In the general population, women go to church more regularly than men, pray more often, read scriptures more frequently and are more likely to describe themselves as “spiritual.” By any measure, women are more religious than men — except in Mormonism (and the more traditionalist wing of Judaism).
“LDS women and men have the same level of ‘religiosity,’ ” political scientist David Campbell said Saturday, while addressing more than 300 women — and a handful of men — at the Fort Douglas Officers’ Club on the University of Utah campus. “They are equally likely to describe themselves as ‘active,’ attend church, attend the temple, read the scriptures, pray ... say that religion is important in their life, that they accept all church teachings, pay tithing and hold a calling.”
Campbell, a Mormon who teaches at the University of Notre Dame, was reporting some of the findings of a 2012 poll of 500 self-described Mormons. The researchers did find unexpected gender differences on the question of the all-male priesthood. Women were much more likely to strongly disagree with the statement, “Women do not have enough say in the LDS Church.”
Mormon men and women, though, are “far more likely to endorse a traditionalist perspective on women and the workforce,” he said.
Campbell was one of only two men among a dozen speakers at a one-day conference, titled “Women and the LDS Church.”
The conference was organized by Kate Holbrook, women-studies specialist at the LDS Church History Department, and Matthew Bowman, who teaches history at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. It was sponsored by the U.’s Tanner Center for Humanities, along with the LDS Church, Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University and Utah State University.
The extraordinary collaboration brought together LDS and other scholars to discuss the issue of Mormon women and their choices. In essence, all the speakers considered how women who belong to a religious institution with clearly delineated gender roles could exercise agency. Susanna Morrill, who teaches religious studies at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Ore., discussed how 19th-century views of a Heavenly Mother set the stage for modern understanding of the divine feminine.
Holbrook described the work of Aurelia Rogers, who came up with the idea of Primary, a program for Mormon children that she believed came to her from God.
Quincy Newell of the University of Wyoming laid out details from the life of Jane Manning James, an early black convert and her decision to stay within the Mormon faith, though she was repeatedly denied access to LDS temple ceremonies.
Other speakers took on the questions of contemporary Mormon women — how to be more involved, bring about policy changes without disputing doctrine, and how to change the conversation around female sexuality.
The final panel addressed the differences between American Mormon women and those in other countries, including Africa and Europe.
Mary Farrell Bednarowski, a Catholic feminist in Minneapolis, spoke eloquently about the similar problems faced by women in “male-dominated, hierarchical religious institutions.”
Bednarowski said that it is worth asking feminist questions because “they open up the depth and breadth of our traditions, testifying that there is living water in the well.”
Quoting another author, the Catholic writer said, “A tradition does not have to be infinitely dear. It has only to be inexhaustible.”