Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality

Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality

Ethnographic Approaches

Edited by Anna FedeleKim Knibbe

Series: Routledge Studies in Religion

Gender and Power in Contemporary Spirituality


“An important and original contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of gender and power in alternative forms of spirituality.” – Sabina Magliocco, California State University, Northridge, USA

“Central to spirituality is a desire for personal liberation, we hear again and again. Yet this rich collection of ethnographies demonstrates that it is deeply shaped by performances of gender and power.” – Dick Houtman, Erasmus University, Netherlands



This book explores the entanglements of gender and power in spiritual practices and analyzes strategies used by spiritual practitioners to attain what to social scientists might seem an impossible goal: creating spiritual communities without creating gendered hierarchies.

What strategies do people within these networks use to attain gender equality and gendered empowerment? How do they try to protect and develop individual freedom? How do gender and power nevertheless play a role? The chapters in this book together and separately demonstrate that, in order to understand contemporary spirituality, the analytical lenses of gender and power are essential. Furthermore, they show that it is not possible to make a clear distinction between established religions and contemporary spirituality: the two sometimes overlap, and at other times spirituality distances itself from religion while reproducing some of its underlying interpretative frameworks. This book does not take the discourses of spiritual practitioners for granted, yet recognizes the reflexivity of spiritual practitioners and the reciprocal relationship between spirituality and disciplines such as anthropology. The ethnographic descriptions of lived spirituality included in this volume span a wide range of countries, from Portugal, Italy, and the Netherlands to Mexico and Israel.



Introduction    Anna Fedele and Kim Knibbe

1. Cultivating the Sacred: Gender, Power and Ritualization in Goddess-oriented Groups Åsa Trulsson

2. Spirituality within Religion: Gendered Responses to a Greek ‘Spiritual Revolution’ Eugenia Roussou

3. Individual Spirituality and Religious Membership among Soka Gakkai Buddhists in Spain Monica Cornejo

4. The Power of Submission? Personal Growth and the Issue of Power Among Umbanda Practitioners in Paris   Viola Teisenhoffer

5. “Black” Madonna Versus “White” Madonna: Gendered Power Strategies in Alternative Pilgrimages to Marian Shrines   Anna Fedele

6. From Crisis to Charisma: Redefining Hegemonic Ideas of Science, Freedom and Gender among Mediumistic Healers in Germany   Ehler Voss

7. Spirituality, Charisma and Gender in a Jewish Spiritual Renewal Community in Israel Rachel Werczberger

8. Urban Witchcraft and the Issue of Authority   Victoria Hegner

9. Gender and Power: Brahma Kumaris Spirituality and Hinduism in Portugal                  Inês Lourenço

10. Obscuring the Role of Power and Gender in Contemporary Spiritualities                    Kim Knibbe

11. In Search of Spirituality in Northeastern Mexico: Religious Change and Masculinity among Addicts in Recovery      Ethan P. Sharp



Anna Fedele is a Research Fellow of the Groupe de Sociologie Politique et Morale at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales of Paris and at the Lisbon University Institute. She has recently been a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University. Her research focuses on the intersections between religion and spirituality and the importance of gender in contemporary spirituality. Fedele also coordinated a book with Ruy Blanes entitled Encounters of Body and Soul in Contemporary Religiosity: Anthropological Reflections (Berghahn 2011).

Kim Knibbe is a Lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religious studies at the University of Groningen. Netherlands. The past three years she was based at the Anthropology Department of the VU University, Amsterdam and coordinated an international research project on Nigerian-initiated Pentecostal churches in Europe.

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