Network for the Social Scientific Study of Science and Religion

Nichole Renee Phillips

Black Faith, Bodies, Mother Mortality and COVID-19:
A Response to Religion, Science and Medicine

This sociological research project is at the interface of science and religion. The proposed project empirically examines the relationship between science and religion and how contextual factors like race (i.e., black/African American), religion (i.e., theological orientation), region (i.e., South), gender (i.e., women) and social memory (i.e., how groups and societies remember) shape the ways in which people think about the interface between the two fields. The narratives produced will draw on the sociology of memory, specifically cultural memory studies (i.e., study of the relationship between culture and memory), to explain and understand how scientific beliefs and attitudes shape religious identity and conversely how religious motivations and convictions converge with or contest scientific belief formation, maintenance and cultural transmission. These findings will also contribute to the sociology of science and religion.

The project is intended to fill a gap in social scientific studies, and specifically sociology, at the intersection of religion, science and race by shifting focus to black Protestants (i.e., parishioners) from conservative, white Protestants. This study is notable because it will address the three following questions:

1. How do black Protestants (and other black parishioners), from churches historically identified as “the black church” as well as independent but non-historically identified black congregations, understand the relationship between religion, science, and medicine?

2. To what extent do Black Protestants’ (and other black parishioners) cultural memories of historic medical and scientific, social traumas (i.e., the Tuskegee Syphilis and Henrietta Lacks experimental studies) shape church-based narratives around religion, science, and medicine?

3. In what ways do the gendered experiences of black women, regarding pregnancy, motherhood, and infant mortality, shape the perceptions of black women (and other church members) about the relationship between religion, science, and medicine?

The research design centers on a study of three predominantly black churches using a mixed-methods approach. This qualitative and quantitative approach intends to capture: SES, education, theological orientations, regional affiliations, gender, and the collective memories of church members. Data collection and analysis involves: participation-observation, survey(s), transcribing interviews, documenting collective memory, and coding.