Revisions to secularization theory over the past two decades call for reconceptualization of the relation between race and secularity. Structural theories— depicting secularization as the linear, straightforward decline of religion in modernity— commonly explain the tenacity of African-American religiosity as resulting from their marginalization in modern society, a product of educational and economic disparities. However, recent theories address the secular as a historically contingent, incidental phenomenon, what has been called an "accomplishment"; it merits substantive study in itself, carrying the distinct values, beliefs, and understandings of a particular social history. This new framework invites analysis of the racial assumptions embodied in mainstream US secularity as explanation for blacks' religiosity, rather than citing their structural exclusion alone. This research attempts such through ethnographic analysis of black and white young adults' discussion of their religious and spiritual identities, using interviews conducted in Wave 4 of the National Study of Youth and Religion. Finding that most white young adults pursue autonomy from family and community as means of establishing credible identity, and that most black young adults facilitate identity by showing fidelity to them, I argue that these differences demonstrate racialized understandings of human agency, personhood, and social structure that vividly persist in the 21st century United States. Yet those of white young adults are typically treated as normative both in sociological discussions of secularity as well as in broader Western culture, with costly political consequences.



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Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Sociology



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secularization, secularity, race, religion, Charles Taylor, Talal Asad

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Sociology Commons