Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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A view introduced more or less coincidentally by several comparative-historical social scientists that religion in the West, and particularly in the United States, has been undergoing a process of fundamental orientational change in which feminine (rather than masculine) images of the nature of deity and the role of the clergy come to predominate. God is seen as loving and consoling, rather than as authoritarian and judgmental; similarly, members of the clergy are seen as "helping professionals" rather than as representatives of God's justice. These changes have been related to both cultural (e.g., Welter 1976, Swatos 1992) and sociostructural variables (e.g., Schoenfeld and Mestrovic 1991), both as "cause" and as "effect." The feminization thesis is particularly powerful in explaining shifts in the practices of organized religions that have opened the ordained ministry to women (see Nesbitt 1997). Recently, the feminization thesis has also been applied to politics.

William H. Swatos, Jr .


P.D. Nesbitt, The Feminization of the Clergy in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)

E. Schoenfeld and S. Mestrovic, "With Justice and Mercy," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30(1991):363-380

W.H. Swatos, Jr., "The Feminization of God and the Priesting of Women," in Twentieth-Century World Religious Movements in Neo-Weberian Perspective (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1992)

B. Welter, "The Feminization of American Religion," Dimity Convictions (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976).

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