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Critical Whiteness Theories and the Evangelical “Race Problem”: Extending Emerson and Smith's Divided by Faith

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In their 2000 book, Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith use the case of evangelical Christians to demonstrate how uncompromising individualist ideals get in the way of clear thinking and decisive action about racial inequalities in contemporary American society. We use insights developed from whiteness studies and critical race theory to sharpen and further extend this analysis. More specifically, we suggest: (1) that anti-black stereotypes may be subtler, more pervasive, and more functionally necessary than Emerson and Smith assume; and (2) that the individualistic ideals Emerson and Smith focus on are not race neutral but, instead, are part of a taken-for-granted and vigorously defended majority white culture and identity. These points are developed through a theoretical reconstruction of Emerson and Smith's argument and a reevaluation of their methodological approach and data. Finally, we present data from a recent national survey of race and religion in American life that provide preliminary quantitative support for our revisionist claims.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Eric Tranby is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. 2: Douglas Hartmann is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota., Email:

Publication date: 2008-09-01

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