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26 July 2012

Race, Gender, and Religious Language in the Olympics

While I was watching the U.S. Track and Field Olympic trials a few weeks ago, I was struck by the ubiquitous invocations of God and Jesus. While Jeremy Lin and and Tim Tebow get a lot of attention from the media, they were not representative of the people who seemed to be most likely to make such statements during the trials: black women. Sociology has known for some time that these two groups are independently among the most religious in America. Women tend to be much more religious than men, and blacks tend to be much more religious than those of other racial or ethnic groups. I started wondering if there was some intersectionality going here, though. Are black women even more religious than we might predict just knowing that blacks and women are more religious? Turns out, that seems to be exactly the case, and here is a very timely piece from the Washington Post that lays out the case. My only beef with the article is that the issue gets framed in terms of culture instead of structure. Certainly, hyper-religiosity may be a cultural response to being doubly oppressed; oppression, however, is a structural imposition.

I'm not going to delve into the sociological whys of this here, but blacks are overrepresented among the elite amateurs and professionals in certain sports (e.g. track and basketball), and since the Olympics are still gender segregated, we are given a window into this uniquely religious group. While I don't think that athletes are allowed to give on-track post-race interviews at the Olympics in the same way they are during the trials, I will still be interested to hear the overtly religious language in a more religious and ethnically diverse setting.

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