Gender and status in the religious congregation.


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Ever since Max Weber distinguished differences in “social esteem” between categories of people, status has been a fundamental concept in the sociological analysis of inequality. Gender is a status system that creates a hierarchy between men and women, and men have historically held higher status. The goal of this dissertation is to explore how gendered status hierarchies affect religious congregations. As organizations guided by normative beliefs, congregations have the power to create and maintain status differences between men and women through their structure, culture, and rituals. Through three quantitative analyses using multilevel modeling with the United States Congregational Life Survey, I explore how gendered status hierarchies affect different levels of religious congregations: the head clergy, volunteer lay leadership, and subjective ritual experiences. In Chapter Two, I use role congruity theory to illustrate how gender impacts congregants’ perceptions of their clergy, especially in light of their leadership style. Congregants view female clergy similarly than male clergy, except for when they breach gender norms and lead with a more masculine style. Chapter Three, addresses the relationship between the gender gap in congregational lay leadership and the organization’s resources by using the micro-level expectation states theory at the meso-level. Women are more likely to be volunteer leaders when they are in resource-rich congregations. Chapter Four, extends interaction ritual chain theory to show that gender has a powerful influence on ritual outcomes. I demonstrate that men have lower levels of emotional expression in worship services and that the surrounding gender ratio within the ritual has the power to impact males’ subjective ritual experiences.

The findings within this dissertation ultimately show gender’s power as a status system within religious congregations. These are deeply gendered organizations, and their leadership, structure, and rituals continue to be affected by status hierarchies between women and men. Yet, gender’s power within religious congregations is not absolute. Dynamics within congregations, such as the clergy’s leadership style or the organization’s resources, can mitigate the gender system.



Religion. Gender. Status. Congregations. Quantitative methodology.