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Fluid Ethnicity and Ethnic Transcendence in Multiracial Churches

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Assumptions of racial essentialism lead to inadequate analysis of multiracial churches. Instead, acknowledging ethnic identity as a negotiated phenomenon encourages a richer investigation of how congregational participation stimulates and redefines a person's racial and ethnic identity. The malleability of ethnic identity is such that it is often obscured in favor of other aspects of self. Ethnographic analysis of two multiracial churches, Mosaic and Oasis, indicates that particularistic ethnic affiliations recede when otherworldly, value-rational interests are emphasized. Ethnic transcendence occurs when members adopt a shared identity based on a uniquely congregational understanding of what it means to be a properly religious person (a proper “Christian,”“Jew,”“Muslim,”“Buddhist,” etc.). In short, the distinctive accomplishment of multiracial congregations is the cultivation of an inclusive religious identity that overrides divisive aspects of ethnic identity. Moreover, recognizing the varying salience of racial and ethnic identity evokes greater caution regarding what can be assumed when researchers apply the label “multiracial” to congregations.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Gerardo Marti is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035., Email:

Publication date: 2008-03-01

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