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1. Ongoing conflict

However, nuanced large-scale studies addressing which specific aspects of religiosity affect support for gender equality across the MENA are conspicuously absent. This study develops and tests a gendered agentic socialization framework that proposes that MENA citizens are not only passively socialized by religion but also have agency within their religiosity. This disaggregates the influence of religiosity, highlights its multifacetedness, and theorizes the moderating roles that gender and sociocognitive empowerment play via gendered processes of agentic dissociations.

Using 15 World Values Surveys and multilevel models, our analyses show that most dimensions of religiosity fuel opposition to gender equality. Altogether, this study finds that religious socialization is multifaceted and gendered, and that certain men and women are inclined and equipped to deviate from dominant patriarchal religious interpretations.

Women in the Middle East

The agentic socialization framework rejects claims that MENA inhabitants are solely and uniformly passively socialized to oppose gender equality. Instead, it proposes that MENA citizens have agency—even within dominant patriarchal socialization—and that socialization processes are gendered see also Moghissi ; Read and Bartkowski ; Zion-Waldoks In applying our framework, we propose that religious socialization may be gendered and particularly women may be more inclined to make up their own minds on gender equality and religion and that sociocognitive empowerment may equip people to agentically deviate from patriarchal religious interpretations.

We thus theorize specifically how gender and education shape religious reinterpretations. To understand how religion can be both a source of emancipatory reinterpretations and patriarchal socialization, we argue that it is necessary to take a more refined approach to individual-level religiosity than to focus on differences between Muslims and non-Muslims, as is done in most MENA public opinion studies e.

We therefore disaggregate the concept of religion and conceptualize it multidimensionally. Sociology of religion scholars have shown that religiosity is indeed multidimensional and complex, identifying among others: communal practices e. Appreciating these distinctions allows us to address more precisely in which ways religiosity might have different implications for women and more highly educated citizens than for men and lower educated citizens. Altogether, our research question reads: To what extent are different dimensions of religiosity related to support for gender equality in the Arab MENA, and how do these relations differ for women and more highly educated individuals?

Our agentic socialization framework aims to understand support for gender equality in the Arab MENA in a nuanced manner by refining and integrating classic sociological frames and gender theories Abu-Lughod ; Avishai and Irby ; Elder, Johnson, and Crosnoe ; Kandiyoti ; Korteweg ; Sewell ; Stark and Glock At its core, the framework emphasizes that MENA citizens are embedded in dominantly patriarchal religious structures, but that socialization processes within those structures differ between men and women.

Moreover, citizens have the agency to reinterpret their religion; women and men in the MENA are not solely passively socialized to follow prevailing religious interpretations but can give alternative, progressive meanings to their religiosity that are more conducive to support for gender equality.

Here we focus on the established patriarchal interpretations of religion in which MENA citizens are embedded from birth and childhood on Al-Hibri ; Mir-Hosseini ; Moghissi In other words, the more integrated individuals are in this patriarchal religion in general, the less likely they are to support gender equality.

Simultaneously, these theories propose that people have the agency to construct their own lives within their contexts rather than to merely reproduce patriarchal interpretations from generation to generation Elder, Johnson, and Crosnoe , Regarding agency and gender, Kandiyoti proposed in her influential work that women use strategies to maneuver specific patriarchal contexts , In our framework, we transcend both views and integrate them into contemporary sociological theories. Our premise is that people are indeed—to different degrees—socialized by patriarchal religious structures, but that people embedded in these patriarchal religious structures have the agency to subvert dominant religious interpretations to promote their gendered interests see also Korteweg ; Rinaldo Paradoxically, dominant patriarchal religious structures thus provide the very conditions for agentic re- interpretations of religion Jansen ; Mir-Hosseini ; Prickett Religious MENA citizens—especially women—thus should not be considered to be solely passively socialized by patriarchal religious structures but capable of actively negotiating religious meanings attached to gender by drawing on alternative religious and secular sources Read and Bartkowski In line with classic and more contemporary distinctions, we firstly differentiate between external religious practices and internal religious beliefs see Figure 1 Cornwall et al.

Concerning religious beliefs, a further distinction can be made as well. Below, we apply our theoretical framework to communal practices attendance , doctrinal beliefs textualism , and affective beliefs devotion and salience , the dimensions we could incorporate empirically. Whereas previous quantitative MENA studies have predominantly drawn on unidimensional socialization perspectives e.

Second, doctrinal beliefs are expected to influence support for gender equality Al-Hibri ; Kucinskas ; Moghadam ; Spierings Textualist readings generally oppose gender equality. Contextual interpretations stress an emancipatory spirit as women are allocated more than the nothing they generally had in the seventh century before Islam Mir-Hosseini ; Selim Altogether, we thus expect that: The frequency of communal religious service attendance and holding textualist beliefs are negatively related to support for gender equality Hypothesis 1.


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Drawing attention to affective beliefs, our framework however suggests that religiosity might actually fuel support for gender equality. Counter to doctrinal beliefs, religious affect does not reflect a certain patriarchal content of beliefs, but rather it reflects on the attachment to religion in and of itself, to the main undercurrents of religion.

These main religious tenets of monotheistic religions have been argued to involve benevolent traits related to mercy, generosity, and fairness Schwartz and Huismans Currently men benefit from being designated head of households with greater legal rights. Therefore, women may be more inclined to diverge from patriarchal religious messages and seek or accept alternative interpretations that allow them more rights, as several in-depth studies have shown Jansen ; Masoud, Jamal, and Nugent ; Moghissi ; Prickett ; Read and Bartkowski ; Rinaldo ; Selim ; Zion-Waldoks Women may also be socialized differently than men.

Filling this lacuna, first we propose that the gender gap in support for gender equality will close with stronger integration in the established religious patriarchy. Low integration in institutionalized religion—that is, not frequenting services and not adhering to strict textualism—is expected to bolster space to deviate from patriarchal religious interpretations. Given gendered socialization and interests, we then propose that especially women will use that space Bolzendahl and Myers , whereas men have no incentive to reinterpret their religion on top of their more conservative socialization.

However, stronger integration in the institutional patriarchy—with its authoritative truth-claims of the proper interpretation of religion—is expected to leave little wiggle room for those agentic deviations. At the same time, it is also theoretically possible that, for instance, women who frequent services represent a selective group that is more gender conservative even before attendance. Still, here it should be noted again that intergenerational transmissions of religiosity and the structural character of religious institutions render this possibility less likely.

Also, the most conservative women might not attend services because there are no facilities or because they believe they should pray at home. Not attending services is thus not one-to-one translated to being less conservative, which is also illustrated by the fact that a substantial number of women attend services at least once a week, but even more do so less often. Several studies have even pointed out that women who attend religious services start off more progressive but amend their views following service attendance see Chong ; Griffith Or formulated in more technical terms: Negative relationships between religious service attendance and textualism and support for gender equality are stronger for women than men Hypothesis 3.

Affective religious beliefs—feelings of attachment to religion rather than particular beliefs regarding its proper content—are expected to enlarge room for reinterpretations as they are disconnected from the institutional religious patriarchy and, as noted, may inspire interpreting religion benevolently. We thus expect that: Affective religious beliefs are positively related to support for gender equality especially among women rather than among men Hypothesis 4.

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Agentic socialization also draws attention to being better equipped to diverge from patriarchal religious socialization, which might have particular implications for the role of education. Also, their advantaged social position implies that the more highly educated are more likely to encounter divergent views on religious interpretations of gender norms, increasing their awareness of alternatives Shamaileh Because of these resources, more highly educated people are expected to deviate from patriarchal religious interpretations more often, provided space for such renegotiations exists.

Thus, among those who are less integrated in the institutional religious patriarchy, the more highly educated are expected to support gender equality more. However, this educational gap in support for gender equality will close with greater service attendance and textualism.

1. Ongoing conflict

In technical terms: Negative relations between religious service attendance and textualism and support for gender equality are stronger among the more highly educated than the lower educated Hypothesis 5. Still, as seen, affective religious beliefs do not imply integration in the institutional religious patriarchy and are expected to inspire benevolent reinterpretations.

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Following their greater cognitive skills and awareness of alternatives, especially more highly educated people are expected to use this space and renegotiate religious meanings of gender Moghadam Particularly the more highly educated may thus translate affective beliefs into support for gender equality: Affective religious beliefs are positively related to support for gender equality especially among the more highly educated rather than the lower educated Hypothesis 6.

Finally, regarding the different dimensions of religiosity, our agentic socialization framework also proposes that citizens can reinterpret their religion in its own terms. We thus expect that: Relations between attending religious services and textualism and support for gender equality are weaker with higher levels of religious affect, that is, devotion and salience Hypothesis 7. Of these, 15 surveys included the items needed. All surveys target representativeness for the population of 18 years and older, using stratified random sampling.

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These data are representative regarding gender and age for most populations, and sometimes for education and regional distributions as well. Table 1 presents the descriptive statistics. We operationalize support for gender equality using three widely used items on gender equality in the public sphere in particular. Factor analyses showed that these items tap into the same underlying factor overall and in 16 of 17 surveys separately, 4 indicating measurement equivalency Van de Vijver and Leung All items were recoded so that higher scores indicate greater support for gender equality.

Women in the Arab world

To approximate a normal distribution, we took the square root of the mean scores of the three items, weighted by their factor loadings to create the index support for gender equality. For ease of interpretation, the final scale was rescaled to run from 0 to The descriptive analyses present a simple summed scale, as is mentioned. The scores were rescaled to a continuous variable ranging from 0 to 1. As noted in the theory section, taking your own life by euthanasia or suicide is textually prohibited but contextually permitted, making these measurements useful proxies for textualism Shapiro These measurements, however, only pertain to one particular issue i.

Had the data permitted it, it would have been ideal to include other issues or a more direct measurement, although we have no strong reason to expect that being a textualist on other issues relates differently to support for gender equality. Moreover, as discussed below, in our robustness tests we included particularism as an alternative measurement of doctrinal beliefs, which was measured unrelated to specific issues, and it is similarly related to support for gender equality.

To operationalize textualism , we averaged the two point items and rescaled it to a continuous variable ranging from 0 to 1. Higher values signal greater textualism.


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As the distributions of the two scales were similar, respondents were included if they had a valid score on at least one indicator. Concerning affective beliefs, we distinguished devotion and salience see Stark and Glock Which, if any, do you consider to be especially important? Would you say religion is very important 1 , rather important, not very important, or not at all important 0?

Our measurements of devotion and salience are less distinct from each other than the theoretical concepts, as there are no data available on the salience of religion in specific daily life choices. However, empirically devotion and salience are not very strongly related and do not cause multicollinearity issues see online Appendix 1. We thus include both in our analyses to make our results as nuanced and informative as possible. Denomination, age, marital status, and employment status are included as control variables. The Bahrain survey does not include denomination, but virtually all native Bahrainis are Muslim and considered as such here.

Unfortunately, a more refined distinction among either Muslims or non-Muslims was not available in the majority of the surveys; comparing Muslims and non-Muslims does make our results comparable to other studies e. Age is a continuous scale; respondents under 18 were excluded as they were not sampled in all surveys.