Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Edward W. Morris


Current sociological approaches to examining the lives of children approach children as active agents and participants in their socialization. Further, children are considered experts witnesses and interpreters of their own experiences. In the cases of race and gender socialization, interpretive reproduction has been used as a framework to examine how children construct and act on meanings of race and gender. While these interpretive studies illuminate how children interpret and reproduce meanings of race and gender, they do not explicate how children appropriate meanings from their cultural milieu. Consequently, these studies do not consider ways the larger culture enables and constrains children’s constructions of race and gender within their peer cultures. This dissertation explores the sources of material and symbolic culture that children use in their interactions about race and gender.

To explore this process, I conducted a 15-month ethnographic study of early elementary Sunday school classrooms at three homogenous churches: predominantly white, predominantly Latinx, and predominantly African American. In addition to field notes, I conducted group interviews of children from the churches as well as a qualitative content analysis of the Sunday school curricula from the churches with a focus on the presence (or lack thereof) of racial and gendered themes. The primary question of this study asks the extent to which larger culture, by way of religious educational curricular materials, simultaneously enables and constrains children’s interpretive and interactional constructions of race and gender.

The findings in this study lead to three conclusions regarding the influence of the material and symbolic culture embedded in Sunday school curricula on children’s negotiations of race and gender in the Sunday school spaces they inhabit. The first conclusion is that Sunday school was constructed as a place to learn about the Bible and God, to the exclusion of all else. The second conclusion is that there was a null curriculum surrounding issues of race and gender in the Sunday school materials, which created an ideological vacuum that was filled by the dominant cultural ideologies of race and gender the children and Sunday school teachers brought with them to the Sunday school spaces. The third conclusion from this study is that the combination of an uncritical emphasis on teaching only the Bible with a null curriculum on race and gender, led to the construction and reproduction of a white patriarchal Christian imagination.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)