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Intimate Diversity: The Presentation of Multiculturalism and Multiracialism in a High-Boundary Religious Movement

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Researchers studying the small yet significant number (8–10 percent) of U.S. multiracial/ethnic congregations have argued that formal organizational commitment, the development of inclusive worship styles, and the formation of small racially/ethnically mixed groups appear to be significant factors in constructing and maintaining congregational diversity. Drawing from four years of field studies in a racially and ethnically diverse congregation of the International Churches of Christ (ICOC), I address a process about which we know relatively little: the construction and maintenance of multiracial/ethnic networks in high-boundary religious movements. I demonstrate how this type of group is particularly able to present a valuable and rising commodity in our U.S. religious economy, what I have named intimate diversity—the enactment and/or narration of close and caring relationships among a racially and ethnically diverse membership. My comparative analysis here of the ICOC, the People's Temple, and contemporary U.S. Bahá'í communities suggests that membership in such groups offers members greater exposure and involvement with people from different backgrounds, but the terms of involvement in the organization seriously limit and define the manner in which individuals can experience diversity. Furthermore, group commitment to present a face of intimate diversity and strict mechanisms of social control hinder the abilities of the leadership and members to clearly recognize contradictions in group racial/ethnic ideologies and practice.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Clark University, Worcester, USA

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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