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Women in New Religions

Women in New Religions

Laura Vance
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Women in New Religions
    Book Description:

    Women in New Religionsoffers an engaging look at women's evolving place in the birth and development of new religious movements. It focuses on four disparate new religions-Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism, The Family International, and Wicca-to illuminate their implications for gender socialization, religious leadership and participation, sexuality, and family ideals.

    Religious worldviews and gender roles interact with one another in complicated ways. This is especially true within new religions, which frequently set roles for women in ways that help the movements to define their boundaries in relation to the wider society. As new religious movements emerge, they often position themselves in opposition to dominant society and concomitantly assert alternative roles for women. But these religions are not monolithic: rather than defining gender in rigid and repressive terms, new religions sometimes offer possibilities to women that are not otherwise available. Vance traces expectations for women as the religions emerge, and transformation of possibilities and responsibilities for women as they mature.

    Weaving theory with examination of each movement's origins, history, and beliefs and practices, this text contextualizes and situates ideals for women in new religions. The book offers an accessible analysis of the complex factors that influence gender ideology and its evolution in new religious movements, including the movements' origins, charismatic leadership and routinization, theology and doctrine, and socio-historical contexts. It shows how religions shape definitions of women's place in a way that is informed by response to social context, group boundaries, and identity.

    Additional Resources

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-2249-2
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Why Study Women in New Religions?
    (pp. 1-18)

    Media and other popular depictions of new religions often highlight the bizarre: the mass suicide/murders of members of Peoples Temple at Jonestown, Guyana, polygamous marriages among Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, the group suicide of Nike-clad followers of Heaven’s Gate, or collective weddings featuring hundreds of followers of Sun Myung Moon simultaneously repeating wedding vows. New religions, however, are more varied—and often more mundane—than these images suggest. Indeed, because of the almost exclusive media focus on the more surprising aspects of atypical new religions, in the popular imagination new religions are strange and dangerous, their leaders are treacherous or...

  5. 1 Mormonism: Gendering the Heavens
    (pp. 19-48)

    Nineteenth-century America saw the birth of numerous religions—the Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910); the Oneida Community of John Humphrey Noyes (1811–1886); the Bible Student movement (from which the Jehovah’s Witnesses later emerged) of Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916); the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormons; and the Seventh-day Adventists. The Mormons and the Adventists, two of the most successful religions to emerge from nineteenth-century America, at least in terms of number of adherents, were born from prophetic visions dated to the 1820s and 1840s.¹ Each was led by a young,...

  6. 2 Seventh-day Adventism: Women’s Changing Role in an Endtime Religion
    (pp. 49-76)

    Walking the streets of Portland, Maine, in 1836 as a child less than ten years old, Ellen Harmon picked up a scrap of paper about a man in England who predicted that the world would be destroyed in about thirty years.¹ She was already a pensive and deeply religious child, and the announcement focused Ellen’s spiritual quest on the soon-coming end. Ellen and her family were Methodists, and Ellen and her mother were among their congregation’s “shouters,” enthusiastic worshipers who shouted “amen” and participated fervently in religious meetings. Ellen’s identical twin, with whom she shared a bedroom, described Ellen as...

  7. 3 The Family International: Sexualizing Gender
    (pp. 77-100)

    The Family International (TFI or “The Family,” which has been called various names, including Teens for Christ, the Children of God, The Family of Love, and others) is one of the most controversial new religions to emerge from the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. The Family asked those who joined the movement to “forsake all”—to give up all of their worldly possessions—renounce materialism, live communally, devote their lives to personal worship and evangelism, and follow the teachings of an Endtime prophet. These teachings, in combination with unusual sexual beliefs and practices, led the media to...

  8. 4 Wicca: Valuing the Divine Feminine
    (pp. 101-120)

    Although some Wiccans claim that their religion has ancient roots, scholars and academically inclined practitioners trace its origin to Gerald B. Gardner (1884–1964), an Englishman who published claims that he had discovered a coven of witches at Christchurch, Hampshire, in England, into which he had been initiated. Gardner asserted that the coven had ties to ancient pagan fertility religions dating prior to the rise of Christianity, and he published descriptions of a midwinter Wiccan celebration, including casting a circle, purification (“scourging”) of participants, and “Drawing Down the Moon”—invoking the Goddess into the priestess.¹

    Gardner claimed that the New...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 121-130)

    New religions provide an indispensable site for examining gender in religions. They generally claim in their early years that they have unique access to the truth, and so emerge in tension with their sociocultural context. New religions provide us the opportunity to examine Max Weber’s assertion that new religions tend to allot equality to women. The religions we have examined here are diverse, but examination of them supports this assertion. One must avoid overgeneralizing from four examples, and use caution in drawing any definitive conclusions about new religions, which are both innumerable and incredibly varied. Nonetheless, we can see interesting...

    (pp. 131-134)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 135-168)
    (pp. 169-182)
    (pp. 183-184)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 185-188)
    (pp. 189-189)