Muslim Prison Chaplains in Canada and Britain

James A. Beckford, Ilona C. M. Cairns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The separation between religion and the state is widely regarded as a central feature of modernization processes, but sociological research has tended to neglect the extent to which even ‘secular states’ continue to manage religion in such institutions as prisons, hospitals and military establishments. This article extends the understanding of the state's management of religion by focusing on responses to the growth of religious diversity among prisoners and chaplains. In particular, it analyses the integration of Muslim chaplains into the prison systems of Canada and England & Wales. It is based on research – conducted between 2010 and 2012 – that investigated the frameworks governing religion in these two prison systems. This research involved analysis of official policies and regulations as well as transcripts of telephone interviews with a small sample of Muslim chaplains in both jurisdictions. The main focus of the findings reported in this article is on the implications that each prison system's arrangements for chaplaincy have for the work of Muslim chaplains and for questions about religious freedom and equality. These questions are timely in the context of controversies currently surrounding the increasing size of the Muslim prison population in England & Wales and Canada and the need for prisons in both jurisdictions to strike a fair balance between the recognition of religious diversity and the imperatives of security and equality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-56
Number of pages21
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

This article arises from a research project funded by a grant awarded to Benjamin Berger (Osgoode Hall Law School) and James Beckford (University of Warwick) from the Religion and Diversity Project, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Major Collaborative Research Initiative, led by Lori Beaman, at the University of Ottawa.

The authors are grateful for the co-operation of all the British and Canadian participants in this project as well as for the assistance received from the Prison Service of England & Wales and the Correctional Service of Canada.


  • religion
  • Muslim
  • prison
  • chaplain
  • equality
  • regulation
  • Canada
  • England & Wales


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