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Latest and Upcoming Research

Affiliated Faculty and Research Fellows

Fulfilling the center’s requirement for high-caliber research and recognizing the inherent value of global learning and collaboration, faculty and research fellows from universities around the world will be invited to participate in the center’s research projects. Listed below are some of the center’s principal investigators.

  • Grant Duwe, PhD, Director of Research and Evaluation, Minnesota Department of Corrections
  • Andrew Johnson, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Metropolitan State University in St. Paul Minnesota
  • Michael Hallett, PhD, Professor, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of North Florida
  • Sung Joon Jang, PhD, Research Professor of Criminology and co-director of the Program on Prosocial Behavior, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Family & Adolescent Delinquency, Baylor University
  • Eric Rassbach, JD, Director Hugh and Hazel Darling Religious Liberty Clinic, Visiting Professor, Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law
  • Michael Helfand, PhD, JD, Vice Dean for Faculty and Research, Brenden Mann Foundation Chair in Law and Religion, Co-Director Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics, Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law
  • Cristina Gibson, PhD, Dean's Distinguished Professor of Management, Pepperdine University Graziadio Business School
  • Dyron Daughrity, PhD, Professor of Religion, Religion and Philosophy Division, Pepperdine University Seaver College
  • Elizabeth Mancuso, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Social Science Division, Pepperdine University Seaver College
  • Luisa Blanco, PhD, Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University School of Public Policy
  • Brian Swarts, Director, Washington D.C. Program, International Programs, Seaver College
  • Knox Thames, Senior Fellow, Caruso School of Law, School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University; Director, Program on Global Faith and Inclusive Societies, Templeton Religion Trust
  • Carol Lusk, Executive Doctor of Business Administration Program student, Pepperdine University Graziadio Business School
  • Ken Canfield, Founder, National Center for Fathering

Research Projects

Research conducted at the center will explore outcomes related to prison incarceration and other social and behavioral services. The center, which merges Pepperdine's faith-centered mission and its commitment to rigorous academic pursuits, seeks to examine critical questions to ultimately impact the common good and society at large.

  Matthew 25 Project: Safeguarding Religious Freedom in US Prisons: A Multisite Evaluation of Prison Seminaries

The objective of this project is twofold: 1) to gain a more detailed understanding of diverse practices concerning religious liberty inside multiple large and prominent correctional programs; and 2) to publish a report-card summary of best practices for use by stakeholders in developing and operating faith-based programs in US prisons, as informed by the Matthew 25 research team.  

Using archival and site-based research, this project explores operational practices at six United States prisons regarding concepts of religious liberty. The shift toward faith-based volunteerism as a “structural charity” in US correctional budgeting has promoted a veritable explosion of religious programming in US prisons, yet no systematic review regarding best practices in terms of safeguarding the religious liberties of prisoners has yet been conducted. The purpose of this project is to help identify risks and to provide resources for stakeholders outlining “best practices” for the establishment and operation of such programs. 

  Hard Pressed, but Not Crushed: Spiritual Practice Inside of Prison

This project will examine the Christian practices of prayer, Bible study, synchronized singing, and the impact of these practices on human flourishing. Researchers will collaborate with formerly-incarcerated “lifers” and current chaplains to conduct qualitative research over three years. The data will deepen our understanding of the power of spiritual practice in the midst of suffering. It will also inform policy on the role of spirituality inside correctional facilities, and the findings will be applicable to those practicing faith outside of prison.

Prisoners may know something about the power of Christian spiritual practice that is out of reach for many “free worlders.” Studying spiritual practice inside of prison could provide rich data that contributes to the spiritual lives of individuals and communities well beyond the walls of prisons.

  The Importance of Religious Faith for Correctional Leaders and People in Prison

This project would consist of, at a minimum, two studies that examine the importance of religious faith not only for correctional leadership but also for incarcerated people in prison. Both studies would analyze novel datasets that significantly advance what is known about the influence of religious faith for the individuals in prison and those responsible for operating correctional systems. Due to the notable contribution that each study would make to the literature, it is anticipated that both studies will be published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

  Multinational Organizations Partner for Extensive In-Prison Study on Prison Programming Efficacy

Empirical, scientific evidence to build case for faith-based prison programs

"Prison Fellowship International (PFI) and Pepperdine University, in partnership with the National Penitentiary and Prison Institute of Colombia (INPEC) and Prison Fellowship Colombia (PFC), announce a first-of-its-kind, multiyear study in Colombia's prison system to measure the efficacy of international prison programming in offender rehabilitation, recidivism reduction, and general correctional reform.

This experimental study will evaluate the effectiveness of PFI and PFC programs in changing prisoner attitutudes, beliefs, and behavior. Findings will help identify specific, evidence-based best practices that drive meaningful change in the lives of prisoners and their families, as measured by changes in individual behavior, family unity, and prison culture. 

“We are delighted to be pioneering this ground-breaking initiative to further evaluate the effectiveness of our programs,” said Andrew Corley, PFI president and chief executive officer. “Each partner, uniquely creative and credible in their own right, is now joining together to evaluate what interventions are verifiably effective in breaking the cycle of crime.”

With more than 113,000 prisoners across 132 prisons, Colombia maintains one of the largest prison systems in the world. For the past 20 years, Prison Fellowship Colombia has actively served the country’s prison population and currently has access to more than 83 percent of the nation’s prisoners through its portfolio of ministry programs. Over the past two decades, the organization has demonstrated its penchant for innovation – pioneering several Prison Fellowship International programs and restorative justice initiatives and advocating for prison reforms. The wide-ranging study also has support from the Colombian Senate and Judiciary.

“We anticipate that the findings of this study will enhance our resocialization programs and equip us, as lawmakers, with the necessary groundwork to amend, reinforce and advocate for new laws pertaining to resocialization and criminal policy in Colombia,” said Lorena Ríos Cuéllar, Member of the Senate of Colombia.
The study will be overseen by Pepperdine University in California, a highly regarded Christian university ranked in the top 13 percent of all national universities. With more than 10,000 students, four graduate schools and five international locations, Pepperdine is committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and research evaluation. Its Center for Faith and the Common Good, led by Byron Johnson and Pepperdine president Jim Gash, is Pepperdine’s academic home for scholarly investigations of how faith and religion impact human flourishing.

“Pepperdine's Center for Faith and Common Good is a relatively young academic research center that is in constant search for strategic partners who can help us develop new opportunities for research and scholarship,” said Dr. Lee B. Kats, vice provost of Pepperdine and academic director of the Center for Faith and the Common Good. “This new partnership with PFI fits perfectly with the Center's mission to expand studies on the role that faith can play in impacting societies.”

“We are delighted to undertake a study of this scope in Colombia. So much of what we know from previous research is based on short-term studies of prisons in the United States. In this present project, we will be able to study multiple prisons and multiple programs inside of prison as well as in the community, and to do this over time.” said Byron Johnson, executive director for the Center for Faith and the Common Good at Pepperdine University. “This is truly an unprecedented opportunity that will yield many studies that will help to improve the prison. This would not be possible without the partnership between INPEC, Prison Fellowship International, and Pepperdine University.”

The longitudinal study will follow participants in 12 Prison Fellowship programs throughout eight prisons for five years or more. Initial participant cohorts will launch in October 2023 with thousands of prisoners and their families being studied over the course of the evaluation.

Results are expected to be published within the first year. The publication of these research findings and subsequent training of prison ministries and correctional leaders around the world will promote the widespread adoption of prison programming best practices, especially within the Prison Fellowship program portfolio. The Colombian government will also use findings to improve the national prison system and will be built into training curriculum for prison guards."

Review the full press release here.


"A new strategy for failing prisons: hiring former inmates."

Author: Michael Hallett

August 14, 2023


"Pepperdine University Partners with Multinational Organizations for Extensive In-Prison Study on Prison Programming Efficacy."

Author: Pepperdine Public Relations

July 18, 2023


"Why correctional agencies should consider the religion of the incarcerated in the effectiveness of their programs."  

Authors: Grant Duwe, Byron R. Johnson

May 25th, 2023


"New Insights for 'What Works'? Religiosity and the Risk-Needs-Responsivity Model"

Authors: Grant Duwe, Byron R. Johnson