Balm in Gilead: Racism, Religious Involvement, and Psychological Distress Among African-American Adults


should be addressed to Christopher G. Ellison, Department of Sociology, 1 University Station A1700, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712; E-mail:


Although a long tradition of theoretical and sociohistorical analysis has suggested that religious practices and values help African Americans in coping with the distressing sequelae of racism and discrimination, few studies have examined this issue with systematic, quantitative, empirical data. Our work contributes to the literature by: (a) outlining a series of arguments regarding the potential significance of multiple aspects of religious involvement—attendance at services, church-based social support, and religious guidance in daily life—in dealing with harmful psychosocial effects of recent experiences of discrimination; and (b) testing hypotheses derived from two alternative models of the racism-religion-distress relationship using longitudinal data from a nationwide survey. Results indicate that both religious guidance and religious attendance moderate the effects of racism on psychological distress, while congregational support has a direct (but not interactive) effect on distress, thereby partly offsetting (but not buffering) the negative effects of discrimination.