The Gender Puzzle Revisited: Contemporary Spirituality and the Rise of the Feminine

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Galen WATTS, Queen's University, Canada
Debates surrounding the increasing popularity of the “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) moniker in the West have tended to be couched in terms of the rise of individualism, the loss of traditional forms of (religious) community, the postmodern turn, and the spread of consumer culture. As a result, little attention has been given to what Linda Woodhead and Paul Heelas (2005) deem the “gender puzzle” that pervades the spiritual milieu, referring to why far more women are interested in contemporary spirituality than men. In this paper, I turn my attention to this much-ignored, yet pertinent, subject. Drawing from ongoing ethnographic fieldwork, conducted with Canadian millennials who self-identify as SBNR, I seek to show that contemporary spirituality prizes what are traditionally understood as feminine characteristics—emotional, nurturing, flexible and peaceable—in both men and women. Thus contemporary spirituality has historically attracted more women because it gives value to the virtues of their culturally prescribed gender role. I then trace the intermingling relationship between feminist and alternative religious movements in the West, outlining how and why the two have tended to attract one another. I conclude that the rising popularity of contemporary spirituality among both female and male millennials supports the view that second wave feminist discourses and aims (especially those concerned with religion) have, in certain ways, become mainstream among younger generations.