Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions

Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions

Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions

Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions

Synopsis

2012 Winner of the C. Calvin Smith Award presented by the Southern Conference on African American Studies, Inc.

2014 Honorable Mention for the Distinguished Book Award presented by the American Sociological Association's Sociology of Religion Section

Conventional wisdom holds that Christians, as members of a "universal" religion, all believe more or less the same things when it comes to their faith. Yet black and white Christians differ in significant ways, from their frequency of praying or attending services to whether they regularly read the Bible or believe in Heaven or Hell.

In this engaging and accessible sociological study of white and black Christian beliefs, Jason E. Shelton and Michael O. Emerson push beyond establishing that there are racial differences in belief and practice among members of American Protestantism to explore why those differences exist. Drawing on the most comprehensive and systematic empirical analysis of African American religious actions and beliefs to date, they delineate five building blocks of black Protestant faith which have emerged from the particular dynamics of American race relations. Shelton and Emerson find that America's history of racial oppression has had a deep and fundamental effect on the religious beliefs and practices of blacks and whites across America.

Excerpt

Religion and race differences have remained major sources of conflict since our nations founding. Not only were there profound religious tensions among the early European settlers, but also between them, African slaves, and Native Americans. Today—nearly 250 years after Americas birth—there are still deep-seated religious tensions across members of different racial groups. There are also racial tensions among followers of the same faith.

In this book, we examine the intersections of religion and race among a specific set of believers: black and white Protestants. More specifically, we assess racial differences in how black and white Protestants think about and practice their religious faith. As one might expect, we uncover profound faith-based similarities and entrenched differences. We explain these differences by focusing on African Americans and describing what we call the building blocks of black Protestant faith.

Before going any further, we must establish several important points. First, we are trained as sociologists, not as theologians or historians. Most of the existing research in this area has been produced by the latter groups, rather than the former. Sociologists systematically analyze beliefs and behaviors across groups of people. Consequently, we draw on established social science research methods—such as nationally representative surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews —that allow us to compare and contrast black and white Protestants attitudes, activities, and emotions.

Second, this book is purposely written to be accessible to a general audience. Although we are social scientists, we did not write this book . . .

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