Chapter

The Social Contexts of Women's Religions: Gender Disjunction, Matrifocality, and a Critique of Deprivation Theory

Susan Starr Sered

in Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister

Published in print December 1996 | ISBN: 9780195104677
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199853267 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195104677.003.0003
The Social Contexts of Women's Religions: Gender Disjunction, Matrifocality, and a Critique of Deprivation Theory

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Just as there is no one historical scenario that explains why women's religions occur, there is no single cultural configuration in which we find all the women's religions, nor a single cultural context in which women's religions are always present. The ethnographic literature suggests that three sets of factors tend to be associated with women's religions: gender dissonance; matrifocality; and a relatively high degree of personal, social, or economic autonomy for women. The emergence of Shakerism, Spiritualism, and Christian Science seems to have less to do with distress or deprivation than with gender disjunction. West Africa is far from matriarchal; it can more accurately be described as a situation of gender disjunction—ideology (patriarchal) and reality (fairly egalitarian) clash. The Northern Thai matrilineal spirit cults in which related women give offerings to their matrilineal ancestors are a prime example of the matrifocal context of women's religions. The Black Caribs of Belize are an example that even more strongly emphasizes the role of women in kinship organization, as well as the interplay between women's dominance in kinship and in religion.

Keywords: West Africa; women; religions; cults; gender dissonance; matrifocality; autonomy; Black Caribs; kinship; Christian Science

Chapter.  13698 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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