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Blacks and Whites in Christian America

How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions

Jason E. Shelton

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Religion and race differences have remained major sources of conflict since our nation’s founding. Not only were there profound religious tensions among the early European settlers, but also between them, African slaves, and Native Americans. ...

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1. Why Do African Americans Pray So Often?

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pp. 1-30

Long before we got serious about writing this book, we had concluded that black Christians more often publicly display their religious faith than white Christians do. Two observations shaped our beliefs about this. First, we stopped counting the number of times that we had seen a black athlete, actor, or musician give glory to God ...

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2. So Rooted a Past: Slavery and African American Protestant Religious Tradition

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pp. 31-47

Human recovery from the grip of oppression is a messy affair.1 Suffering leads people of faith to ask difficult questions about God. Questions about black Christian faith have always necessitated an understanding of African American experiences, including slavery, segregation, and the prevailing systemic issues ...

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3. The Apostles’ Creed: Racial Similarities in Commitments to Core Christian Tenets

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pp. 48-56

For nearly 2,000 years, Christians (especially in the Western tradition) across places, denominations, and cultures have subscribed to the Apostles’ Creed. The creed exists in two forms; a shorter and longer version. The shorter version, often called the Old Roman Form, can be traced back as far as 140 AD. ...

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4. Learning and Burning: Racial Differences in “Academic” versus “Experiential” Models of Christianity

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pp. 57-85

Th e preceding chapter showed that black and white Protestants are similarly steadfastly committed to core Christian theological tenets — those specifically referenced in the Apostles’ Creed. However, that does not mean that there are not profound differences between blacks and whites in their identification with and understanding of Christianity. ...

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5. Religious Convictions: Everyday Faith-Based Actions and Beliefs

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pp. 86-110

In this chapter, we build on our theoretical framework for understanding racial differences in religious sensibilities. Our goals are twofold. First, we continue our analysis of the Experiential building block of black Protestant faith by explaining how the African American Protestant religious tradition is active and experiential. ...

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6. Shaded Morality: Not So Black and White

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pp. 111-132

Sherita Wilson, a 37-year-old African American woman, has been working as a mail clerk at her local south-Atlanta-based post office for 12 years. Th e mother of three children aged 13 to 17, she has been divorced officially for 10 years, but her husband disappeared 13 years ago, ...

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7. Far-Reaching Faith: Evidence of an Inclusive Religious Doctrine

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pp. 133-167

Beginning with this chapter, we expand our investigation beyond widely recognized domains of Christianity. While some of the topics that we examine are closely associated with Christianity (such as beliefs about angels and miracles), others are typically not associated with Christianity ...

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8. Reconciling the Race Problem: Identity Politics and the Gulf between Black and White Protestants

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pp. 168-198

In this final chapter, we turn our attention to beliefs among black and white Protestants that seemingly have little to do with religion at all. However, things are not always what they seem. In fact, it will soon become apparent that various dimensions of identity politics ...

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Epilogue: The Race Problem and Beloved Community

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pp. 199-208

The findings presented in this book are clear: black and white Protestants often think about and practice Christianity in vastly dissimilar ways. Results from our survey and in-depth interview data show that racial group membership strongly influences how black and white Protestants go about their religious faith. ...

Appendix A: Sampling Procedures / Sample Characteristics

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pp. 209-214

Appendix B: Descriptive Tables

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pp. 215-234

Appendix C: Interview Guides

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pp. 235-238


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pp. 239-252


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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-278

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About the Authors

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p. 279

Jason E. Shelton is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington. He publishes research on the sociology of religion as well as the impact of social class and cultural differences among African Americans in the post – Civil Rights Era. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814722770
E-ISBN-10: 081472275X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814722756
Print-ISBN-10: 081472275X

Page Count: 290
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 813004997
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blacks and Whites in Christian America

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Religion.
  • Race discrimination -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Race discrimination -- United States.
  • Black theology.
  • Protestant churches -- United States -- Doctrines.
  • Faith.
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