African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity

By Vonnie C. McLoyd; Nancy E. Hill et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Religion in African American Life

Jacqueline S. Mattis

Religion and family are cultural systems that are fundamental parts of the bedrock of most societies. The word “family” denotes enduring connections and patterns of obligation borne through blood, mutual decision, or societal script. Religion, according to anthropologist Clifford Geertz, refers to “a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic” (1973, p. 90). Recent work in the sociology and psychology of religion suggests the need to distinguish between “religiosity” and “spirituality.” Although these two terms traditionally have been used interchangeably in scholarly literature, findings from qualitative research suggest that religiosity refers to people's adherence to the core beliefs and rituals associated with worship of a divine figure or figures (Mattis, 2000). In contrast, spirituality refers to a belief in the transcendent nature of life (i.e., to the notion that existence is not limited to the physical or observable world); to a belief in the sacredness of life; and to a consequent quest to live a life of goodness and caring. For those who self-define as both religious and spiritual, spirituality also refers to the relationship that one builds with divine or noncorporeal forces (e.g., God, ancestors, spirits) (Mattis, 2000). It is important to note that whatever conceptual distinctions may exist between religiosity and spirituality, evidence drawn from lived experience suggests that for most people religiosity and spirituality are deeply intertwined. As such, throughout

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