For his latest research, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox stepped out of the ivory tower and relocated to New York City. He and his family spent a year living in Harlem, interviewing pastors and members Of black and Latino churches in their neighborhood, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

Wilcox and co-author Nicholas H. Wolfinger’s analysis appears in the new book Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love and Marriage among African Americans and Latinos(Oxford University Press). The academics reached across ideological aisles to explore the ways Christian faith has bolstered two of the country’s most vulnerable ethnic groups.

A Roman Catholic, Wilcox is perhaps best known to CT readers for his research on marriage. He recently spoke with assistant editor Morgan Lee about the crucial role of Latino and African American pastors, why they hesitate to preach about sex, and what everyone might learn from his findings.

You’re married, religious, conservative, and have children. Your co-author, Wolfinger, is single, an agnostic, progressive, and childless. What compelled you to write a book together?

The academy is pretty divided, ideologically speaking. Most scholars, particularly in sociology, have a more progressive and often more secular perspective on the world than do ordinary Americans. There are few opportunities for scholars who don’t share the same ideological commitment to engage in a meaningful way. Despite our differences, Wolfinger and I share a commitment to the truth and to trying to understand what’s happening in the data. For people who are skeptical of our empirical claims about marriage and church, it’s important to underline the fact that a progressive was also doing the statistics. ...

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