Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Sociology Compass 6/2 (2012), pp 122–133. doi 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00439.x


Copyright © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Used by permission.


The concept of agency is useful for feminist research on women in gender-traditional religions. By focusing on religious women’s agency, scholars understand these women as actors, rather than simply acted upon by male-dominated social institutions. This article reviews the advantages and limitations of feminist scholarship on the agency of women who participate in gender-traditional religions by bringing into dialog four approaches to understanding agency. The resistance agency approach focuses on women who attempt to challenge or change some aspect of their religion. The empowerment agency approach focuses on how women reinterpret religious doctrine or practices in ways that make them feel empowered in their everyday life. The instrumental approach focuses on the non-religious positive outcomes of religious practice, and a compliant approach focuses on the multiple and diverse ways in which women conform to gender-traditional religious teaching. This article concludes by discussing the future direction of scholarship.