Finding a Place at the Table: Identity Formation Among African-American Catholics

Tia Noelle Pratt, Fordham University


The African-American religious experience and American Catholicism are both well documented in the sociological literature. However, African-American Catholics receive scant mention in the literature. One of the main reasons for Black Catholics' limited place in the sociological discourse is the prevailing idea that being both Black and Catholic is so disparate that there are not enough Black Catholics to merit inclusion in the discourse. Through this project, I have sought to assert that, while the approximately three million Black Catholics in the United States are indeed a minority, their historically rich and dynamic past and present make Black Catholics an important part of American Catholicism and the African-American religious experience. This dissertation is seeks to examine how Black Catholics combine their dual heritages to form a singular identity. This project begins with a historical overview of American Catholicism and the African-American religious experience in order to establish the research problem and its importance. I also used participant observations and semi-structured interviews to gather data at three parishes in the Archdiocese of New York. I used theoretical concepts that illustrate how dual identity, specifically seemingly disparate identities, are brought together. I chose two theoretical concepts to use in my analysis, Michele Dillon's concept of "owning" and Lynn Resnick Dufour's concept of "sifting". In my participant observation work at parishes at the Archdiocese of New York, I examined how the music, homily, social programs, liturgical style, and the role of pastor give shape to an identity of Black Catholics as Black Catholics. By means of interview data, Black Catholics are able to use their own voice to articulate how they integrate their dual heritages. While racism and disenfranchisement have historically plagued the Black Catholic experience in the U.S., Black Catholics have been able to incorporate their culture and values into mainstream Roman Catholic liturgy and other areas of parish life. Consequently, Black Catholics have claimed a place at the table and are using their distinct cultural and historical heritage for the benefit of the entire Church.

Subject Area

African American Studies|Religion|Black studies|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Pratt, Tia Noelle, "Finding a Place at the Table: Identity Formation Among African-American Catholics" (2010). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3431925.