A pair of hands raised in prayer. (westend61/Getty Images)
(westend61/Getty Images)

Nearly all Black Americans believe in God or a higher power, regardless of their religious affiliation. But what type of God do they have in mind?

About three-quarters (74%) of Black Americans believe in God “as described in the Bible” or, if they identify with a non-Christian religion, the holy scripture of that faith, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. About eight-in-ten (81%) say God has the power to control what goes on in the world, and roughly seven-in-ten (68%) believe in a God who directly determines all or most of what happens in their lives. Additionally, nearly half of Black Americans (48%) believe that God or a higher power talks to them directly, according to the survey of 8,660 Black adults conducted Nov. 19, 2019-June 3, 2020.

Almost all Black Americans believe in God or another higher power

Pew Research Center conducted this study to explore the breadth and diversity of Black Americans’ religious experiences. This survey represents the Center’s most comprehensive, in-depth study of the subject, drawing on a nationally representative sample of 8,660 Black adults (ages 18 and older). The sample consists of a wide range of adults who identify as Black or African American, including some who identify as both Black and Hispanic or Black and another race (such as Black and White, or Black and Asian).

Survey respondents were recruited from four nationally representative sources: Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (conducted online), NORC’s AmeriSpeak panel (conducted online or by phone), Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel (conducted online) and a national cross-sectional survey by Pew Research Center (conducted online and by mail). Responses were collected from Nov. 19, 2019, to June 3, 2020, but most respondents completed the survey between Jan. 21 and Feb. 10, 2020.

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Americans overall, by contrast, are less likely to hold these views: About six-in-ten U.S. adults believe in God as described in the Bible or other holy scripture, or that God can control what happens in the world. Fewer than half believe God determines all or most of what happens in their lives (46%) or that God talks to them directly (30%).

Differences between Black adults and the general public align with other findings from the survey that show Black Americans to generally be more religious than Americans overall on a variety of measures, including religious affiliation, prayer and worship attendance.

Almost eight-in-ten Black Americans are affiliated with some religion, with 66% identifying as Protestant and 6% as Catholic. Another 3% identify with other Christian faiths such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and 3% with non-Christian faiths such as Islam. But even among the 21% of Black Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, the vast majority believe in God or another higher power (90%), and more than half pray at least a few times a month (54%).

Views about God vary by religious affiliation. Black Protestants, for example, are more likely than Black Catholics to believe in a personal God who intervenes in their lives.

Eight-in-ten Black adults believe God has the power to control what happens in the world

Eight-in-ten Black Protestants say God determines what happens in their life all or most of the time, compared with two-thirds of Black Catholics who say this. Almost six-in-ten Black Protestants say God speaks to them directly, compared with roughly a third of Black Catholics who say this and four-in-ten Black adults affiliated with non-Christian faiths.

When it comes to God’s role in the wider world, majorities of Black Americans in all the religious groups analyzed believe that God can and does affect what happens. For example, among Black adults, the view that God has the power to control what goes on in the world is held by 88% of Protestants, 81% of Catholics, 85% of other Christians, 75% of non-Christians and 60% of the religiously unaffiliated.

Black adults more likely than U.S. adults overall to say belief in God is necessary for morality

The survey also asked a broad question about belief in God and morality – that is, whether people think believing in God is necessary “in order to be moral and have good values.” More than half (54%) of Black Americans say they believe this. As with other questions explored here, Black Protestants (64%) are more likely to express this belief than are Black Catholics (44%). Overall, Black adults are more likely than adults in the U.S. general population (32%) to say belief in God is necessary for morality.

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Jeff Diamant  is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.