Susan Hayward weighs some causes – and implications – of women’s religiosity.
So Pew research has shown that across the world women tend to exhibit more commitment to religious practice, more participation in religious life, or to hold a higher commitment to certain religious beliefs than men. It’s not true across religious traditions – in fact, Islam is one that shows a little bit of a derivation from that fact. But in Christianity it holds very true that women tend to be more religious or to exhibit more religiosity than men. In my own experiences travelling around the world, I have often seen that women are often the ones who are performing the religious rituals on a daily basis, who are raising their children with the religious stories and keeping alive some of the religious practices within the home, who are the ones who are going to the temple, or to the pagoda, or to the church in order to perform prayer or worship on a regular basis.
And you can even see some of this reflected in the Gospels themselves, within Christianity, where women were often the ones who stood by Jesus, who stayed committed to Jesus’ side up until the very end, who sometimes understood who Jesus was before the male disciples, who were presented in the Gospels as a little more fickle and a little less quick to understand the religious significance of who Jesus was.
There’s a number of reasons that people cite for why this might be. Some of them are economic. So if men are more likely to be working in the professional workspaces, that might mean they don’t have as much time to perform the religious practices, to go to religious spaces. It might mean that in these professional or labour spaces there’s less of an incentive or it’s less normalised for religious practice and religiosity to be out in the open.
There are also some social reasons that are sometimes cited. So because of women’s very experiences of marginalisation or of violence – sexual, domestic, other forms of violence that women face – that might lead them to religious spaces in order to address some of those wounds or to find certain resources that they might not otherwise find.
Whatever the reasons for it, I think what’s important for me as a peacebuilder and somebody who operates within the religious peacebuilding world is to think of the significance and the consequences of that. Meaning that, if I’m working in religious peacebuilding, I need to be thinking beyond male clerical authorities in understanding who are religious people who can be involved in peacebuilding, and who are the ones who are influencing religious motivation and understanding at the local level, and understand that women are incredibly influential and involved in those religious spaces and should – there’s a good argument for them leading religious peacebuilding efforts alongside, or even sometimes maybe at the exclusion of, male clerical authorities.
It’s also important to understand that if we want to work with women in peacebuilding efforts, to recognise that religion matters to women, and so to think about ways that spirituality or religion can be integrated into peacebuilding work that’s done with women around the world.