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In Most Faiths, Especially Christianity, Women Are More Faithful Than Men

Posted by addisethiopia on April 15, 2016

AS MANY people read it, the Easter narrative being celebrated today by hundreds of millions of Christians across the world makes a point about gender as one of its many sub-texts. In his darkest moment, Jesus seems to be abandoned by most of his cowardly male disciples who are disappointed that he has failed to triumph as an earthly king, and frightened for their own skins; but his female followers, though grief-stricken over his fate, remain loyal and determined to their cultural duty by anointing his body with spices; the women are duly rewarded by getting the first news that their master has risen.

Here is one of the many paradoxical things about religion as a feature of human society. Its founders, administrators and gate-keepers have generally, with important exceptions, been men. But its most loyal practitioners, including and perhaps especially in times of adversity, have been women. During the atheist Soviet regime, it was devout women who kept the flame of faith alive and passed it onto their children. There were babushkas or grandmothers who kept religious icons in their houses and taught their children to pray. Among the Sufi Muslim communities in remote parts of the Caucasus, women ran prayer circles; and in the indigenous religions of Siberia, the task of healing often fell to female shamans.

A global survey by the Pew Research Center, an independent body based in Washington, DC, has found that by a whole series of yardsticks, women are generally more devout than men, albeit with some exceptions. It looked at six faith categories (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and the unaffiliated) as well as public data from 192 nations, including its own surveys in 84 countries, gathered since 2008. Among its broad conclusions:

“On all the standard measures of religious commitment examined…Christian women are more religious than Christian men. By contrast, Muslim women and Muslim men show similar levels of religiousness on all measures of religious commitment except frequency of attendance at worship services. Because of religious norms, Muslim men attend services at a mosque much more often than Muslim women do. ”

Looking in greater detail, the survey found that 83.4% of women round the world identified with a religious group compared with 79.9% of men. In 61 out of the 192 countries, the female lead was more than two percentage points. Among the 84 countries where Pew had asked the question, there were 43 where substantially more women than men reported praying daily. The only country where more men than women engaged in daily prayer was Israel; as the survey notes, in Orthodox Judaism, practised by 22% of Jewish Israelis, an act of worship requires a quorum of 10 men, or minyan. In 36 of the 84 countries, women were significantly more likely than men to describe religion as very important in their lives; only in Israel and Mozambique were male respondents more likely than female ones to attach a big role to religion.

Generally, Muslim men and women were more alike in their levels of piety than were male and female Christians. In the 40 countries where data was available, Muslim women reported praying daily in only fractionally greater numbers than their male counterparts. However a look at Christians’ prayer habits in 54 countries revealed a much bigger gap; there were 29 countries where female prayerfulness exceeded that of males by 10 points or more, and in Greece the gap was 25 points.

The United States is one of the countries where the gender gap is large. Some 60% of American women consider religion very important, against 47% of men. Daily prayer is practised by 64% of female Americans against 47% of males; and weekly church-going is a habit among 40% of American women versus 32% of men.

Although it certainly isn’t the whole story, part of the explanation may lie in the traditional European societies, especially Catholic ones, from which present-day Americans originate. In old-fashioned Mediterranean communities, where everybody was formally devout, the task of praying, church-going and keeping the family right with God and His saints was one that fell to females more than to males. That division of labour persisted among American Catholic migrants, and it was remarkably long-lasting in the Old World too. In her study of a working-class Greek community in the early 1970s, Renee Hirschon found that women had a deep theological understanding of the rituals they enacted, from mourning the dead to preparing festive meals for different occasions on the church calendar, culminating in Easter. The women, more clearly than their husbands, could see and describe how faith and custom interacted.

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