Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

The study of religion that challenges the concept of universality as an assumption of scholarly inquiry. The tendency toward universalism, which governed religious studies through the mid-twentieth century, equates the masculine with the universal (Cook and Fonow 1990). The inclusion of gender as a category of analysis challenges this bias by recognizing women as legitimate subjects of research and gender as an important lens through which to interpret the meaning and symbol systems of religious cultures. By focusing on the significance of women and women's experience, the study of gender transforms the androcentric paradigms of traditional research.

The development of gender scholarship within the study of religion has created a more inclusive scholarship. Drawing on a number of different disciplines, including sociology and psychology, a gender perspective contributes to an understanding of religious phenomena and social trends. For example, as gender is brought to bear on the study of mystical experience, differences emerge between women and men that can be explained through an analysis of female development and the importance of attachment and connection. Within the gender paradigm, differences among women are highlighted as well. Segura and Pierce (1993), for example, discuss the relationship among political identity, religious culture, and motherhood within the Chicana/o family.

The subjects of gender scholarship are varied and diverse. Since the 1960s, a number of key areas in the study of religion have emerged. Among these are the impact of religious ideology on the development of patriarchy and misogyny (Daly 1968, Plaskow 1990); the study of reform movements that have expanded the roles of women in traditional religious institutions (Carroll et al. 1983, Ruether 1985); the relationship among gender, race, and religious activism (Isasi-Diaz 1993, Higginbotham 1993); the creation of alternative spiritual practices (Northup 1993); the development of goddess-centered spirituality (Neitz 1990); and the study of abuse and exploitation within new religions (Jacobs 1989).

See also Feminist Research and Theory, Sexism

Janet L. Jacobs


J. Carroll et al., Women of the Cloth (San Francisco: Harper, 1983)

J. Cook and M. Fonow, "Knowledge and Women's Interests," in Feminist Research Methods , ed. J. Nielsen (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1990): 69-93

M. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex (San Francisco: Harper, 1968)

E. B. Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993)

A. M. Isasi-Diaz, En la Lucha (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993)

J. L. Jacobs, Divine Disenchantment (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989)

M. J. Neitz, "In Goddess We Trust," in In Gods We Trust , 2nd ed., ed. T. Robbins and D. Anthony (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1990): 353-371

L. A. Northup (ed.), Women and Religious Ritual (Washington, D.C.: Pastoral Press, 1993)

J. Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai (San Francisco: Harper, 1990)

R. R. Ruether, Woman-Church (San Francisco: Harper, 1985)

D. A. Segura and J. L. Pierce, "Chicana/o Family Structure and Gender Personality," Signs 19(1993):62-91.

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