The role of spirituality in the school experiences of church-going African American female adolescents




Blakes, Tifani Marie Jones

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Over the last century, people have questioned the ability of African American cultural knowledge to facilitate academic achievement among African American students. The cultural understandings of this group are often positioned as incompatible with the beliefs, practices and values that produce mainstream and school success. The spirituality of African Americans is a significant, yet often overlooked, component of African American culture and life. Through group interviews, in-depth interviews, personal narratives and participant observations, this dissertation explores the role of spirituality in the school experiences of African American female adolescents. Spirituality is defined as the conglomeration of beliefs, practices and values that connect an individual to an unseen force(s) and/or a non-material realm. Cognitive, behavioral and affective school outcomes are products of spiritual and personal development. Thus, this study pays particular attention to the processes and factors that cultivate the spiritual identities of this group. Family and religious organizations commonly initiate the spiritual awareness of African Americans. Lived experiences in contexts shaped by intersections of racism, sexism, classism and heterosexism facilitate their development of individualized spiritual self-understandings, expressions and practices. To privilege the perspectives of African American femaleix adolescents, Black feminist epistemology and critical youth studies guided this project’s design and methods of data collection and analysis. Additionally, this work builds upon the relational framework for the study of spirituality and religion in the lives of African Americans to explore this group’s spiritual development, understandings and school outcomes. This dissertation suggests that the theological perspectives of African American female adolescents directly impact their academic beliefs, behaviors, and school experiences. Understandings of God and employment of spiritual practices may act as protective factors that cultivate the educational resilience and academic self-confidence of this group. Additionally, African American female adolescents may employ spiritual beliefs to promote unity and build community on their school campus.



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