Gender & Society in the Classroom: Religion

Organized by: Mandi N. Barringer, University of Central Florida
Updated by: Erielle Jones, University of Illinois – Chicago

This section includes a wide-array of peer-reviewed articles that will help students and instructors familiarize themselves with how religion operates as a socializing institution. The articles presented in this section examine the influence of religion on gender and sexuality, within the United States and globally. More specifically, the articles examine how religious ideology impacts men’s and women’s social positioning. The following articles are listed in chronological order and provide readers with a range of research topics in the area of religion and gender. 

Sabur, MD Abdus. 2022. Gender, Veiling, and Class: Symbolic Boundaries and Veiling in Bengali Muslim Families”. Gender & Society, 36(3): 397-421
In Bangladesh, due to economic growth and greater access to education, more girls and women are veiling, even as they are also more likely to be in school or employed. Some scholars identify this trend of women appearing both “more modern” and “more religious” as paradoxical. On the basis of 114 in-depth interviews with Bangladeshi migrant workers (n = 57) in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Singapore, and South Korea and their wives (n = 57) in rural Bangladesh, I claim that Muslim women in middle-class Bengali families who veil are cultivating symbolic boundaries guided by an accountability structure of middle-class religiosity and gender conservatism. The increasing tendency of middle-class Muslim women to appear both “more modern” and “more religious” can be explained by examining the role that veiling plays in signaling class status through conspicuous consumption, moral superiority, and respectable femininity, differentiating them from lower class women. I conclude that “doing gender” through veiling must be understood as also “doing middle-class difference” in Bengali Muslim families in rural Bangladesh.

Hutchens, Kendra. 2022. “‘People don’t come in Asking for the Gospel, They come in for a Pregnancy Test!’ Feminizing Evangelism in Crisis Pregnancy Centers”. Gender & Society, 36(2), 165–188.
Led by women, faith-based pregnancy centers constitute the largest segment of the movement to oppose abortion in the United States. These centers provide services for women (e.g., options counseling and ultrasounds) but face criticism for offering assistance motivated and shaped by conservative religious views. In this article, I explore how evangelical staff at two faith-based centers in the western United States conceptualize their work as religious practice and reimagine “doing” evangelism. I draw upon observational, interview, and textual data to show how gender shapes the definition, expression, and affective nature of evangelism. In “feminizing evangelism,” the centers challenge established evangelical practice to “share the gospel,” which necessitates spiritual regulation, a distinct form of emotional labor. In highlighting the emotional complexity of gendering religious practices, this article contributes to scholarly conversations at the intersection of gender, religion, and emotion.

Burke, Kelsy, and Trenton M. Haltom. 2020. “Created by God and Wired to Porn: Redemptive Masculinity and Gender Beliefs in Narratives of Religious Men’s Pornography Addiction Recovery.” Gender & Society 34 (2): 233-258.
The literature on hybrid masculinity suggests that some men manage subordinate or contradictory forms of masculinity while still maintaining and benefiting from gender inequality. Drawing from 35 in-depth qualitative interviews with religious participants in pornography addiction recovery programs, we expand this literature by illustrating how hybrid masculinity operates through shared cultural knowledge about sex, gender, and sexuality. We find that participants use distinct cultural schemas related to religion and science to explain how men are created by God to be biologically “hard-wired” for pornography addiction. We use the phrase redemptive masculinity to describe a type of hybrid masculinity that upholds the cultural association between hegemonic masculinity and pornography consumption, but allows religious men to describe their avoidance of pornography as a masculine feat. Redemptive masculinity depends upon particular beliefs about gender that give advantage to the religious men who work to overcome pornography addiction. We show how their stories reinforce essentialist differences between male and female bodies that protect the interests and sexual expressions of religious men. In turn, we show how hybrid masculinities may involve gender-flexible practices for men but also how these may ultimately reinforce strict and inflexible beliefs about so-called “opposite” sexes.

Clevenger, Casey. 2020. “Constructing Spiritual Motherhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Gender & Society 34 (2): 307-330.
Drawing on an ethnographic study of Roman Catholic sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I show how women in the Global South draw on religious imagery to redefine cultural ideals of womanhood and family responsibility. By taking the religious vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, the Congolese sisters I interviewed seemingly betray local expectations regarding women’s responsibility to reproduce and repair the clan. Although sisters’ vows subject them to social ridicule for violating cultural expectations to bear children and support kin, they devise new strategies to negotiate the connection between womanhood and the maternal role of caregiver and nurturer outside of marriage and fertility. In social ministries that affirm their communal, moral, and spiritual ties to others, the sisters realize these cultural ideals through a “spiritual motherhood” that transforms their traditional heteronormative obligations. Framing their decision to live outside accepted kinship structures in religious terms mutes the radicalness of this lifestyle and provides religious legitimation for what would otherwise be considered a selfish choice for a woman acting independent of family well-being. In this context, I demonstrate how doing religion is inseparable from doing gender as Catholic sisters embody alternative ways of being a woman in post-colonial Congolese society through their religious practices.

Frenkel, Michal, and Varda Wasserman. 2020. “With God on their Side: Gender-Religiosity Intersectionality and Women’s Workforce Integration.” Gender & Society 34 (5): 818-843.
On the basis of a case study of the integration of Haredi Jewish women into the Israeli high-tech industry, we explore how gender–religiosity intersectionality affects ultra-conservative women’s participation in the labor market and their ability to negotiate with employers for corporate work–family practices that address their idiosyncratic requirements. We highlight the importance of pious women’s affiliation to their highly organized religious communities while taking a process-centered approach to intersectionality and focusing on the matrix of domination formed by the Israeli state, employers, and the organized ultra-orthodox community. We dub this set of actors “the unholy-trinity” and argue that it constructs a specific, religion-centric inequality regime that restrains women’s job and earning opportunities. At the same time, the “unholy trinity” also empowers women in their struggle to create a working environment that is receptive to their religiosity and what that commitment demands of them.

Glas, Saskia, and Amy Alexander. 2020. “Explaining Support for Muslim Feminism in the Arab Middle East and North Africa.” Gender & Society 34 (3): 437-466.
Public debates depict Arabs as opposed to gender equality because of Islam. However, there may be substantial numbers of Arab Muslims who do support feminist issues and who do so while being highly attached to Islam. This study explains why certain Arabs support feminism while remaining strongly religious (“Muslim feminists”). We propose that some Arab citizens are more likely to subvert patriarchal norms, especially in societies that construct Islam and feminism as more compatible. Empirically, we apply three-level multinomial analyses to 51 Arab Barometer and World Values Surveys, which include 57,000 Arab Muslims. Our results show that one in four Arab Muslims supports Muslim feminism—far more than those who support a more secularist version of feminism. Employed women, single people, people who distrust institutions, and more highly educated people support Muslim feminism more than do others—especially in societies that construct feminism and Islam as less contradictory, such as those with strong feminist movements. The presumption that Islam and feminism are necessarily opposed may hinder feminism. A more effective way to boost gender equality in the Arab region may be to embolden emancipatory religious interpretations.

Wilkinson, Lindsey, and Jennifer Pearson. 2009. “School Culture and the Well-Being of Same-Sex-Attracted Youth.” Gender & Society 23 (4): 542-68.
This study examines how the well-being of same-sex-attracted-youth is affected by the variations in heternormative cultures in America’s high schools. Heterosexuality is often upheld as the social norm in relation to homosexuality, as well as other sexualities; therefore, producing the idea that sexualities that fall outside of the norm are considered ‘deviant’ (i.e., heteronormativity). The authors seek to understand how heternormativity may marginalize a wide variety of high school youth by using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescents. The results indicate same-sex-attracted-youth were at a higher risk for experiencing a decreased well-being. It was found that same-sex-attracted-youth that attended nonurban schools, and schools were religion and football have a greater presence were at an even greater risk for decreased well-being.

Avishai, Orit. 2008. “’Doing Religion’ In a Secular World: Women in Conservative Religions and the Question of Agency.” Gender & Society 22 (4): 409-33.
This article examines how orthodox Jewish Israeli women observe, negotiate, and understand marital sexuality within a conservative religion. The researcher primarily focuses on the regulation of sexuality through customs and laws in regards to female menstruation (niddah), as well as how women perform and express religion (i.e. “doing religion”). “Doing religion” is presented as a semiconscious process in which women are aware of the religious social norms of female subordination and patriarchal dominance. This paper explains “doing religion” in accordance with women’s religiosity and how it is shaped by one’s religion.

Civettini, Nicole H.W., and Jennifer Glass. 2008. “The Impact of Religious Conservatism on Men’s Work and Family Involvement.” Gender & Society 22 (2): 172-93.
The authors examine whether religious conservatism affects work and family outcomes of men in this article. Religious conservatism for evangelical and fundamentalist groups often includes support for husband leadership and father involvement. This study seeks to understand whether religious conservatism will impact the behavioral choices during adulthood for men that come from conservative households. The authors hypothesized that these men will make earlier transitions to adulthood, work less hours, and earn less money overall. It is hypothesized that religious conservatism will encourage men to spend more time participating in child care and housework rather than work. The findings from the National Survey of Families and Households indicate that men from religiously conservative households did not result in earlier transitions into adulthood; however, the men did experience decreased wage earnings but not reduced hours at work.

Adams, Jimi. 2007. “Stained Glass Makes the Ceiling Visible: Organizational Opposition to Women in Congregational Leadership.” Gender & Society 21 (1): 80-105.
This article investigates why women hold so few top leadership positions within Christian congregations, despite women participate more frequently than in men in these same organizations. The author draws upon the National Congregations Study to examine to understand the situations that lead to this “stained glass ceiling” effect that prevents women from obtaining top congregational positions.  Using a nationally representative sample of congregations allows for greater understanding as to how prevalent the various barriers are that exist for women. The findings indicate that the organizational barriers that keep women out of top positions within occupational settings are also present within religious organizations. The substantial difference is that the support for the barrier within the congregational setting relies largely on religious ideology; i.e. “stained glass ceiling.”

Solari, Cinzia. 2006. “Professionals and Saints: How Immigrant Careworkers Negotiate Gender Identities at Work.” Gender & Society 20 (3): 301-31.
This article examines Russian-Speaking immigrants, both male and female, from the former Soviet Union that are paid as careworkers in the United States.  The focus of the article seeks to understand how the careworkers negotiate and understand paid carework for non-family members. The data for this study were interviews with workers and participant observation from 2001 to 2003 in San Francisco. The interview data from the homecare workers revealed two frameworks in which the workers interpreted their work – professionalism and sainthood.  Jewish immigrants tended to deploy professionalism while Orthodox Christian immigrants tended to deploy sainthood. These separate practices in which immigrants understood carework also affected gender identities.

Chen, Carolyn. 2005. “A Self of One’s Own: Taiwanese Immigrant Women and Religious Conversion.” Gender & Society 19 (3): 336-57.
This article seeks to understand how religion shapes the lives of Taiwanese immigrant women in the United States; and how these women construct a self-identity independent of their family role. The author examines two different religious groups in which Taiwanese immigrant women have converted to – Buddhism and Christianity. The author interviews a total of 28 Taiwanese women, 15 of them being Buddhist and 13 Christians. The findings in this article are mostly based on the interviews, reflecting how both religions offer the women opportunities to construct new gender traditions within a Western framework.

Cadge, Wendy. 2004. “Gendered Religious Organizations: The Case of Theravada Buddhism in America.” Gender & Society 18 (6): 777-93.
This article explores the ways in which gender is socially constructed within two non-Judeo-Christian organizations in the United States – first generation Theravada Buddhists and Theravada Buddhist converts.  The first generation Theravada Buddhist organization was started and attended by Thai immigrants, while the second Buddhist organization was founded and attended by white converts. The author examines how the two organizations teach men and women about gender, and how gender operates within the structure and operation of these two groups.

Hartman, Tova, and Naomi Marmon. 2004. “Lived Regulations, Systemic Attributions:  Menstrual Separation and Ritual Immersion in the Experience of Orthodox Jewish Women.” Gender & Society 18 (3): 389-08.
This article examines the regimen of ritual purity that is often practiced within the Jewish Orthodox community through the experiences of religion women. Jewish Orthodox women are often subjected to religious rules that govern their bodies and ways of life. The article primarily focuses on the effects and implications of the religious practice of niddah (the system of ritual purity and immersion) in the women’s lives. The findings present a multitude of emotions and experiences from the women’s lived experience of niddah.

Wolkomir, Michelle. 2004. “’Giving it up to God’: Negotiating Femininity in Support Groups for Wives of Ex-Gay Christian Men.” Gender & Society 18 (6): 735-55.
This study examines how conservative Christian women, who were married to gay men, renegotiate their femininity and use coping strategies. Most of the women in this study discovered their husbands were gay after their marriages had already dissolved. This discovery posed a series of challenges to the Christian wives and their feminine identities. The women experienced anxiety, confusion, and fear that they had somehow contributed to their husbands’ homosexuality. To understand how the women coped with these feelings, in-depth interviews were conducted with 15 participants of Christian supports groups designed for wives of homosexual men. The support groups helped the women learn how to redefine the men’s homosexuality and further submit themselves to God.

Heath, Melanie. 2003. “Soft-Boiled Masculinity: Renegotiating Gender and Racial Ideologies in the Promise Keepers Movement.” Gender & Society 17 (3): 423-44.
This article examines the identities of the men who belong to the Promise Keepers (PK) movement. In-depth interviews and participant observation are used to analyze the PK husbands and wives narratives concerning their gender and racial ideologies. The tensions in the PK men’s identities are uncovered by the social conditions that lead them to rethink their ideologies concerning gender and race. The results indicate that the PK’s impact on gender and race relations is contradictory. In one sense the PK movement allows men to embrace a more caring and softer from of masculinity which includes cross-racial bonding. Simultaneously, PK reinforces (and ignores) racial and gender privilege among white men at the structural level. The PK men are challenged to make changes at the interactional level, but the movement does not appear to challenge the larger social structure of white male privilege.