Midwest Social Sciences Journal


Why do cross-denominational public religious movements such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference appear, despite the market-like competitive behavior of churches? Religious economy theory offers one set of explanations, based on a supply-side approach to the dynamics of numeric religious growth and decline. Namely, ecumenical movements are engaged by denominations, or religious firms, in membership decline. The history of national Black ecumenical movements, however, points to ways that religious economic theorizing fails to account for the multiple modes of social consciousness regarding church survival that motivate institutional religious activity. Black churches have existed not merely as a market but as a field where market consciousness transforms into movement consciousness at historic moments of perceived political opportunity. At such moments, unified public religious action on behalf of “the people” is understood as more important than the competitive dominance of individual firms in a private religious market.