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Criminals and Saints: Justice and Pilgrimage in Southern Italy


Palermo, Sorrento, Rome, Italy

Program Description

“Criminals and Saints: Justice and Pilgrimage in Southern Italy” is a Study Abroad Program that will attract both Justice Studies and English Majors, as well as students minoring in Creative Writing and Criminal Justice. At the center of our program is our commitment to experiential learning. As the architects of this interdisciplinary, collaborative program, Professors Plass and Kutchins will offer two courses that intersect not just by virtue of our core travel itineraries, but also in our awareness of this program’s provocative juxtaposition of two of Italy’s most iconic archetypes: the “criminal” as manifested through organized crime (Mafia history) and “sainthood” as part of Italy’s Roman Catholic history.
We believe there is no better way to support experiential learning than through a study abroad program that allows students to immerse in a culture other than their own. In this program, students will have the opportunity to travel in southern Italy with structure and purpose, and to witness its history, narratives, art and iconic figures. Students will have a supportive, safe, hands-on learning environment as we travel in Southern Italy, and learn about this country’s rich history of “criminals and saints.” The students in Plass’s Justice Studies course will focus on the story of organized crime and its counter-movement of Anti-Mafia reform, while the students enrolled in Kutchins’ travel writing course will do daily writings as they experience being “tourists, travelers, and pilgrims.” For more detail on these two specific courses, please see our respective course descriptions.  

Location Description

We will spend about a week in Sicily, based in Palermo with day trips to other parts of the island. We'll then be making a ferry crossing to Reggio di Calabria, where we'll spend a night. Subsequently, we'll be doing some travel in the region of Calabria, with stops in Lamezia and Cosenza. From there, we'll proceed to the Amalfi Coast, where we'll spend time in Sorrento, with day trips to Naples and other sites in the surrounding area. Our final stop will be in Rome.  


Peggy Plass | | Justice Studies

Laurie Kutchins | | English


We will be staying in hotels, with internet access and access to public transportation in most sites. Students will be in double or triple rooms.  

Some meals will be provided in the cost of the trip (all breakfasts, and about half of lunches and dinners). Students should plan to bring money for other meals--program directors will give guidance in terms of a variety of dining options in different price ranges.  

Additional Items to Consider

No visas, immunizations or background checks are required.

While familiarity with Italian would be great, all instruction will be in English, and there will be translation for presentations given by local scholars and activists.

The JUST 301 course will fulfill a requirement as an elective in all 3 Tracks of the Justice Studies major and in the Criminal Justice minor. The ENG 302 course will fulfill an elective requirement in the Creative Writing minor or in the English major. Students from other majors may use the course which they choose as a general elective. Students from all majors are eligible for participation in this program.

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.0

Open to all majors

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($25 fee)
  • Short Essay
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

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Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


JUST 301: Special Topics: Organized Crime and the Anti-Mafia Movement in Italy (3 credits)

ENG 302: Special Topics: Travel Writing - Tourist, Traveler, Pilgrim (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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