Blacks and Whites in Christian America

How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions

290 pages

117 tables

October, 2012

ISBN: 9780814722763



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Jason E. Shelton is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington. Dr. Shelton's articles have appeared in Social Science Quarterly, Du Bois Review, Sociological Perspectives, Journal of African American Studies, and other respected publications.

All books by Jason E. Shelton

Michael Oluf Emerson is Provost and Professor of Urban Studies at North Park University in Chicago, and a Kinder Fellow at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. He has authored or co-authored fifteen books, including Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Transcending Racial Barriers, and Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations (NYU Press, 2005).

All books by Michael Oluf Emerson

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.


  • "Blacks and Whites in Christian America is a major sociological examination of religion and race. Jason Shelton and Michael Emerson carefully document and analyze differences between black and white Americans in how they practice and express their Christian faith. They identify the enduring ways that the tragic American habit of racial oppression and privilege has worked to create a distinctive black sacred cosmos. With excellent national survey data and powerful supplemental interviews, they show the key building blocks and dynamics of the racialized religious experience in America. This book is a must read for anyone serious about understanding the interplay of race, religion, and American character."

    —Lawrence D. Bobo, W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Social Sciences, Harvard

  • "This is a book about the religion of a people whose 'back is against the wall,' to quote Howard Thurmond, the African American theologian. Shelton and Emerson show how blacks, from slavery down to the present, have re-envisioned Christianity—a religion that was once used to give moral legitimacy to slavery—into a faith that has provided meaning, inspiration, and hope as they struggle to affirm their humanity and achieve racial justice."

    —Stephen Steinberg, Distinguished Professor of Urban Studies, Queens College

  • "This book will prove to be required reading for those that seek to comprehend the nuances in why religion and 'race' have historically created and shaped an outcome that now distinguishes different form of Christianity."


  • "This book is written in such a way that it is suitable for multiple audiences, with the more complex discussions of multivariate relationships largely available online or upon request. This work can fit well under multiple course offerings, including sociology of religion, culture, and race, as well as religious studies, ethics, theology, ethnic studies, and African-American studies. Undergraduate students will find this work engaging and illuminating. Graduate students in sociology will find this especially useful for its attention to detail, mixed-method approach, and substantive contributions for further hypothesis testing."

    Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

  • "I strongly recommend Blacks and Whites in Christian America: How Racial Discrimination Shapes Religious Convictions. This is a rigorous study of race as a source of intragroup differences among Protestants and is a must read for anyone interested in the intersections of race, religion, and inequality in America."

    —Ryon J. Cobb, Sociology of Religion

  • "[T]he research is solid and grounded in accepted sociological theory.  Moreover, Blacks and Whites in Christian America is accessible to non-social scientists, which makes it an important read for those involved in interdisciplinary studies."  

    —Bryan F. Le Beau , American Studies

  • "Blacks and Whites in Christian America is an excellent contribution to the study of race and religion...Shelton and Emerson have written an accessible and informative book that is suitable for multiple audiences, including undergraduate and graduate students, scholars of religion or race, and church leaders and attendees. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in theology, religious studies, or race relations."

    —Kendra Barber, Religious Research Association Review

  • "What separates this book from previous research is the careful attention that the authors pay to questions of Why? or What does it mean? when presenting these research findings."

    —Eric Tranby, American Journal of Sociology