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Drew Theological School Student Awarded Louisville Dissertation Fellowship

PhD student Hunter Bragg received the award for his examination of the American criminal justice system

June 2022 – Drew Theological School PhD student Hunter Bragg has been awarded the prestigious Louisville Dissertation Fellowship for his dissertation on the political theology of the plea bargain, entitled “On Condemning Whom We Do Not Know: A Political Theology of the Plea Bargain in American Criminal Justice.”

The fellowship, awarded to students in their final year of PhD or ThD dissertation writing, supports the formation of ecclesiastically engaged academics for teaching and scholarship that serves the church and its ministries.

“I’m deeply grateful for the support that the Louisville Institute Dissertation Fellowship will provide as I complete my dissertation on the political theology of the plea bargain,” said Bragg. “Examining the theological foundations of plea bargaining—a ritual process undertaken in the adjudication of approximately 97 percent of all criminal cases in the U.S.—will illuminate the problematic ways that plea bargains transform human beings into raced, sexed, classed, and mentally disabled criminals whose very humanity is in question.”

“Hunter’s research for this transdisciplinary dissertation has plunged him into a powerful, painfully needed investigation of the U.S. prison system,” said Catherine Keller, George T. Cobb Professor of Constructive Theology. “Operating between religious and legal discourses, he discloses how the Christian practice of confession has been appropriated and deformed by the legal practice of the plea bargain, functioning to mark a great mass of subjects, largely Black, as essentially criminal. This is a dissertation from which I am already receiving much more than I can give.”

“I have been supported in tangible and intangible ways by a host of people, many of whom are students or faculty at Drew Theological School,” said Bragg. “I’m especially grateful to my doctoral advisor, Dr. Catherine Keller, for her guidance of this project from a term paper in her class, to a journal article, and to a proposed dissertation. Throughout my time as a doctoral student at Drew, she has given me the confidence I needed to share my ideas with a wider public.”

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