As soon as she looked at the page, her eyes fell on a quotation from “Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students,” a 1913 book written by Ellen G. White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“For what purpose are you seeking an education? Is it not that you may relieve the suffering of humanity?”
Finding that verse at that moment was no coincidence, thought Dickson, 25. God had spoken. Instantly, a sense of calm and confidence enveloped her. In times like these, when she feels anxious, afraid or unsure, Dickson relies on her faith.
So, too, do nearly nine in 10 African American women, according to a nationwide survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser F
amily Foundation. The poll, the most extensive look at black women’s lives in decades, reveals that as a group, black women are among the most religious people in the nation. Although black men are almost as religious as their female counterparts, there is a more stark divide along racial lines.
The survey found that 74 percent of black women and 70 percent of black men said that “living a religious life” is very important. On that same question, the number falls to 57 percent of white women and 43 percent of white men.
But in times of turmoil, about 87 percent of black women — much more than any other group — say they turn to their faith to get through. Black women, across education and income levels, say living a religious life is a greater priority than being married or having children, and this call to faith either surpasses or pulls even with having a career as a life goal, the survey shows.
“I can’t separate my faith from who I am. It’s like being black or being a woman,” said Dickson, who grew up Catholic, drifted away from religion as a teenager but found her way back through a Bible study at a Baptist church while she was an undergraduate at Columbia University.
Clearly, according to the poll, the majority of white women are also believers. But cultural influences probably account for the racial gap, said Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, a professor of sociology and African American studies at Colby College in Maine.
Gilkes, an African American ordained minister and assistant pastor at a Baptist church in Massachusetts, said she has even heard as much from her white academic colleagues. “They say, ‘If my parents had taken me to a church that had music like yours, I might still be religious,’ ” Gilkes said.
African Americans are more likely to have grown up with gospel music in the background of their lives, as well as with a mother or grandmother who insisted on all-day church on Sundays and Bible school in the summers.