A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

By Michele Dillon | Go to book overview
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Engaging Feminist Inquiry in the Sociology of Religion
Mary Jo Neitz

The impact of feminism and feminist scholarship on the field of sociology has been much debated. This essay extends that debate to the sociology of religion and spirituality. I argue that those women sociologists who identified with the women's movement experienced a dislocation when they tried to move between their experiences as women and their experiences in the world of sociology. This chapter emphasizes one response, the call for a sociology for women, a radical rethinking of how we know what we know and for whom we undertake this project of knowledge production. I begin with a short discussion of feminism both inside and outside of the academy, and then I review a broad range of studies that contribute to making women visible and explore questions of gender and religion. Next I outline a method of inquiry that comes out of the work of Dorothy Smith and Patricia Hill Collins. It is a feminist theory that begins with an alternative epistemology, and posits a feminist sociology that takes as its core assumption the idea that all knowledge is located and interested. I end with three works that exemplify located, feminist research.


Sitting down at my wordprocessor, I ponder the task before me. The idea of writing an essay on “feminist theory and the sociology of religion” seems so much more problematic than it did even ten years ago when I agreed to take on a similar task.1 What it means to talk about feminism and what it means to talk about theory has been “complicated” by a decade of deconstruction. What do I say? Where do I begin? Feminists do not speak with a single voice, and feminist theory never was, and certainly is not now, a single perspective. What I write reflects my own passions, my own intellectual

In the review essay “Inequality and Difference, I reviewed research on women and religion in the sociology of religion published before 1990 (Neitz 1993). This essay will address work published since that time. I also am looking primarily at research by sociologists. There are now large literatures looking at this topic by scholars in history, anthropology, and religious studies. These literatures are not included within the purview of this essay.

My deep appreciation to the many people who helped me think about this chapter and who read various drafts: Mimi Goldman, Janet Jacobs, Nancy Nason-Clark, Karen Bradley, Kevin McElmurray, and Ann Detwiler-Breidenbach, and special thanks to Lynn Davidman and Peter Hall.


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A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion
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