Importance of Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of African Americans, Caribbean Blacks and Non-Hispanic Whites

Article excerpt

This study examined the importance of spirituality and religion in daily life (i.e., only religion, only spirituality, both religion and spirituality, and neither religion nor spirituality) among a nationally representative sample of African Americans, Caribbean Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites. A majority in each group felt they were both important, suggesting the constructs are largely congruent. However, African Americans and Caribbean Blacks were more likely than Whites to indicate "both religion and spirituality" are important and less likely to indicate "only spirituality" or "neither" is important. These findings and others are discussed in relation to previous research on spirituality and religiosity. Practice implications for the use of spirituality and religiosity to promote student well-being are also discussed.

Keywords: Race, religiosity, Black Church

The U. S. is distinctive among developed countries for the extent to which the population states that religion is important in their lives. Recent data (Crabtree & Pelham, 2009) indicated that 65% of Americans state that religion is important, as compared to an overall median of 38% among other developed nations. Within the American populace, there are well-established subgroup differences (e.g., race, age, gender) in public, private, and attitadinal indicators of religiosity (Taylor, Chatters, & Levin, 2004) with African Americans consistently demonstrating higher rates of religious involvement (e.g., prayer service, attendance) than their White counterparts (Chatters, Taylor, Bullard, & Jackson, 2009; Levin, Taylor, & Chatters, 1994; Taylor, Chatters, Jayakody, & Levin, 1996). The purpose of this study is to examine demographic correlates of self-assessments of the importance of religion and spirituaUty in one's life among African Americans, Caribbean Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites. This article augments several studies on spirituality and religiosity among these groups (Chatters et al., 2009; Chatters, Taylor, Bullard, & Jackson, 2008; Chatters, Taylor, Lincoln, & Jackson, 2008; Taylor, Chatters, & Jackson, 2009) and provides a bridge for researchers in the field of education to contemporary research on Black American religion and spirituality.

RELIGION AND AFRICAN AMERICAN LIFE

A long tradition of research and scholarship documents the prominent and pivotal role of religion and religious institutions in die Uves of African Americans (Billingsley, 1999; Lincoln & Mamiya, 1990). This work provides a solid foundation of social historical and ethnographic scholarship on the Black Church and its role in the development of African American communities and civic, social, and educational institutions. Black churches have a long tradition of spearheading social, educational, and health services to their congregation and surrounding communities, including youth programs, economic development initiatives, programs for the elderly and their caregivers, income maintenance, and job training programs, to name a few. These programming efforts reflect a particular worldview of African American religious traditions that emphasizes the communal nature of worship, the collectivity of the church, and the role of the Black Church in mediating the broader social environment (Lincoln & Mamiya, 1990).

Religious institutions have had a particularly rich tradition of involvement in educational efforts for African Americans. In the antebellum period, these initiatives included efforts to redress the exclusion of Blacks from access to elementary education. Following emancipation, Black churches were involved in establishing and supporting secondary schools and colleges (Jones, 1979). Religious institutions played a pivotal role in the founding of coUeges and universities serving Black students ("White House Initiative on HBCUs," 2010) and over 50 of the current 105 institutions of higher education that are identified as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) had direct religious-entity sponsorship and affiliation. …