Gender and Christianity: Why Do Women Pray More?

Here’s a very interesting article by Stanford anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann, about gender and prayer. Specifically, she takes on the issues of why women pray more than men, and the answer, she writes, is imagination.

Previously I blogged on the finding that Christian women experience God’s presence more frequently than do men, which would fit with Luhrmann’s general point.

Here’s Luhrmann’s article:

” Women pray more than men do. The 2008 Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that two-thirds of all women surveyed pray daily, while less than half of all men surveyed do. The Pew survey was unusually large, accounting for over 35,000 Americans, but gender differences in prayer frequency have been found before (notably by Paloma and Gallup in 1991). In fact, the observation is so common that among evangelicals, we hear it repeated as a cliché.

Why do women pray more? Some argue it’s because women are more conservative, that they stick more to tradition, while others believe it’s because women feel more responsible for their families’ health and well being than men do.

As an anthropologist studying religious behavior, I have a different explanation: Women pray more because women are more comfortable with their imaginations, and in order to pray, you need to use your imagination.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that God is a product of the imagination. I am instead noting that to know God intimately, you need to use your imagination, because the imagination is the means humans must use to know the immaterial. This, by the way, is something the church fathers knew well. For Augustine, the road to God ran through the mind. It is our own peculiar era that equates the imagination with the frivolous and the unreal. That is why contemporary Christians sometimes get nervous about the word imagination. But they shouldn’t. C. S. Lewis knew so well that the imagination was a path to God that he entitled a chapter of Mere Christianity “Let’s Pretend.” “Let us pretend,” Lewis writes, “to turn the pretence into a reality.”” (To read the rest)

Behind the Numbers: Asian Americans and Social Institutions

As part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Census provides a fact sheet of the latest numbers on this particular collection of ethnic groups that are bundled under this racial term. Ever wonder why the Census Bureau knows about racial characteristics of the US? Believe it or not, it’s in our Constitution!

Article I. Section 2 reads:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

As you can see, in order to figure out how many seats a given state should have in the House of Representatives, we had to count households. But counting people and households is a complicated and in some ways a political statement. As you can see, Native Americans weren’t counted and non-free persons were not counted as fully a person. For the most part these were African American slaves. After the Civil War and Emancipation, the 13th Amendment nullified the Three-Fifths Compromise and all citizens were by law to be counted as persons. So while we have a more equal system of counting in place, we still continue to count people by their racial and ethnic backgrounds to this day. We do this because American society continues to have fairly unequal outcomes in proportion to the racial groups identified in the Census. [Read more...]

Wolves in Gaudy Sheepskin Clothing

Fleecing the faithful,” it’s called. The sort of story featured on the front cover of Saturday’s New York Times tends to rankle everyone’s feathers, from the utterly agnostic to the truly devout. I might also add that such stories tend to surprise no one. There’s news here, to be sure, about grandchildren calling their grandparents out on their moral and fiscal crimes. But it’s hardly new news.

While it may raise eyebrows that Americans continue to bankroll televangelists—$20, $50, or $100 at a time—exactly why they continue to do so when such ministries are so self-evidently opulent and excessive remains something of a mystery to the rational mind. I suppose some would simply reply, “If you can believe in something as outlandish as basic Christian doctrine, then you can be convinced to do things as gullible as that, and worse.” Hmmm…perhaps. Perhaps not. Lots of us, religious or not, are capable—under the right conditions of charismatic authority and legitimation—of heinous evil. Has always been true.

Back to the Trinity Broadcasting Network. What has long perplexed me about TBN is their look. I don’t quite understand the appeal of their truly faux architecture, gaudy sets, and personal attire. Maybe it’s the simple Midwesterner in me, but is there really an audience in America who thinks that look is attractive? I recently drove past a TBN facility of some sort halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, and it stood out—an accomplishment in that area, let me tell you—for its outlandishness. To whom does this appeal? To North Texas Pentecostals over the age of 60? (I don’t know.) No, I haven’t been everywhere (unlike the Johnny Cash song), but the only places that seem comparably cheesy are old sections of Beverly Hills, or perhaps some parts of South Florida.

I presume that most of TBN’s checks aren’t coming from those quarters, but who knows—perhaps the health-and-wealth gospel is underwritten by the healthy and the wealthy, not the poorer and disabled, as many have long presumed. It’s an empirical question, of course, but one that’s only answerable by open access to accounting. And we know that’s unlikely. And yet the checks keep rolling in:

“Clearly, many viewers have heartfelt responses. In 2010, TBN received $93 million in tax-exempt donations, according to its tax report. The company also had $64 million in additional income from sales of airtime and $17 million in investment income that year. It spent $194 million operating its far-flung network and investing in new programs. The company was in the red for the year, but could draw on its cushion of $325 million in cash and investments.”

It may sound like a lot, but it’s comparatively not. Think about it: if 1 out of every 337 Americans gave TBN $100 bucks this year, $93 million is exactly what they’d take in. For comparison, say a 6000-member suburban congregation witnessed, per capita, about $1500 in the offering plate in a year; there’s $9 million–and that’s just one congregation.

I nevertheless take some heart in the mass antagonism toward the small minority of Christian ministers who live opulent lives, whether honestly gained or ill-gotten. Because there remains a seed in all of us that just knows that the lives of the shepherds are to be more Christ-like than that. (Can you imagine St. Francis of Assisi staying here, in a hotel and city named after him?)

People expect better of shepherds, as they ought. Give them neither poverty nor wealth, I pray. And the same for me. (All of this raises disturbing questions about my own feeble level of generosity and excessive self-concern.)

Finally, let’s remember to retain some perspective here. After all the Christian hand-wringing, sheepish looks, and obligatory “we’re not all like that” apologies—blah, blah, blah—the fact remains that there is an extraordinary amount of legal-but-immoral wealth out there already, and little of it has been gotten by way of preaching in front of cameras or building cheesy theme parks. Plenty of modern wealth has been built upon fleecing people by more socially-acceptable means, including convincing people of things they “need” but cannot afford, or by—gasp—creating silly, time-wasting games and selling millions of them. Indeed, apparently my fair city’s tech future relies on such foolish sources of income. There are many ways to fleece, whether by taxation, donation, or clever marketing.

But as noted above, we expect better from (so-called) believers. I hope we always do.

Hard Work + Structural Advantages: 20+ Years of Korean Immigrant Businesses

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month everyone! May is a tough month to reflect on my roots and the stories of other Asian Americans, partly because there are cool holidays like Cinco De Mayo (which is no small deal in Texas), and partly because May is when all the transitions at school happen. But the wonders of the internet keep getting better as I can now subscribe to feeds that show up in my email, or as friends on Facebook posts important reminders.

In this post I want to start my month-long blog series on Asian American social issues by returning to the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 (yeah it’s a rough story to start a month of celebration, but hey this is sociology). Last time I looked at the Riots from the perspective of the motivations behind some of those who normally don’t behave is ways that exemplify social disorder. Most of those in the area stayed indoors but nevertheless there was a great deal of damage and tragic loss of life. This time I’d like to share some of the things sociologists have talked about regarding Korean Americans, particularly their businesses.  [Read more...]

Worship and Place: Church Meeting in a Bar

Earlier this week I attended what a church calls their “Theology on Tap” series. In it, they host a speaker at a local tavern, invited friends and family, and basically spent 2 hours drinking, eating, and talking Christianity. It was quite enjoyable at many levels, but the thing I’ve thought most about was the effect of place on Christian gatherings.

You see, this was an Episcopal church, and while I have not been to their Sunday services, I’ve been to enough Episcopal services to appreciate how solemn and generally not-rowdy they are. In contrast, the other night was a bit rowdy and lots of casual fun.

Why the difference? I assume mainly the location (though the beer might have helped). Taking over the back room of a tavern prompts a very different social atmosphere than if the same meeting had been held in the parish hall.

I know that there are people who put a lot of thought into the structure of church spaces, and this makes me glad that they do. It seems that getting the space right is very important and worth spending some money on.

Even in my teaching I have seen the effects of space. In the past 8 years or so I’ve had two classes fall flat, and both met in old fashioned rooms on campus–seating all on one level and rectangles with the longest dimension going from front-to-back (which, I believe, is the layout of most churches). In fact, the second time it happened, I realized what was going on, and I switched classrooms after three weeks to one with arena-style seating, and within minutes the whole tone of the class changed.

So, perhaps all some churches need is a change in space and, perhaps, beer on tap.