Beliefs in society: religion and social groups-gender


The patriarchal nature of religion

Many argue that religion is patriarchal as the holy texts are written by men and largely feature men. Women are usually portrayed as sinners (Eve) or mothers (Mary) but rarely as strong role models. 

Patriarchy also features in many religions whereby priests are male (Catholics have to be celibate too) and women cannot join the men in the same space for worship (Jews). When women can join male worshippers then strict modesty dress rules apply.

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Miller and Hoffman

Reasons for women’s greater connection to religion

Miller and Hoffman argue that women are more religious because they are socialized to be more passive, obedient and caring. These are all qualities which are valued by most religions. They also argue that women have more time because they’re less likely to be the main wage earner. They are also more likely to be full-time carers so have greater need of the support of the church, especially as those they care for may be nearing their death. 

Similarly,Davie, argues that women are more religious because they are closer to birth (through childbearing) and death (through caring for the elderly) so naturally believe in the connections between this world and the next. 

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Bruce & Knott

Reasons for women’s greater connection to religion

Bruce (1996) examines the process of secularisation.  He argues that secularisation has led to religion being expressed in the private sphere of the home.  As women are more active in the home than men, they are more likely to be more religious.  This is supported by the work of Knott (1994). 

Knott claims that women have more time to attend services and also suggest that women participate in their religion through activities in the home. For example In Hinduism, females are responsible for looking after the family shrine and in Christian churches, where female participation is limited, women are often responsible for running Sunday school. Therefore, women’s religiosity appears to result from primary socialisation.  Children learn that females are the ‘religious specialists’. 

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Reasons for women’s greater connection to religion

Weber argues that religion is more functional for women than men because their faith protects them from their feelings of oppression. This is supported by Butler who argues that Muslim women use their faith as a defence against their patriarchal culture. It may also explain why women are particularly drawn to New Age Movements because they emphasise the individual’s sense of well-being both physically and spiritually rather than their inferiority in the face of an all-powerful God. 

For others it is marginalisation and deprivation that encourages female participation.  Women are more likely to experience poverty and more likely to experience status frustration broughtabout through confinement to the home.  This makes New Age cults and NRM’s very appealing to females as membership of such groups helps to compensate for this.

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Badawi & Holm

Badawi (1994) notes that aspects of Islam are positive for women; for example, Islamic women keep their own family name when they get married.

Holm notes that some Christian religions, particularly Quakerism, have never been oppressive to women.

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Watson (1994) examines the veiling of Islamic women.  This practise is seen by many non-Muslim writers as a form of social control.However, Watson argues that veiling can have advantages for women in that it can reduce, or allow them to cope with, male oppression.For example, it reduces the possibility of sexual harassment and allows Muslim women to be judged by what they are rather than what they look like.


Watson’s observations were only based on three women; she appears to have made no attempt to find Muslim women who felt they were forced into wearing the veil against their will by men or patriarchal society. 

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Women and NAMs

Aldridge argues that New Age movements are popular with women because of the focus on the ‘goddess’; NAM’s offer a more positive image of femininity than the traditional scriptures. Stark and Bainbridge agree, pointing to the fact that, unlike traditional religions, it is easier for women to achieve leadership roles in cults.

 Within New Age Movements, women are offered stronger leadership positions than in traditional churches and this may be a particular draw for them. 

 Glendinning and Bruce (2006)look at how NAM’s can also be gendered; women are more likely to engage in activities such as Tarot and astrology while men are more interested in activities such as reflexology and meditation.

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Women and sects

Stark argues that women are more attracted to sects because they are more morally conservative and believe that the world is in moral decline, a view offered by many sects. 

Women are more likely to be poor, also, and sects are more likely to draw from poorer groups. They are also more likely to feel marginalized.

Finally, women tend to live longer than men so end up living on their own. They may turn to religion to help build a new community and as a source of comfort and support.

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