Sex and Gender Differences in Religiousness and Spirituality

Article excerpt

Researchers have demonstrated that women participate more frequently than men in religious activities, and some have argued the differences may be attributable to gender orientation (feminine or masculine) rather than sex (female or male). The present study explored both gender and sex differences as they related to religious participation and spirituality among participants explicitly involved in religious activity. In contrast to previous studies, the data collected from 190 Christian adults revealed no statistically significant differences in religious participation between men and women nor among individuals categorized as feminine, masculine, or androgynous. Furthermore, men, women, and people from each gender orientation were equally aware of their relationship with God. The results suggest gender and sex differences within the psychology of religion are not as clear as previously proposed.

Results from several studies have suggested that women are more religious than men (Mahalik & Lagan, 2001; Ozorak, 1996; Reich, 1997; Thompson, 1991). The 1998 Gallup poll supported these findings and revealed that U.S. women tended to place more importance on religion compared to men, were more likely to belong to a church or synagogue, and thought more about developing their religious faith and their relationship with God (Gallup & Lindsay, 1999). Additionally, Gallup and Lindsay declared women were less likely than men to rely on themselves as opposed to "an outside power, such as God" (p. 71).

Religious Differences Due to Socialization

Thompson (1991) reasoned that such sex differences in religious participation might reflect men's and women's socialization into traditional roles wherein men are heavily socialized to be competent in the workplace and women are socialized to be in relationship and to take care of people. Though male and female are not necessarily equivalent to masculine and feminine, in terms of socialization, Hall (1997) noted the masculine role has traditionally been synonymous with "a dominant, instrumental style associated with self-esteem and personal well-being" (p. 224) whereas the traditional feminine role is typically viewed as nurturing, expressive, and focused on the support and well-being of others. Hall added that the feminine social orientation focuses on connection with others while the masculine role tends to focus on achievement and power. Further-more, Stokes (1990) noted that women were more emotionally involved in their faith and more apt to explore the meanings of their faith expressions. According to Stokes, "significantly more women than men define 'faith' as 'a relationship with God' while more men than women define it as 'a set of beliefs'" (p. 175). Interestingly, Reich (1997) seemed to agree with both Hall and Stokes and claimed that, as a result of socialization, women are more interested in religion and in God as a friend and confidant while men are interested in God's power, knowledge, and activity. Thompson further explained that socialization could foster the development of "gendered personalities [which] are thought to direct men's and women's behavior throughout life" (p. 382). Thus, as noted in Thompson, religiousness becomes consistent with the conceptualization of the female role and the desire for connectedness (c.f. Gilligan, 1982/1993). According to Thompson, traditionally socialized women would therefore tend to be drawn to religious activities while traditionally socialized men would tend to avoid them. Mahalik and Lagan (2001) agreed and argued that men avoid religious acts because they are socialized to avoid feminine activities and thus avoid religious/spiritual experiences to escape the appearance of being feminine.

Gender Orientation and Religiousness

Thompson (1991) argued religious participation might be better explained by gender orientation (feminine or masculine) rather then by being male or female. In line with others who have explored gender related issues (c. …