Book chapter

Gender and Religiosity in the United States (2018)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Religiosity is a combination of public and private religious practices, beliefs, and experiences. While diversity exists in how religiosity is measured, three central components are consistent across the scholarship: organizational religious engagement, non-organizational religious activities, and subjective religiosity. To measure organizational religious engagement, scholars frequently look at church attendance and participation in congregational activities. Non-organizational religious activities include frequency of prayer, reading the Bible or other religious materials, or requesting others to pray for you. Subjective or intrinsic religiosity includes self-assessed religiousness (where respondents are asked, "How religious would you consider yourself?") or strength of affiliation, as well as specific beliefs, such as views of the afterlife, hell, and whether the Bible is the literal word of God.Various groups express different levels of religiosity. One of the most well-documented and consistent group-based differences in religiosity is that women, including white women and women of color, are more religious than are men across religions, time, and countries. Women report higher rates of church attendance, engagement in religious practices (including prayer and reading the Bible), and more consistent and higher levels of religious interest, commitment, and engagement. Many explanations for these gaps in religiosity exist including differences in personality and risk aversion, gendered socialization patterns, and patriarchal structures within churches. Scholars have engaged in robust debates around the degree to which explanations like risk assessment or gender role theory can account for differences in religious behavior between men and women. Yet unresolved, these discussions provide opportunities to bring together scholarship and theories from religious studies, sociology, gender studies, psychology, and political science.Religiosity shapes a variety of important political and social attitudes and behaviors, including political ideology and participation. The effects of religiosity on political attitudes are heterogeneous across men and women—for example, highly religious women and men are not equally conservative, nor do they equally oppose gay rights. The process by which religiosity shapes attitudes is also gendered; for example, the effects of women's religiosity on political attitudes and participation are mediated by gendered attitudes. And while religiosity increases political participation, the effects are not even for men and women, nor across all groups of women. Future research might examine the differing effects of religiosity on subgroups of men and women, including evaluations of how intersecting social categories like race, gender, and class shape both levels of religious engagement and the degree to which religiosity influences other political and social behavior.