African American religion and the "semi-involuntary" thesis : the role of participatory ecology
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The importance of region has been noted by numerous scholars of African American religion. Yet the mechanisms behind these regional differences are not fully understood. The semi-involuntary institution, posits that high levels of church attendance in the rural South are due to normative pressure and lack of secular opportunities. Building upon this research, this study explores the role of participatory ecology on church attendance among African Americans. I argue that the role of competition between the black church and other voluntary organizations for members' allegiance is one of the key mechanisms for understanding regional differences in pattern of church attendance. A nationally representative data set, the General Social Survey (GSS) 1972-1994, is used to test hypotheses about the impact of competition by examining the effect of individual level number of voluntary association memberships. Findings generally support the claim of the black church as a semi-involuntary institution. However, distinctiveness is found in the South in general, as compared to the rural South, and the role of cohort in impacting patterns of church attendance has been largely underestimated. Results further demonstrate that participatory ecology and competition play the greatest role in the non-South. These findings illuminate the importance of culture, and the ability of culture to persist after the demise of the structural conditions that gave rise to the cultural form.