Church culture as a strategy of action in the black community

Mary E Pattillo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

297 Scopus citations


Culture consists of rhetorical, interactional, and material tools that are organized into strategies of action. Social movement theory is beginning to recognize the role of culture in facilitating or frustrating collective organizing. I use social constructionism as an analytical approach to bridge social movement and cultural theory. Social constructionists ask how social action is constructed, rather than what issues or ideas are being constructed. Using data from more than three years of ethnographic research in Groveland, an African American neighborhood in Chicago, I find that the black church provides a cultural blueprint for civic life in the neighborhood. Prayer, call-and-response interaction, and Christian imagery are important parts of the cultural 'tool kit' of Groveland's black residents, and these cultural practices invigorate activism. Particular theological foundations of black Christianity-especially its collective ethos and the notion of God as active in earthly affairs-support the content of secular activism. Black church culture constitutes the taken-for-granted practices that put civic efforts into action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-784
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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