The African American Church as an Enclave and Ethnic Resource

The Role of the Church in Economic Development

Authored by: Marci Bounds Littlefield

The Ashgate Research Companion to Black Sociology

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472456762
eBook ISBN: 9781315612775
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044024


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The connection between religious beliefs and practices, and economic behavior has a long and rich history within the sociological literature. Historically, the Black church is the primary institution through which African Americans engage in self-help activities as it serves as a resource for addressing community concerns. Evidence of this history can be found in the works of W.E.B. Du Bois as he conducted the first sociological study on the church in the United States (Du Bois 1903). At the turn of the twentieth century he carried out empirical studies of Black communities throughout this nation and in both urban and rural settings, inquiring into subjects including, but not limited to, differences between urban and rural churches and large and small congregations, differences between denominations, charitable contributions of churches and differences in preaching styles (Du Bois 1903). E. Franklin Frazier was also one of the first to engage in the sociological inquiry of the Black church. He argues that the church has four major economic functions: 1) the church owns real estate and makes economic investments in the community whether this includes the church building or other facilities, 2) the church establishes mutual aid societies that evolve into insurance companies, 3) the church is instrumental in the creation of organized black fraternal organizations and 4) the church helps to organize and build schools, pay teachers and provide scholarships (Frazier 1964). Although Du Bois and Franklin are influential historical figures in this field the preponderance of recognition for the origin and development of this field is provided to White scholars.

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