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ARDA/ASREC Working Papers Series

The Church versus the Spirit:
The Impact of Christianity on the Treatment of Women in Africa

Carrie A. Miles
Center for the Economic Study of Religion
George Mason University


Preliminary research in Uganda and Burundi suggests that conversion to Christianity affected the status of women differently at the level of the family as opposed to that of the institutional church. European missionaries discounted the role African women played in the traditional African religion and relegated them to “helper” positions in the new religious hierarchy. At the same time, when men become “saved,” there is a marked improvement in the way they treat the women in their households. Such men may stop drinking and womanizing, practice monogamy, and work cooperatively with their wives. Both men and women begin to challenge customs that treated women as property, educate daughters as well as sons, and reject the traditional sexual division of labor. I present an economic explanation for the patriarchal household to account for customary family practices as well as a definition of spiritual capital to explain how this is possible.

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