American Sociological Association

Worshiping across the Color Line: The Influence of Congregational Composition on Whites’ Friendship Networks and Racial Attitudes

Religious participation has reinforced the color line in American society for generations. Despite rising racial and ethnic diversity across U.S. communities, most Americans continue to belong to congregations composed primarily of others from their own racial/ethnic groups. Yet recent scholarship suggests that the presence of multiple racial or ethnic groups in the same congregation is increasing. The authors examine how the racial/ethnic composition of U.S. congregations is related to white attenders’ friendship networks and comfort with other racial/ethnic groups (i.e., blacks, Hispanics, and Asians). Using national survey data, the authors find that whites in multiracial congregations report more diverse friendship networks and higher levels of comfort with nonwhites than do whites in nonmultiracial congregations. However, the influence of worshipping with another race/ethnicity seems to be most pronounced for whites in congregations with Hispanics. Moreover, neighbors and friends of other races have more impact on whites’ friendship networks and attitudes than do congregations. The authors discuss implications of these findings for understanding U.S. intergroup relations and the potential of congregations to address the color line.

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Edward C. Polson and Kevin D. Dougherty





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