Male Headship as Male Agency?

The first issue of the new academic journal Religion and Gender includes my article ‘Male Headship as Male Agency: An Alternative Understanding of a “Patriarchal” African Pentecostal Discourse on Masculinity’. The title is a little thought-provoking as scholarship in religion and gender has offered a firm criticism of the idea of male headship because it is a patriarchal symbol. Without contesting the latter, I yet argue in this article that religious discourses on male headship should be analysed carefully. The concept of agency can be a useful tool for such an analysis. A case study on sermons in a Pentecostal church in Zambia shows that here, male headship functions as a notion that mobilises men for a change and that enables a transformation of masculinity.

In some Christian circles in Africa, male headship is a defining notion of masculinity. The central question in this article is how discourses on masculinity that affirm male headship can be understood. A review of recent scholarship on masculinities and religion shows that male headship is often interpreted in terms of male dominance. However, a case study of sermons in a Zambian Pentecostal church shows that discourse on male headship can be far more complex and can even contribute to a transformation of masculinities. The main argument is that a monolithic concept of patriarchy hinders a nuanced analysis of the meaning and function of male headship in local contexts. The suggestion is that in some contexts, male headship can be understood in terms of agency.

See the full text of the article here.

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