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Социология религии. Социолого-религиоведческий портал

Women’s Schooling and Religious Mobility: Joining, Switching, and Quitting Church in a Christian Sub-Saharan Setting

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Sociology of Religion, Volume 78, Issue 4, 8 January 2018, Pages 411–436,https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srx027
10 July 2017


In dialogue with mainly western literature on determinants of religious mobility and the evidence on the transformative role of mass education in developing settings, I examine the relationship of educational attainment with religious reaffiliation and disaffiliation in the context of rural and small-town sub-Saharan Africa. Adapting western scholarship to the realities of that context, where most people do not complete primary school, I conceptualize both basic education and religious belonging as parts and expressions of profound societal transformations in the sub-continent. I use data from a survey of women aged 18–50 years conducted in a predominantly Christian area in Mozambique to test this relationship from both the lifetime and dynamic perspectives. I find a strong positive association between educational level and the probability of church switching, with modest variations by denominational destination of and main reasons for reaffiliation. Disaffiliation is negatively related to schooling level. These findings are situated within a broader discourse on religion, development, and social change in the sub-Sahara.


Contemporary global Christianity is characterized by growing doctrinal and denominational diversity (Jenkins 2011). The rise and decline of different currents and forms of Christian faith is largely shaped by changing dynamics of religious joining, switching (reaffiliation), and quitting (disaffiliation).1 At the same time, these dynamics reflect broader societal transformations in many parts of the globe. The expansion of mass education, especially among women, is a core feature and engine of these global transformations. In this study, I connect these two phenomena—the spread of mass schooling and the diversification of Christianity—to examine the relationship between women’s education and their religious mobility in a typical rural/small-town, predominantly Christian sub-Saharan setting.

Whereas little is known about religious switching in sub-Saharan contexts beyond common observations of a massive growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and a relative decline of historical, mission-based churches (e.g., Gifford 2004; Kalu 2003; Meyer 2004), the western, and especially the U.S.-focused scholarship on the topic is quite rich. In the USA, switching religious affiliation has been common (Loveland 2003; Roof 1989) but has varied greatly across religious denominations and traditions (Sherkat 2001; Smith and Sikkink 2003). It has long been argued, for example, that switching is influenced by the relative societal status of different denominations and churches: denominations whose membership confers higher status to their members have been more attractive than lower status denominations (Roof and Hadaway 1979; Stark and Glock 1968). Yet, other studies have provided evidence that more conservative churches, which at least in early stages of their existence have a lower status than do more liberal ones, have been growing most vigorously (Iannaccone 1994; Kelley 1972; Thomas and Olson 2010). In addition, switching has been more common in churches with more flexible membership requirements than in churches with stricter membership rules and commitment expectations (Roof and Hadaway 1979; Sherkat 1991).

The western scholarship points to gender differences in religious affiliation and attendance/religiosity, with women typically displaying higher rates of both (Te Grotenhuis and Scheepers 2001; McFarland et al. 2011: 177, 179; Schwadel 2014: 13; Schwadel 2015: 410), even though the roots of these differences are still debated (e.g., Gee 1991; Sullins 2006). However, no consistent gender patterns in probabilities of switching or disaffiliation have been found (e.g., Loveland 2003: 153; Sandomirsky and Wilson 1990; Sherkat and Wilson 1995).

Among factors increasing the likelihood of switching, the literature singles out religious intermarriage (e.g., Hadaway and Marler 1993; Lofland and Stark 1965; Musick and Wilson 1995; Newport 1979; Sherkat 1991; 2004) and geographic mobility (Bibby 1997; Sherkat 1991). In comparison, the role of socioeconomic characteristics, especially education, in religious (re)affiliation and disaffiliation, as in religious involvement in general, has been complex and has varied across different historical periods and across denominations (Brown 2012; Hill 2011; Mayrl and Oeur 2009; Schwadel 2011).

Notably, the western literature typically focuses on the effects of post-secondary education. However, in many less developed countries, especially in impoverished settings of sub-Saharan Africa, the levels of educational attainment, particularly among women, remain very low, and the relationship between schooling and religious mobility may therefore differ from that observed in more developed societies. This study uses unique survey data from a predominantly Christian setting in Mozambique to examine the role of women’s education in joining, switching and quitting across different types of Christian denominations. The study setting is, of course, vastly distinct from the USA and other western contexts where religious mobility has been relatively well studied. However, the firmly established, even if constantly evolving, Christian denominational palette of that setting facilitates a conceptual dialogue with the western scholarship, at least in comparison with societies dominated by other religious traditions.



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