The History of Religion in the Black Community

Before you, the visitor, begin your exploration of how religion has had its hand in curating modern day gender roles in the black community, you must first understand exactly why religion - specifically Christianity - has been such a prevalent force in said community. With slight variation among different cultures, black people as a whole have exhibited faith practices for centuries. Why is this though? Why have we, in unison, practiced the same basic beliefs for so long? Scholars believe the primary reason for this is that religion (faith - as it will continue to be referred to throughout this subsection of the exhibit) serves as a unifying force against the racial injustice and other turmoil that black people face everyday.  The authors of the article Faith Among Black Americans state that “... Black churches – and later, mosques – served as important spaces for racial solidarity and civic activity, and faith more broadly was a source of hope and inspiration” [1]. When times were [and still are] extremely tough, families would come together to restore their faith in a being more powerful than themselves - one that would end all of their struggles and give them peace in the end. If you put yourself in the shoes of a black person during the 1800s, things looked hopeless and life cannot flourish without hope. Everyone needs something that motivates them when the circumstances in front of them do not look promising. God served this purpose for many, many black people. As a result, Christianity quickly became a part of the culture with readings and personal testimonies being passed down from generation to generation. These oral and written histories continued to be upkept by younger generations out of respect for their elders as well as their own personal experiences with God which eventually led to the maintainence of traditional gender roles.

A modern day example of this faith practice is within the modern day American criminal justice system. As the Black Lives Matter movement has shined a light on police brutality and the disproportionate nature in which black people (men especially) are accused, assaulted, and murdered at the law’s hands, one thing keeping their families grounded and uniting the front is faith. A 2009 research study sought to investigate exactly how incarcerated black mothers coped with their imprisonment. The research was looking to determine how these women dealt with what they felt to be inadequacies as mothers as well as their own anxieties as women within the prison system. Through various one-on-one interviews, the researchers found the same coping mechanism used across the majority of the board: the use of faith and spirituality. While there were various aspects of each woman’s practice that differed, many of the women in the sample groups exhibited some sort of reliance on religion to cope with their situations behind bars. The researchers found, through interactions with these mothers, that religion proved to be a source of internal strength and agency for these women [2]. The inadequacies and anxieties that they once felt seemed to calm when they turned to their faith for answers and strength to keep on keeping on. While this is only one modern day example of how important religion is in the black community, it should open a door for you to understand why and how gender roles became interwoven into [black] culture. 

When a person who deeply relies on a being of higher power whose book (the Holy Bible) outlines the “correct” and “incorrect” behaviors of the adequate follower, he/she is extremely likely to follow whatever would get them classified as a “correct” follower. More specifically speaking, a black woman who is seeking the approval of God is extremely likely to follow the rules He has set forth for a good Christian woman within His book - the Bible - regardless of whether said rules result in gender roles that are, by today’s standards, inadequately balanced/determined.


[1] Mohamed, Besheer, Jeff Diamant, Claire Gecewicz, and Kiana Cox. “Faith and Religion among Black Americans.” Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project, March 25, 2021. 

[2] Stringer, Ebonie Cunningham. “‘Keeping the Faith’: How Incarcerated African American Mothers Use Religion and Spirituality to Cope with Imprisonment.” Journal of African American Studies 13, no. 3 (2009): 325–47.

Prev Next