Working-Class Perspectives: To Race and Class Add Religion

Working-Class Perspectives

To Race and Class Add Religion

Discussions of race and class often ignore religion, relegating it to the distant margins or explaining it away as a cover for something else.  If we examine American history, as historian Mark Noll does in God and Race in American Politics: A Short History, we see that religion and race have often been interconnected.  Class and religion also intersect; religious people, institutions, and symbolic resources span social classes and have played important roles in working-class movements. In Youngstown, Ohio, religious leaders responded to deindustrialization by organizing social justice projects.  More recently, they have initiated processes of racial reconciliation. If we want to understand how class and race fit together, we must take religion more seriously.  We need to see how race, class, and religion work together.

A number of top-notch scholars have already moved in this direction. For example, the authors of Divided by Faith contend that racial segregation is maintained less by intentional racism than by sins of omission.  People are so absorbed with attaining the good social and spiritual life for their own selves, families, churches, and communities that their “brothers and sisters” on the other side of racial and class boundaries are left to be their own keepers. Religion, which could bring people together across race and class divisions, may in practice reinforce segregation.

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