Women's Religious Authority in a Sub-Saharan Setting: Dialectics of Empowerment and Dependency

Friday, July 18, 2014: 9:00 AM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Victor AGADJANIAN , Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
The western scholarship on religion and gender has devoted considerable attention to women’s entry into leadership roles across various religious traditions and denominations. However, very little is known about the dynamics of women’s religious authority and leadership in developing settings, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, a region of powerful and diverse religious expressions. Guided by a conceptual model that intersects religion, gender, and power, this study analyzes women’s religious authority and leadership in a predominantly Christian yet denominationally diverse setting in southern Mozambique. It uses a uniquely rich combination of household and institutional survey data with in-depth and focus group interviews collected over several years of fieldwork. I first identify the prevalence and patterns of women’s formal leadership across different denominational groups. I then define and examine four main pathways and forms of women’s church-based authority: office authority gained on their own merit; office authority gained by virtue of association with husband congregation leader; charisma-derived authority acquired through prophesizing; and agency-based authority gained through church women’s groups. In conclusion, I reflect on how these forms of women’s authority both defy and reassert the gendered constraints of the religious marketplace and the broader gender ideology in this developing setting.