Chestertown, MD, June 22, 2005 — Women clergy now account for approximately 10 percent of religious leaders in the United States, and as their numbers grow, so does their political influence. Melissa Deckman, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Washington College in Chestertown, MD, has joined Laura R. Olson, Associate Professor of Political Science at Clemson University, and Sue E. S. Crawford, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Creighton University, to examine the impact of gender, professional experience and religious belief on the political attitudes and activism of clergywomen in Women with a Mission: Religion, Gender, and the Politics of Women Clergy, just released by University of Alabama Press.
Based on qualitative analysis of interviews with 54 women ministers and rabbis from four American cities (Washington, DC, Milwaukee, Omaha, and Indianapolis) and quantitative analysis of a national survey of other clergy, this study breaks new ground in specifically addressing the political priorities, agendas, strategies and actions of clergywomen.
The authors' research probes beyond the traditional stereotypes of women clergy as either a silent, oppressed minority or the cutting edge of an elite feminist vanguard. Though women ministers and rabbis face professional and political restraints that stem from long-standing religious norms about gender roles, in many circumstances their gender can be an asset. Though the same constraints make it risky for some clergywomen to assume visible roles on divisive cultural and political issues, many do, even on controversial issues, such as gay rights and abortion.
"Among those women we studied who did not participate in politics that heavily, most believed such activism was a valid and even necessary part of their ministries," Deckman said. "At the national level, we were struck with how much more politically engaged women clergy were than their male counterparts in similar denominations. On most measures of political activism, women clergy were significantly more likely than men clergy to participate, which runs counter to much of the political science research that finds that men are more likely to participate in politics than women."
Women with a Mission also sheds light on the broader phenomenon of the political mobilization of professionals in general: how the idiosyncrasies of one's profession affect political attitudes and actions. In this way, it contributes to a national, rather than a regional or denominational, discussion of gender and politics.
Deckman is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland and received her Ph.D. in Political Science from American University in 1999. In addition to broader interests in America's national, state and local politics, Deckman has specialized in the study of the role of religion in America's political scene and is the author of School Board Battles: The Christian Right in Local Politics (Georgetown University Press, 2004). She has taught at Washington College since 2000.