Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

A Qualitative Exploration of Why Faith Matters in African American Marriages and Families

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

A Qualitative Exploration of Why Faith Matters in African American Marriages and Families

Article excerpt


Psychological research has linked religiosity with some dimensions of mental health among African Americans (e.g., Koenig, 1998; Mattis, 2000; Taylor, Chatters, and Levin, 2004), and in sociology there is a body of scholarship addressing the Black Church as an organizational and social force at the community level (e.g., Ellison, 1997; Taylor et al., 2004; Taylor, Mattis, and Chatters, 1999). However, there is comparatively little research on African Americans that focuses on the unit that fills much of the relational space between the psychological individual and the community - the family (notable exceptions include Hill, 1999; McAdoo, 2007).

In-depth qualitative studies of the "close to home" areas of religious involvement among African Americans such as personal and family religious beliefs and practices are especially scant (Chatters and Taylor, 1994). This paucity of in-depth, qualitative data regarding religion and Black families is a particular concern in light of Mattis' (2000) conclusion "that spirituality and religiosity influence virtually every domain of African American life" (p. 102), and the finding that 79% of African Americans report that religion is "very important" in their lives (Taylor et al., 1 999). Further, recent qualitative research with African American participants indicates that marriage is reportedly viewed as a "covenant under God'' and found that participants framed marriage in sacred and religious language (Curran, Utley, and Muraco, 20 1 0, p. 356, emphasis in original).

Arecent review that addresses the important issue of cultural competence states:

Culturally competent services acknowledge, respect, and attempt to work within the culture of distinct sub-groups of the population when individuals from those sub-groups seek assistance . . . Although initially started in the mental health field as a way of working with racial/ethnic minority groups ... the concept has spread to include other sub-cultures such as highly religious cultures and individuals (Marks, Dollahite, and Dew, 2009, p. 14; see also Ariel, 1999).

Two groups are identified as particularly vital recipients of "culturally competent services": (a) racial/ethnic minority groups, and (b) highly religious cultures and individuals. At the outset of this paper we note that religion does matter to most African Americans and their families, and that it often matters a great deal (Taylor et al., 2004). Such families require cultural competence under both identified (racial/ethnic minority and highly religious) categories. However, currently available data offer us little insight as to how and why religion is salient and meaningful to these families. Greater understanding of how and why religion influences the lives of African American families is essential for a variety of family clinicians and human services professionals who may often lack related awareness and sensitivity, and are subsequently limited in their cultural competence and effectiveness (Stewart, 2004).


The empirical literature has established that religion matters to many American families. Ninety-five percent of all married couples and parents in the U.S. report a religious affiliation (Mahoney et al., 2001), about 90% want their child(ren) to have some religious training (Dollahite, Marks and Goodman, 2004), and 60% say religion is "important" or "very important" to them (McCullough et al., 2000). For this 60%, professionals' decisions to ignore or consider the influence of personal and family religious experience are significant. Family research addressing religion has seen a relative boom over the past twenty years (for reviews, see Dollahite et al., 2004; Mahoney, 2010; Chatters and Taylor, 2005), and this work has included empirical studies that report positive connections between religiosity and: (a) parental functioning (Brody et al., 1994; Brody, Stoneman, and Flor, 1996; Dollahite, 2003; Gunnoe, Hetherington, and Reiss, 1999); (b) parental involvement and warmth (Bartkowski and Wilcox, 2000; Wilcox 2002); and (c) familial processes including conflict resolution and coping with challenges (Dollahite and Marks, 2009). …

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