medium Security Prison in Moberly, Missouri. Liberal conscience is emboldened here, swayed by the righteousness of its cause, its knowledge of being in the right. As reported in the liner notes, Haynes “welcomes students and serious visitors to what has been called a ‘bold venture of faith about the inherent goodness within every man . . . Truly NO MAN IS AN ISLAND when prisoners are at prayer.”

As the unattributed blurb on the sleeve attests, we have here “a really unique choir, performing a public service for the listener and for the participant alike, whether incarcerated or a member of the ‘free society’ …”  The scare quotes seem to offer a rebuke of sorts, a reminder, a stinging criticism of the way in which members of the free society casually hold their assumptions.


March 6, 2013

Are you Interested in Prayer?

prayer machine iWithin the frame of secular modernity, religion has become something in need of measured explanation, something that is either at odds or consistent with the natural state of humanity. Prayer, as a fortifier of belief, has come to mark the religiosity of a shared human experience, for better or for worse. For practitioners and scholars, promoters and critics, prayer often distills something essential about religion. The measurement of prayer corresponds to its drift inward, into the mind and the nervous system, in general.

Cognitive studies of prayer, for example, are rather pervasive these days. Such studies often serve to articulate a boundary between the religious and the secular as either quite stark or else rather porous. In either case, the religious is being measured, constructed, and deployed.

The significance of these studies, I contend, lies in the ways in which they manufacture religion, study after study, regardless of results, turning religion into a measurable and natural matter. Your prayer-life, or lack thereof, is a mark of your individuality in the secular age. Do you pray? Did you used to pray? Do you want to pray? Are you interested in prayer?