September 17, 2012

Why are Women more Religious than Men?

The relationship of religion to gender is a highly complex and disputed area. However, it is well-documented that (to take some UK-based examples), ‘men are proportionately under-represented’ in (mainstream ‘Christian’) ‘religious’ services (Brown 2000, 193), and ‘women outnumber men on all indices of religiosity and spirituality’ (Day 2008, 267). In fact, Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce, the authors of the forthcoming Why are Women more Religious than Men? (OUP, 20 September 2012) unambiguously state in their abstract that, simply, ‘women are more religious than men’.

In this interview with Chris, recorded at the BSA’s Sociology of Religion Study Group Conference in March 2012, Dr Marta Trzebiatowska us a fascinating whirlwind tour through the masses of sociological research which have been done into this area in recent years.

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Explanations for this disparity in levels of religiosity include suggestions that ‘religion’ emphasises ‘‘feminine’ qualities of relationality and emotional expression’ (Aune and Vincett 2010, 222), and that ‘men tend to exhibit a greater degree of skepticism than do women’ (Bryant 2007, 844). It has been proposed that women explain their ‘religious’ experiences ‘in terms of protection [and] belonging’ (Day 2008, 274) and ‘value being caring and expressive, being a person through reciprocal relationships, and appreciate the value of improving the quality of subjective-life [in contrast to men, who concentrate] on improving the quality of life by way of autonomous, individuated and competitive agency in the world’ (Heelas et al. 2005, 110). Trzebiatowska extensively examines and critiques such explanations and concludes, with Bruce, that

the gender gap is not the result of biology but is rather the consequence of important social differences —responsibility for managing birth, child-rearing and death, for example, and attitudes to the body, illness and health — over-lapping and reinforcing each other. In the West, the gender gap is exaggerated because the social changes that undermined the plausibility of religion bore most heavily on men first. Where the lives of men and women become more similar, and where religious indifference grows, the gender gap gradually disappears.

For discussions on these issues and more, we recommend that you check out Marta’s other work, the references cited in this post, and the recently launched (2011) online journal Religion and Gender. Listeners may also be interested in our previous interview with Lisbeth Mikaelsson on Religion and Gender.

Dr Marta Trzebiatowska is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen. Her research focuses on ‘taking religion seriously’ and on the relationship between religious discourses and gender politics. More specifically, she focuses on sociologically examining the ways in which religious women construct their femininity under circumstances commonly perceived as restrictive, or even oppressive, by secular feminists. She is the author of a number of articles and chapters in these areas, including Habit does not a nun make?: Religious dress in the lives of Polish Catholic nuns (Journal of Contemporary Religion) and When Reflexivity is Not Enough: Researching Polish Catholics (Fieldwork in Religion), and is co-author, with Steve Bruce, of the OUP Book Why are Women more Religious than Men? (2012).

This interview is the second in our series on Material/Embodied Religion, which started last week with David Morgan on Material Religion, and concludes next week with Professor Kim Knott on Religion, Space and Location.

References:

  • Aune, Kristin, and Giselle Vincett. “Gender Matters: Doing Feminist Research on Religion and Youth.” In Religion and Youth, edited by Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, 217–224. Surrey: Ashgate, 2010.
  • Bryant, Alyssa N. “Gender Differences in Spiritual Development During the College Years.” Sex Roles 56 (2007): 835–846.
  • Day, Abby. “Wilfully Disempowered.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 15, no. 3 (2008): 261 –276.
  • Heelas, Paul, Linda Woodhead, Benjamin Seel, Bronislaw Szerszynski, and Karen Tusting. The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

Discussion


1 reply to “Why are Women more Religious than Men?

  1. Eoin O'Mahony

    I am not at all sure about the ideas presented by Marta here. On the one hand, there is lots of talk of socialisation (as if this was a process brought in from outsdie of people’s experience) and on the other is the notion that ‘secular feminists’ presume to know some truth that needs to be elucidated by social facts. I have a problem with the characterisation that secular feminists are pitched in battle with the religious inhabitation of women who veil because, as Secor and Gokariksel point out in a recent paper, veiling among Turkish women as least is constructed as both a liberation and a means of oppression. Recognition of both existing in the same society (and generation and place) might lead us to question the basis of large scale surveys as poor instruments upon which to base our ideas.

    I’m hardly going to condemn an entire discipline from where I sit but I think that the ideas that Marta introduces up to here suffer from what we might call ‘context depedence’. That is, all of these ideas are ‘true’ but when we throw ‘context’ into the mix, they become ‘untrue’. If women are more religious than men in some parts of Europe but not as religious as men in another then doesn’t that context matter?

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