Black Religiosity in the Obama Years

One of the persistent tensions of American political life is that black Americans are much more churchgoing and religious than whites, and by some measures historically more socially conservative, while also being much more aligned with the more socially liberal political party.



One of my hypotheses has been that a significant effect of  Barack Obama’s presidency might be to bring black American social views more into line with those of white liberals and other Democrats, and perhaps to reduce overall religious identification among blacks. The most recently available data from the General Social Survey suggests that this is at least plausible.

There has been a marked decrease in the percentage of black respondents who consider themselves “Fundamentalist” in religion:

Data Source: General Social Survey (1972-2014)

And in the percentage of black respondents who indicate that they have “A Great Deal” of confidence in organized religion:great-deal-of-confidence-in-organized-religion

The percent of married black respondents who state that their spouse is Fundamentalist has also declined:


There has also been a steady decline in the percent of black respondents who would prefer not to allow someone who is opposed to all religions to teach at a public college or university:


The most striking declines here are all in the 2014 survey year; even though NORC, which runs the General Social Survey tries hard to get a representative sample for each subgroup, this is a fairly small number of respondents (365 black respondents) on which to make broad-reaching conclusions. White respondents also report some decline in religiosity over the same years, though from a much lower base (many fewer white respondents view themselves as devout or fundamentalist Christians), and religiosity for whites has still not returned to the low levels of the early 70s, even as it has declined fairly steadily for blacks.


The arrival of Trump’s Inauguration Day immediately after Martin Luther King Day will no doubt prompt many a hand-wringing essay about the betrayal of MLK’s legacy implicit in Trump’s election. Another perspective that I think has been relatively overlooked is that King was most centrally an exponent and crafter of Christian rhetoric for the political purposes of racial equity, and that the causes of racial equity and integration arguably have a harder row to hoe in what is, for both whites and blacks, an increasingly post-Christian nation.

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