Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice, and the Abolition of Prisons

Vincent Lloyd (Author) Joshua Dubler (Author)
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Changes in the American religious landscape enabled the rise of mass incarceration. Religious ideas and practices also offer a key for ending mass incarceration. These are the bold claims advanced by Break Every Yoke, the joint work of two activist-scholars of American religion. Once, in an era not too long past, Americans, both incarcerated and free, spoke a language of social liberation animated by religion. In the era of mass incarceration, we have largely forgotten how to dream-and organize-this way. To end mass incarceration we must reclaim this lost tradition. Properly conceived, the movement we need must demand not prison reform but prison abolition.
Break Every Yoke weaves religion into the stories about race, politics, and economics that conventionally account for America's grotesque prison expansion of the last half century, and in so doing it sheds new light on one of our era's biggest human catastrophes. By foregrounding the role of religion in the way political elites, religious institutions, and incarcerated activists talk about incarceration, Break Every Yoke is an effort to stretch the American moral imagination and contribute resources toward envisioning alternative ways of doing justice. By looking back to nineteenth century abolitionism, and by turning to today's grassroots activists, it argues for reclaiming the abolition "spirit."

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
December 11, 2019
6.4 X 0.9 X 9.3 inches | 1.1 pounds
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About the Author

Joshua Dubler is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison and co-editor of Religion, Law, U.S.A.
Vincent Lloyd is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University. He is the author of Black Natural Law, Religion of the Field Negro, and In Defense of Charisma.


"Break Every Yoke unsparingly illustrates how religion has contributed to mass criminalization while also making a convincing case that religious people can be mobilized in the fight to transform the carceral state. The authors remind us that making a moral case against incarceration is essential to the struggle to abolish prisons. If you are new to the idea of prison abolition, the book offers a valuable primer. It pushed me beyond my comfort zone, agitated me in the best sense, and left me asking more questions. How much more effective could prison industrial complex abolition be if organizers more explicitly and intentionally incorporated religion and spirituality into our work? How should we do it? I�m grateful for these provocations. I can�t wait to talk to others about this book. Let�s get the conversations going." -- Mariame Kaba, founder of Project NIA

"Spirituality without structure is not easily sustained in hostile, authoritarian environments. Although religions have historically been practitioners of organized predatory violence,�Break Every Yoke�illustrates how we can counter violence with religion that supports resilience and a healthy spirituality to resist: school to prison pipelines, foster care, residential homes for special needs children, detention centers, mental asylums, solitary confinement, death row, political imprisonment and mass incarceration." -- Joy James, Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Humanities, Williams College

"One of the critical moral and political issues facing Americans today is our system of mass incarceration. With this thoughtful and inspiring book, Joshua Dubler and Vincent Lloyd present a powerful indictment of this moral abomination and an inspiring mandate to create a new and radical abolitionist movement rooted in the Bible." -- Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College