Worship Across the Racial Divide

Paul Harvey

A little preview of a coming attraction from one of our blog contributors. Our friend and contributor Gerardo Marti's book Worship Across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation will be coming out soon (January, I believe) with Oxford University Press.

While I haven't read this text yet, I've heard Gerardo give talks based on it, and we've had a number of conversations about the book, and I eagerly anticipate getting into the whole text. One portion of this text which should prove particularly interesting deals with how African American church music, more specifically gospel, comes to be a stand-in for "authenticity" in church, as well as an emblem of diversity, both for good and for ill. This is a subject that I take up in a slightly different way in the latter part of my book Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity.

Here's a preview of Gerardo's book from Oxford:

Many scholars and church leaders believe that music and worship style are essential in stimulating diversity in congregations. Gerardo Marti draws on interviews with more than 170 congregational leaders and parishioners, as well as his experiences participating in worship services in a wide variety of Protestant, multiracial Southern Californian churches, to present this insightful study of the role of music in creating congregational diversity.

Worship across the Racial Divide offers a surprising conclusion: that there is no single style of worship or music that determines the likelihood of achieving a multiracial church. Far more important are the complex of practices of the worshipping community in the production and absorption of music. Multiracial churches successfully diversify by stimulating unobtrusive means of interracial and interethnic relations; in fact, preparation for music apart from worship gatherings proves to be just as important as its performance during services. Marti shows that aside from and even in spite of the varying beliefs of attendees and church leaders, diversity happens because music and worship create practical spaces where cross-racial bonds are formed.

This groundbreaking book sheds light on how race affects worship in multiracial churches. It will allow a new understanding of the dynamics of such churches, and provide crucial aid to church leaders for avoiding the pitfalls that inadvertently widen the racial divide.


"This is a brave book that dares to challenge conventional wisdom regarding the intersections of race, worship and music. It is a model of engaged scholarship and will be essential reading for pastors, worship leaders, and students of congregations. Gerardo Marti is emerging as one of the leading sociologists of religion in the United States with a distinctive methodological approach in the field of Congregational Studies."
---William McKinney, President Emeritus, Pacific School of Religion

"Dr. Marti makes a unique and important contribution to our understanding of multi-racial churches as worshiping communities. His central focus on the worship ritual helps us to understand the meaning and lived experience of multiculturalism for participants. For social scientists and other scholars, he helps us to understand the social processes which forge commitment and identification across the most divisive of social barriers. A smart, interesting, and humane book."
---Penny Edgell, author of Congregations in Conflict: Cultural Models of Local Religious Life

"Marti is a master at unpacking the culture of a congregation. Music, he shows us, is never just about sound. It's about who and how, feelings and bodies and ethnic identities. What he tells us about how music works is far more interesting and complicated than the how-to books would have us think."
---Nancy Ammerman, author of Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners


Gerardo Marti said…
Paul, many thanks for posting this on the blog today. Hope you're doing well!
Tom Van Dyke said…
Bonhoeffer and the Abyssinian Baptist Church, we trust. If even a German intellectual can get it, there's hope for us all.