Evaluate sociological explanation of the relationship between gender and religious beliefs and practice. (33marks) Within religion, there are clear gender differences. In some regions, women aren’t to show any parts of their bare skin and are most certainly not allowed to become figures of religious authority, whereas in other religions, women are able to dress as they please and progress to one day become figures of religious authority. This difference in religion is also apparent in religious beliefs and religious participation.
With regards to religious activity, and beliefs in God, sin, evil and life after death, generally speaking, more women than men participate in such activities. For example, in 2005 it was found that 1. 8million women in England were churchgoers, whereas only 1. 36million men were. Miller and Hoffman support this by finding that women express a greater interest in religion, have stronger personal commitment to it and attend church more, and this applies to all ages, religious organisations and faiths.
Bruce estimates that there are twice as many women than men involved in sects. Some sociologists have seen this difference in religious activity and beliefs as being connected to the different ways of which men and women see God – the god of love and forgiveness or the God of power and control. Sociologists have put forward several explanations for the gender differences in religious beliefs and practices, but most tend to focus on the reason for women’s relatively high level of participation and men’s low levels.
Miller and Hoffman state that women are more religious because they are socialised to be more passive, obedience and caring – qualities that are valued by most religions, and it’s claimed that this is the reason why women are more likely to be attracted to religion then men. Men who are seen to have these qualities are also more likely to be religious, so perhaps it is not so much about the gender, and it is the way of which you are socialised.
Miller and Hoffman also noted that women are more likely to have part time jobs, whilst also being fall time carers, so as a consequence of this, they have more room for organising their time to participate in religious activities. Women are also more likely to be attracted to the church as a source of gender identity. Greeley argues that taking care of other family members increases religiosity in women because it involves responsibility to ‘ultimate’ welfare as well as everyday needs. Similarly, Davie argues women’s closer proximity to both births – because they are those who give irth to their babies, as well as death because they are more likely to be the ones to look after the elderly when they are on their deathbeds. This brings them closer to ‘ultimate’ questions about the meaning of life that religions are ultimately concerned with. This also fits back in with the different ways men and women come to see God. Women are more often associated with nature, and the healing role, because of this they may be more attracted than men to New Age Movements in particular.
For example, Heelas and Woodhead found that 80% of participants in Holistic Milieu in Kendal are females, this is because such movements often celebrate the ‘natural’ and involve cults of healing which give women higher status and a sense of self-worth. Bruce argues women’s experience of child rearing makes them less aggressive and goal-oriented , as well as being more cooperative and caring, making them more attractive to New Age Movements. Men wish to achieve what women feel. Women may be attracted to New Age Movements because they emphases on the importance of being authentic, rather than merely acting out roles.
Callum Brown argues New Age ‘self’-religion’s appeal to women’s wishes for autonomy and therefore attract women recruits. Women also on the other hand may be attracted to fundamentalism because of their certainties of a traditional gender role that it presents for them. Glock Stark, as well as Stark and Bainbridge argue that people may participate in religion because it compensates for social, organismic and ethical deprivation, which a person may be gaining a sense of. Glock and Stark argue these forms of deprivation are all common along women and this explains their higher levels of sect membership then men.
Organismic deprivation stems from physical and mental health problems. Women are more likely to suffer ill health and seek healing through religion, and thus therefore more likely to join sects. With regards to ethical deprivation, women tend to be more morally conservative and thus are more likely to regard the world as being in moral decline and for this reason are attracted to sects, where their views are often shared. Social deprivation suggests that women are more likely to be poor, and this explains why there are more women than men in sects, since Sects try to gain their following from the poorer members of society.
Feminists view religion as being mainly patriarchal. Many claim that religion is a patriarchal institution that systematically benefits males over females, for example in the sacred texts, where women are often unnamed. Alongside this, in almost all religions, the gods are all male, which suggests they claim women, have no power and sacred texts were also written and have been interpreted by males, and thus incorporate traditional male stereotypes and biases towards women.
In some versions of Islam, women are not allowed to divorce their husbands, but their husbands may do so by saying so three times, alongside this, their husbands are allowed to have up to three other wives. In other religions, such as the catholic church, women aren’t allowed to have any involvement in religious practices other than becoming a nun, who is still seen as being subordinate in accordance to the other roles available for men, and they are also can participate in mass and so on by adopting their role as the Laity – women cannot become priests.
In the church of England, women can become priests since the 90s, and in the church of Scotland, they could have become priests as early as the 1960s. Holms claim that the basis for women’s subordination is their sexuality. Menstruation is generally thought of to make a woman unclean and thus polluting holy places. This is why Hindu women are not allowed to go near family shrines when they are menstruating or pregnant. Muslim women are not allowed to come into contact with the Koran or enter the mosque whilst there are menstruating also.
El Sadaawi claims that religion in itself is not oppressive towards women, women’s religious subordination stems from their oppression in the wider society. For example, the Bible and Koran were written in extremely patriarchal societies and scriptures used to justify and reinforce their position. Feminists point out that male and female characters in the Bible were not portrayed equally. Tough. Among the traditional regions, Aldridge points out that Quakers and Unitarians are very committed to gender equality, for example back in the 19th century, the Unitarians began ordaining women.