Beyond the nuclear family? Familism and gender ideology in diverse religious communities

Penny Edgell, Danielle Docka

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Religious familism, or ideology about "the good family," has been central to the culture and practice of local religious communities in the United States. Recent research has suggested that the "Ozzie and Harriet" familism dominant among mainstream religious groups in the 1950s religious expansion has remained formative for many local religious communities in the intervening decades. This research suggests that religious familism shapes how gender is symbolized and enacted in local religious communities and leads to differences in the meaning of religious participation for contemporary men and women. However, this work has been based largely on studies of white, middle-class religious communities. In this article, we analyze the relationship between family ideology and gender in three congregations chosen to exemplify those social locations where we would expect considerable distance from the 1950s "Ozzie and Harriet" ideal - one Hispanic Catholic parish, one African-American congregation in the black Church tradition, and one white liberal Protestant congregation that has adopted an open and affirming stance toward homosexuality and same-sex unions. We find considerable innovation in family-oriented rhetoric and ministry, and a range of gendered practices that prove considerably more inclusive than those found in previous research. We also find considerable symbolic affirmation of the value of more traditional gender roles and practices, particularly in the realm of the family, than we expected to find. We explore the implications of these findings for how we understand the production of gender in local religious communities and for the capacity of local religious communities to become truly gender-inclusive spaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-51
Number of pages26
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2007


  • Cultural schema
  • Familism
  • Feminism
  • Gender role
  • Ideology
  • Religious community


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