Nav: Home

Women more likely to take Bible literally, but that may be tied to intimacy, not gender

February 19, 2019

Women are more likely than men to believe the Bible is literally true, but a recent Baylor University study finds this may have more to do with how people relate to God than it does gender. Both men and women who report high levels of closeness to God take the Bible more literally - and this confidence grows stronger as they seek intimacy with God through prayer and Bible study.

The study -- "To Know and Be Known: An Intimacy-Based Explanation for the Gender Gap in Biblical Literalism" -- is published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

"While previous research has shown that U.S. women are more likely to report biblical literalism than men, our study provides an explanation as to why those gender differences may exist," said study co-author Christopher M. Pieper, Ph.D., senior lecturer and undergraduate program director of sociology in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 1,394 respondents in the national Baylor Religion Survey's third wave. The Baylor Religion Survey is the most extensive study of religion ever conducted into American religious attitudes, behaviors and beliefs, done with initial funding from the John Templeton Foundation and a partnership with the Gallup Organization.

Respondents were asked, "Which statement comes closest to your personal beliefs about the Bible?" and chose one of these responses:

  1. "The Bible means exactly it says. It should be taken literally, word-for-word, on all subjects."
  2. "The Bible is perfectly true, but it should not be taken literally, word-for-word. We must interpret its meaning."
  3. "The Bible contains some human error."
  4. "The Bible is an ancient book of history and legends."
  5. "I don't know."

Respondents also were asked to respond to each of these items about their attachment to God:

  1. "I have a warm relationship with God."
  2. "God knows when I need support."
  3. "I feel that God is generally responsive to me."
  4. "God feels impersonal to me."
  5. "God seems to have little or no interest in my personal problems."
  6. "God seems to have little or no interest in my personal affairs."

Several questions on proximity-seeking -- likened to the behavior of children who seek to build attachments with their primary caregiver-- were asked about respondents' religious proximity-seeking behaviors:

  1. "How often do you attend religious services at a place of worship?"
  2. "Outside of attending religious services, about how often do you spend time alone reading the Bible?"
  3. "About how often do you spend time alone praying outside of religious services?"

Pieper and co-author Blake Victor Kent, Ph.D., now a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and a former Baylor sociologist, noted that men are not inherently less capable of intimacy. Rather, men may seek lower intimacy in their relationships because of how boys are socialized through parents, peers and other cultural mechanisms. Boys, for example, are often taught to mask feelings of vulnerability, a key component of intimacy. At the same time, religious historians note that in the last century and a half, large swaths of U.S. Christianity have moved in a "sentimental" direction, making it difficult for some men to fully participate in emotion-laden religious worship and practices.

"Although this trend is changing, many men are still brought up to be wary of emotions and feeling vulnerable," Pieper said. "And some religious communities, particularly those with literalist cultures, put a high value on this feeling of intimacy, not only with God but with each other." However, he said, "Women are more often socialized to experience deep emotional energy when engaging intimately with God, so taking the Bible more literally makes sense because that way God is more like a person, someone you can talk to and who also talks back."

The authors noted one important exception in their data, in which a small sub-group reported increased intimacy with God despite a less literal view of the Bible. As for the reason, "we can only speculate, but a plausible account is that these respondents may have held a literalist view, later rejecting it after experiencing conflict with a fundamentalist or conservative religious background," Kent said. "Changing views on the moral acceptability of homosexuality, for example, might create discrepancies . . . These believers may come to find that interpreting the Bible -- rather than taking it literally -- is more compatible with pursuing an intimate relationship with God."

This group may be similar to what have been termed "exiles" - those who grew up in the church and are now disconnected from it physically, but nevertheless remain energized in their personal beliefs, the researchers said.

Further study could be valuable in exploring the tie between literalism and attachment to God, the researchers said.

"While this study highlights an important link between emotional attachments and literalism, it is possible some still wrestle with the Bible intellectually prior to deepening their faith," Pieper said. "Famous examples of this can be seen, such as (British writer) C.S. Lewis or (physician geneticist) Francis Collins. This path is probably not the norm, but some people work to trust the claims of the faith intellectually prior to engaging in an intimate relationship with God."

Baylor University

Related Prayer Articles:

Older people who feel close to God have well-being that grows with frequent prayer
As people grow older, those who are securely attached to God are more likely to have a sense of well-being -- and the more frequently they pray, the greater that feeling, according to a Baylor University study.
A new perspective on the European colonization of Asia
Although James Cook's 18th century expeditions into the South Pacific Ocean are considered historical feats, Spanish voyages of discovery in this region preceded them.
Proper movements in Muslim prayer ritual can reduce lower back pain
Five times a day, roughly 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, bow, kneel, and place their foreheads to the ground in the direction of the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as part of the Islamic prayer ritual, the Salat.
Study looks at strategies used by African-American women facing intimate partner violence
African-American women in abusive relationships use a variety of strategies pulled from three general categories to survive intimate partner violence (IPV), according to a new University at Buffalo study recently published in the journal Social Work.
Parents, listen up: Children keep still during prayer
Preschool-aged children, and their parents, are more likely to view the physical actions of prayer (i.e., closing eyes, folding hands) to help with reflection and communicating with God.
Brain images reveal first physical evidence that AA prayers reduce cravings
Members Alcoholics Anonymous who recited AA prayers after viewing drinking-related images reported less craving for alcohol after praying.
Most Americans pray for healing; more than one-fourth have practiced 'laying on of hands'
Nearly nine of 10 Americans have relied upon healing prayer at some point, praying for others even more than for themselves, according to a Baylor University study.
Sunday the day of rest for fires, study suggests
Fires are more prevalent on a Tuesday and less likely on a Sunday, according to a new University of Melbourne study, which highlights the dramatic effect humans, religion and culture have on the global climate.
Relaxation response-based program may reduce participants' future use of health services
A study from the Institute for Technology Assessment and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine -- both at Massachusetts General Hospital -- finds that individuals participating in a relaxation-response-focused training program used fewer health care services in the year after their participation than in the preceding year.
High participation in small church groups has its downside, research shows
Parishioners who participate in small groups within a religious congregation are generally more likely to be civically engaged than their fellow worshipers unless a church has high overall small-group participation, according to research recently released by Clemson and Louisiana State universities.

Related Prayer Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...