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New research from Benjamin Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin on the effect of women’s ordination in America (Oxford University Press).
Those who advocate for greater diversity in the leadership of religious congregations argue that diversity is important because it has an empowering effect on those who are traditionally underrepresented. The argument goes that when a religious leader shares an important group identity with worshipers, those worshipers will be more likely to believe that the leader is responsive to their needs. This, in turn, can result in higher motivation to be active in the life of their congregation.
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Up until recently, however, no one had examined whether this is the case with women’s ordination in American congregations. In our new book, She Preached the Word: Women’s Ordination in Modern America (Oxford University Press), we directly tackle this question.
We conducted a nationwide telephone and internet survey of American worshipers (anyone who says that they attend religious services at least “seldom,” both Christian and non-Christian) as well as dozens of in-person interviews with clergy and congregants. We specifically wanted to know whether women who worship in congregations with female pastors or priests (or imams, rabbis, bishops, etc.) show higher levels of spirituality and religious investment than women who have male religious leaders.
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It turns out that gender leadership in religious congregations does indeed matter, but not in ways that we expected. Our survey results show that it matters less to women whether the pastor or priest is male or female than whether the congregation allows women to serve as the principal leader at all.
Women who attend congregations with male-only leadership policies are somewhat less likely than women who attend congregations that ordain women to agree with statements like these:
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“Generally speaking, I can trust my church or congregation to do what is right”
“I feel that my church...
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