About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The scientific study of religion, part II

[I'm in Baltimore for a meeting on the scientific study of religion. What follows are just some random notes and observations from the sessions I actually attended, and are not necessarily representative of the entire meeting, given of course that I picked the topics that tickled my curiosity.]
This morning I attended a session about religion and the construction of gender identity. I mean, how can anyone resist a talk entitled "Hot for Jesus: religious language and the byproduct of Evangelical adolescent gender normalization"? (by Hilary Davidson, of the University of Notre Dame.) (It was hard to avoid noticing that the overwhelming majority of participants at the session were young women. Too bad more men are not interested in gender studies.) The study was conducted in an evangelical Protestant community in Indiana, by means of observation of community events and interviews with congregants. The "hot for Jesus" phrase comes from a pastor trying to sell t-shirts to his young congregants by telling them that the shirt is so hot that even Jesus will think you are hot. Apparently, this was said with no sense of irony at all, and the sexual undertones were very obvious. Throughout the rest of the sermon the word "hot" was repeated a whopping 42 times. The author suggests, more generally, a link between having an attractive body and being spiritually attractive to outsiders. The good news is that the pastor had it both ways: referring to the women in the group who were "average" or overweight, he told them that that will work to their advantage too, because they won't be readily "available" to others, which will make it easier for them to maintain their spiritual purity. Oh, also, if you are ugly, Jesus can still "use" you, because who knows, you may shut yourself in a lab and find the cure for cancer.
Next: "Masculinity and ministry: Evangelical and mainline seminarians think and talk about contemporary culture," by Stewart Hoover of the University of Colorado. The author is interested in how the alleged crisis of masculinity is supposed to be helped by guidance from religious institutions. It seems, therefore, that seminarians ought to be particularly aware of and prepared to deal with this "crisis." Apparently, when asked about their best example of an ideal model of masculinity in popular culture, church members by a large majority answered the movie "Braveheart." Wow. An interesting finding was that neither evangelical or not evangelical households seemed to find much inspiration from religion about models of masculinity, the difference being that the evangelicals were bothered by this evident lack of connection with their faith. Even seminarians apparently had not given much thought to the issue of masculinity, and actually found it an odd question, and upon reflection were disappointed that the church was not providing guidance in that respect.
The third talk of the session was by Kathleen Jenkins of the College of William and Mary, on "Warrior chicks: muscular feminism and aging bodies in a New Paradigm church." Apparently there is now an international movement, started by a Hollywood church, called "God Chicks" (take that, Skepchicks!), catering to young women. God Chicks promotes a type of female muscular Christianity, with emphasis on physical fitness as strengthening spiritual fitness. It really sounds like becoming a God Chick largely entails eating healthy and exercising, which I suppose can hardly be considered a bad idea. The speaker connected this to rejection of the concept of aging. Partly, this is accomplished by redefining everyone as "old" as long as there is a younger woman that can benefit from your help. Ironically, the rhetoric sounds a lot like third wave feminism.
The last talk was by Angela Broadus of the University of Nevada, on "Complex social identity of women in fundamentalist religions." The starting question was: why do women join patriarchal religions that deprive them of power compared to men? Common responses include denial of inequality or reframing of their situation. The author looked at women who are members of patriarchal congregations, but also hold positions of power at their job in the secular world. This was one of the few quantitative studies I've seen at this conference, involving almost 14,000 Australian women followed longitudinally over many years. Not surprisingly, the number of women who were both in patriarchal churches and held high managerial jobs was very low. Interestingly, however, these women reported higher satisfaction in life than other groups (the effect was not large, though it was statistically significant). Here is the kicker: further data slicing showed that the higher level of satisfaction was found only among women with low church attendance and low religiosity (despite being formally members of patriarchal denominations.)
[To be continued...]

1 comment:

  1. "Too bad more men are not interested in gender studies"

    Really? Why is that?


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