Reasons why Ethnic Minorities have Higher Levels of Religiosity

Ethnic minorities in Britain tend to see religion as more important than Whites. This post summarizes four theories which seek to explain this trend: cultural transition theory, cultural defense theory, neo-marxism, and Weberianism.

Cultural Transition Theory 

  • Cultural transition theory emphasizes the fact that most ethnic minorities in the UK originate from societies with higher levels of religiosity.
  • When the first waves of immigrants came to Britain from the West-Indies and Asia, religion helped immigrants deal with the stress of adjusting to a new culture.
  • Religious institutions, for example, provided a sense of community, and actually working together to build a ‘religious infrastructure’ promoted a sense of social solidarity.
  • Given that immigration is still a relatively recent phenomenon, it is not surprising that ethnic minorities are still more religious than White Britons.
  • Cultural transition theory holds that once a group has settled into a new culture, commitment to religion will gradually weaken.
  • This later seems to be the case as third and fourth generation immigrants tend to display lower levels of religiosity than first and second generation immigrants.

Cultural Defense Theory 

  • Cultural defense theory suggests that religion helps some ethnic minority groups preserve a sense of unique cultural identity in the face of an unwelcoming and hostile mainstream culture.
  • Religion can be a way to provide emotional support in the midst of racism and intolerance from mainstream society.
  • When Black Africans and Caribbean Christians first came to Britain, they were not generally welcomed by the congregations of mainstream churches. One of the ways they responded to this was to establish their own forms of Pentecostal Christianity.

Weberianism

  • Weberians suggest that there is a relationship between poverty and religiosity.
  • There does seem to be a correlation between religion, ethnicity and poverty…. African-Caribbeans in the UK experience higher levels of poverty and have higher levels of religion.
  • Weber (1920) theorised that certain denominations and sects appeal to the deprived because they can help people cope with their deprivation.
  • Ken Pryce’s (1979) research into the role of Pentacostalism among African-Caribbeans in the UK is a useful application of Weberianism. Pentecostalism emphasizes the importance of family and community, and values hard-work and thrift, all of which offer practical support for helping to cope with poverty as well as a sense of spiritual status.

Neo-Marxism

  • Neo-Marxist theory holds that religion has some degree of autonomy from the economic base, and that religious institutions can act as agents of revolutionary change for the oppressed.
  • Ethnic minority groups tend to suffer from higher levels of exploitation, especially when they are used as scapegoats for some of society’s problems (as Stuart Hall argues in ‘Policing the Crisis‘), and resistance has sometimes centered around religious institutions.
  • The Nation of Islam in America is probably the most obvious example of this.

Evaluating neo-marxism

  • This probably applies more to America than it does to the United Kingdom.
  • In the UK, this certainly does not explain the experience of every ethnic minority group… Sikhs and Hindus (mainly of Indian origin) for example, experience lower levels of deprivation than whites.

 

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