Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

A Conceptualization of Spirituality among African American Young Adults

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

A Conceptualization of Spirituality among African American Young Adults

Article excerpt


The role of spirituality in the lives of many African Americans has been well documented (Bowen-Reid & Smalls, 2004; Mattis & Jager, 2001). Spirituality has helped African Americans endure adversities such as chattel slavery in the era extending from the early seventeenth century through the American Civil War, in which Blacks were classified as private property, denied rights of citizenship, forced to endure hard labor with no pay, provided minimum food and shelter, and subjected to torture and forced migration (Dash, Jackson, & Rasor, 1997; Mattis J, 2000; Newlin, Knafl, & Melkus, 2002). Spirituality has also enabled African Americans to endure and overcome Jim Crow-era segregation; white supremacist terrorism; systemic inequality in access to housing, labor protections, education, and many other rights of citizenship; ensuing economic and social hardships; and the persistence of racism (Taylor, Chatters, & Levin, 2004). Moral theory, theology, and praxis in contemporary and historical Black American church life have provided an organizing structure and framework for many African Americans to come together in addressing social injustices faced by their communities, as during the civil rights movement (Smith, 2003). It is therefore surprising that spirituality, the fellowship of Black persons of faith, and Black religious thought and life are held in high esteem and play a central role in the lives of many African Americans (Giger, Appel, Davidhizar, & Davis, 2008).

Numerous mostly quantitative studies, document that religion and spirituality are associated with positive health-related outcomes among youth (for reviews see Zebracki, Rosenthal, Tsevat & Drotar, 2006). In addition, several studies have explored the meaning of spirituality for African American adults and the elderly (Armstrong & Crowther, 2002; Banks-Wallace & Parks, 2004; Cohen, Thomas, & Williamson, 2008; Hyman & Handal, 2006). Other studies have also documented similar ttrtends showing that highly religious African American females and males are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors relative to their counterparts (Denton, Pearce, & Smith, 2008; King, & Roeser, 2009). However, there is a dearth of research on what spirituality means for African Americans approaching adulthood (Berkel. Armstrong, & Cokley, 2004).

Spirituality among A frican Americans

A few studies have explored the meaning of spirituality for African Americas. Mattis (2000) conducted a quantitative study among a sample of African American women around 30 years of age (N=128) from a Midwestern university and surrounding communities, and a Metropolitan center in the Northeast. Fifty-three percent (53%) of respondents noted that spirituality referred to being connected to and holding a belief in a higher power. Another study, a qualitative analysis among a convenience sample of African American women ages 20 to 70 years (N=25) in a Midwestern city, documented that a majority of women participants believed that spirituality was intrinsically connected to health, well-being, and the relationships they had with others. Many women also believed that spirituality allowed them to "look within themselves, towards God, and to loved ones for wisdom, nurturing, and other resources to carry them through life's journey" (Banks-Wallace and Parks, 2004, p.34).

In another qualitative study analyzing definitions of spirituality and religiosity among a sample of African Americans and Euro-American Jews ages 65 and older (N=29), African American participants (N=15) largely defined spirituality as something that dwells within, guides, provides comfort, and empowers (Cohen,

Thomas, & Williamson, 2008). Similarly, Nelson-Becker (2002), drawing from a sample of Euro-American Jews and African American older adults (N=79) ages 58 to 92, noted that African American participants (N=42) described spirituality as held within an individual being. …

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