Skip to main content

Religious Beliefs, Gender Consciousness, and Women’s Political Participation

Abstract

Organized religion affords the faithful a variety of civic skills that encourage political participation. Women are more religious than are men by most measures, but religious women do not participate in politics at elevated rates. This discrepancy suggests a puzzle: religion may have a different effect on the political mobilization of men and women. In the present paper, we explore the effect of biblical literalism—a widespread belief that the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally—on political participation. Using the 2012 American National Election Study, we find support for our two hypotheses: (a) biblical literalism is associated with lower levels of gender consciousness, as measured by perceptions of discrimination and strength of ties to women as a group, and (b) reductions in these two factors account for lower political participation among women. Our findings provide new insights into the ways religious and gender identities intersect to influence political mobilization among women, with interesting implications for an American political climate where gender and religion both represent fundamental identities that shape political behavior.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. American National Election Studies. The ANES 2012 Time Series Study [dataset]. Stanford University and the University of Michigan [producers]. Retrieved from www.electionstudies.org.

  2. American Political Science Association. (2004). American democracy in an age of rising inequality. A report from the APSA Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy. Washington, DC: The American Political Science Association. Retrieved from http://www.apsanet.org/portals/54/Files/Task%20Force%20Reports/taskforcereport.pdf.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bang, E., Hall, M. E. L., Anderson, T. L., & Willingham, M. M. (2005). Ethnicity, acculturation, and religiosity as predictors of female college students’ role expectations. Sex Roles, 53(3–4), 231–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bartkowski, J. P. (2001). Remaking the godly marriage: Gender negotiation in evangelical families. Rutgers: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bartkowski, J. P., & Hempel, L. M. (2009). Sex and gender traditionalism among conservative protestants: Does the difference make a difference? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48(4), 805–816.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bekkers, R., & Wiepking, P. (2011). Who gives? A literature review of predictors of charitable giving. Part one: Religion, education, age and socialisation. Voluntary Sector Review, 2(3), 337–365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bernstein, A. G. (2005). Gendered characteristics of political engagement in college students. Sex Roles, 52(5–6), 299–310.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Burn, S. M., & Busso, J. (2005). Ambivalent sexism, scriptural literalism, and religiosity. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(4), 412–418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Calogero, R. M. (2013). On objects and actions: Situating self-objectification in a system justification context. In S. J. Gervais (Ed.), Objectification and (de)humanization (pp. 97–126). New York: Springer. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4614-6959-9_5.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  10. Cameron, J. E. (2001). Social identity, modern sexism, and perceptions of personal and group discrimination by women and men. Sex Roles, 45(11–12), 743–766.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cassese, E. C., & Holman, M. R. (2016). Religion, gendered authority, and identity in American politics. In press.

  12. Conover, P. J. (1988a). Feminists and the gender gap. Journal of Politics, 50(4), 985–1010.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Conover, P. J. (1988b). The role of social groups in political thinking. British Journal of Political Science, 18(1), 51–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Conway, M. M., Steuernagel, G. A., & Ahern, D. W. (2005). Women and political participation: Cultural change in the political arena. Washington DC: CQ Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Dawson, M. C. (1994). Behind the mule: Race and class in African-American politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Deason, G., Greenlee, J. S., & Langner, C. A. (2015). Mothers on the campaign trail: Implications of politicized motherhood for women in politics. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 3(1), 133–148.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Deckman, M., & Mctague, J. (2015). Did the “war on women” work? Women, men, and the birth control mandate in the 2012 presidential election. American Politics Research, 43(1), 3–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Denton, M. L. (2004). Gender and marital decision making: Negotiating religious ideology and practice. Social Forces, 82(3), 1151–1180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Djupe, P. A., Sokhey, A. E., & Gilbert, C. P. (2007). Present but not accounted for? Gender differences in civic resource acquisition. American Journal of Political Science, 51(4), 906–920.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Duncan, L. E. (1999). Motivation for collective action: Group consciousness as mediator of personality, life experiences, and women’s rights activism. Political Psychology, 20(3), 611–635.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Farris, E. M., & Holman, M. R. (2014). Social capital and solving the puzzle of Black women’s political participation. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 3(2), 331–349.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Fowler, R., Hertzke, A. D., Olson, L. R., & Den Dulk, K. (2004). Religion and politics in America (3rd ed.). Boulder: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Francis, L., & Penny, G. (2013). Gender differences in religion. In V. Saroglou (Ed.), Religion, personality, and social behavior (pp. 313–337). New York: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Friesen, A. (2013). Religion, politics, and the social capital of children. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 34(3), 197–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Gallagher, S. K. (2003). Evangelical identity and gendered family life. Rutgers: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The ambivalent sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(3), 491–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., Adetoun, B., Osagie, J. E., Akande, A., Alao, A., Brunner, A., & López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), 763–775.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Glick, P., Lameiras, M., & Castro, Y. R. (2002). Education and Catholic religiosity as predictors of hostile and benevolent sexism toward women and men. Sex Roles, 47(9–10), 433–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gurin, P. (1985). Women’s gender consciousness. Public Opinion Quarterly, 49(2), 143–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hoffman, J., & Johnson, S. M. (2005). Attitudes toward abortion among religious traditions in the United States: Change or continuity. Sociology of Religion, 66(2), 161–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hoffmann, J. P., & Bartkowski, J. P. (2008). Gender, religious tradition, and biblical literalism. Social Forces, 86(3), 1245–1272.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Holman, M. R. (2014). Women in politics in the American city. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Holman, M. R., & Shockley, K. (2015). Messages from above: Conflict and convergence of messages to the Catholic voter from the Catholic church hierarchy. Manuscript in preparation.

  34. Jost, J. T., & Burgess, D. (2000). Attitudinal ambivalence and the conflict between group and system justification motives in low status groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(3), 293–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Jost, J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2005). Exposure to benevolent sexism and complementary gender stereotypes: Consequences for specific and diffuse forms of system justification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(3), 498–509.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Jost, J. T., & Major, B. (2001). Emerging perspectives on the psychology of legitimacy. In J. T. Jost & B. Major (Eds.), The psychology of legitimacy: Emerging perspectives on ideology, justice, and intergroup relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Kaufman, G. (2000). Do gender role attitudes matter? Family formation and dissolution among traditional and egalitarian men and women. Journal of Family Issues, 21(1), 128–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kelly, C., & Breinlinger, S. (1995). Identity and injustice: Exploring women’s participation in collective action. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 5(1), 41–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Leege, D. C., & Kellstedt, L. A. (1993). Rediscovering the religious factor in American politics. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Liss, M., Crawford, M., & Popp, D. (2004). Predictors and correlates of collective action. Sex Roles, 50(11–12), 771–779.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Luker, K. (1984). Abortion and the politics of motherhood (Vol. 3). Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Maltby, L. E., Hall, M. E. L., Anderson, T. L., & Edwards, K. (2010). Religion and sexism: The moderating role of participant gender. Sex Roles, 62(9–10), 615–622.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Mcfarland, S. G. (1989). Religious orientations and the targets of discrimination. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 28(3), 324–336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Merolla, J. L., Schroedel, J. R., & Holman, M. R. (2007). The paradox of Protestantism and women in elected office in the United States. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 29(1), 77–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Miller, A. H., Gurin, P., Gurin, G., & Malachuk, O. (1981). Group consciousness and political participation. American Journal of Political Science, 25(3), 494–511.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Morton, T. A., Postmes, T., Alexander, S., & Hornsey, M. J. (2009). Theorizing gender in the face of social change: Is there anything essential about essentialism? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(3), 653–664.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Peek, C. W., Lowe, G. D., & Williams, L. S. (1991). Gender and God’s word: Another look at religious fundamentalism and sexism. Social Forces, 69(4), 1205–1221.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Putnam, R. D., & Campbell, D. E. (2010). American grace: How religion divides and unites us. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Read, J. G. (2007). More of a bridge than a gap: Gender differences in Arab-American political engagement. Social Science Quarterly, 88(5), 1072–1091.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Robnett, B., & Bany, J. A. (2011). Gender, church involvement, and African-American political participation. Sociological Perspectives, 54(4), 689–712.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Sanchez, G. R., & Vargas, E. D. (2016). Taking a closer look at group identity: The link between theory and measurement of group consciousness and linked fate. Political Research Quarterly, 69(1), 160–174.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  52. Scheitle, C. P., & Cornell, N. (2015). Hearing clergy speak about social and political issues: Examining the effects of religious tradition and personal interest. Social Science Quarterly, 96(1), 148–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Schlozman, K. L., Burns, N., & Verba, S. (1999). “What happened at work today?”: A multistage model of gender, employment, and political participation. The Journal of Politics, 61(01), 29–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Schneider, M. C., Holman, M. R., Diekman, A. B., & McAndrew, T. (2015). Power, conflict, and community: How gendered views of political power influence women’s political ambition. Political Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1111/pops.12268.

  55. Sherkat, D. E., Powell-Williams, M., Maddox, G., & De Vries, K. M. (2011). Religion, politics, and support for same-sex marriage in the United States, 1988–2008. Social Science Research, 40(1), 167–180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Shingles, R. D. (1981). Black consciousness and political participation: The missing link. American Political Science Review, 75(1), 76–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Simon, B., & Klandermans, B. (2001). Politicized collective identity: A social psychological analysis. American Psychologist, 56(4), 319–331.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. Steensland, B., Robinson, L. D., Ilcox, W. B., Park, J. Z., Regnerus, M. D., & Woodberry, R. D. (2000). The measure of American religion: Toward improving the state of the art. Social Forces, 79(1), 291–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Tolleson-Rinehart, S. (1992). Gender consciousness and politics. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  60. van Zomeren, M., Postmes, T., & Spears, R. (2008). Toward an integrative social identity model of collective action: A quantitative research synthesis of three socio-psychological perspectives. Psychological Bulletin, 134(4), 504–535.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  61. Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. E. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Verba, S., Burns, N., & Schlozman, K. L. (1997). Knowing and caring about politics: Gender and political engagement. The Journal of Politics, 59(4), 1051–1072.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Wald, K. D., Owen, D. E., & Hill, S. S. (1988). Churches as political communities. American Political Science Review, 82(2), 531–548.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Westbrook, L., & Saperstein, A. (2015). New categories are not enough rethinking the measurement of sex and gender in social surveys. Gender & Society, 29(4), 534–560.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Whitehead, A. L. (2012). Gender ideology and religion: Does a masculine image of God matter? Review of Religious Research, 54(2), 139–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Wilcox, B. (2004). Soft patriarchs, new men. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Wilcox, C., Jelen, T. G., & Leege, D. C. (1993). Religious group identification: Towards a cognitive theory of religious mobilization. In D. C. Leege & L. A. Kellstedt (Eds.), Rediscovering the religious factor in American politics (pp. 72–99). New York: M. E. Sharpe.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Williams, R., & Wittig, M. A. (1997). “I’m not a feminist, but…”: Factors contributing to the discrepancy between pro-feminist orientation and feminist social identity. Sex Roles, 37(11–12), 885–904.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Tiffany Barnes, Angie Bos, Monica Schneider, Bas van Doorn, Matthew Jacobsmeier, and the Gender and Political Psychology Writing Group for their comments on this paper. Any errors that remain are our own.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Erin C. Cassese.

Ethics declarations

Disclosure of Potential Conflict of Interest

There are no funding sources to report for this research. We report secondary analysis of an existing dataset that was made publically available by the National Science Foundation. Data collection was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants SES-0937715 and SES-0937727, and also by the University of Michigan and Stanford University. The ANES Principal Investigators are Vincent Hutchings (University of Michigan) and Gary Segura and Simon Jackman (Stanford University). Ted Brader (University of Michigan) is Associate Principal Investigator. The authors report no relationship to the PIs or supporting universities.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

The research involved human subjects. Research subjects gave informed consent, data is kept secure and confidential, and all identifying information is redacted from the publically-available version of the dataset used by the authors in this research.

Informed Consent

Online administration of the survey was completed by GfK Knowledge Networks. Face-to-face survey administration was performed by Abt SRBI. In both cases, informed consent procedures were followed. Further information is available at: The American National Election Studies (ANES; www.electionstudies.org). The ANES 2012 Time Series Study [dataset]. Stanford University and the University of Michigan [producers]. http://www.electionstudies.org/studypages/anes_timeseries_2012/anes_timeseries_2012_userguidecodebook.pdf

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

ESM 1

(PDF 423 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cassese, E.C., Holman, M.R. Religious Beliefs, Gender Consciousness, and Women’s Political Participation. Sex Roles 75, 514–527 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0635-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Religious beliefs
  • Political participation
  • Gender identity
  • Political psychology
  • Gender equality
  • Linked fate