IDENTIFICATION AND SEPARATISM:Religious Involvement and Racial Orientations Among Black Americans

Abstract

Using data from the 1979–1980 National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA), this study investigates the relationships between religious involvement and two sets of racial orientations: identification, or feelings of closeness and commonality of interests among blacks, and separatism, or support for cultural and institutional distance from whites. Both public religious participation and private religious devotion are strong positive predictors of racial identification, net of the effects of sociodemographic factors. However, the positive effects of devotion on identification are diminished sharply among blacks over 60 years of age. In addition, members of tradition black denominations (i.e., Baptists and Methodists) express substantially stronger black identity than do their unaffiliated counterparts. In contrast to models of racial identification, religious involvement bears little consistent relationship to separatism. Relatively strong separatist sentiment is found among (1) frequent churchgoers ages 30–59 and (2) adherents of nontraditional religions (e.g., Muslims). In general, these results cast doubt on the arguments of some critics of the black church, who claim that religion undermines collective identification. Mainstream black religious culture appears to encourage inclusive, but not exclusive, racial solidarity.

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