Effects of feminist group on Catholic and Protestant Congregations

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Thu, 11/01/1990
End Date: 
Thu, 12/31/1992

Adair Lummis, Allison Stokes, and Miriam Therese Winter of Hartford Seminary found an overall positive impact on mainline Protestant and Catholic congregations by feminist groups involved in theological and congregational concerns within such congregations. A planning grant earlier had uncovered the presence of feminist groups with a spirituality rooted in Protestant and Catholic traditions. Limited to the Hartford, Connecticut area, the planning grant study showed that while most of these feminist groups are dissatisfied with the institutional church, they are not particularly inclined to leave the church. Instead, they engage in what the researchers called a strategy of “defecting in place.” These women continue to stay in the congregations and also increase their involvement in congregationally located women’s group. So there is a movement from the male-dominated imagery of the church towards more feminist concerns involving women’s participation at various levels within the congregation; hence there is “defection” but only within the congregation.

Survey data was gathered from an initial questionnaire to a nationally diverse of group of 6,000 participants, some of whom were later interviewed on the phone; a select group of these women were then interviewed in-depth. The study marked a number of trends. (1) Feminist convictions are not just limited to the leaders of these groups; many women share in their concerns, and want the church to be more inclusive and open. (2) Women in churches are defecting in place in the sense that they act as loyal opposition committed to institutional transformations. (3) However, there are women within congregations who do not share such concerns. (4) Feminist spirituality is a multi-faceted domain with aspects of feminist art, music, and dance. (5) Although this study dealt mostly with white, educated women, such dynamics could be observed among members of other groups such as African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American congregations.

The findings of the study were published in the book, “Defecting in Place: Women Claiming Responsibility for Their Own Spiritual Lives” (Crossroad, 1994).