The Church of Women

The Church of Women

Gendered Encounters between Maasai and Missionaries
Dorothy L. Hodgson
Distribution: World
Publication date: 4/19/2005
ISBN: 978-0-253-11121-0
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In Africa, why have so many more women converted to Christianity than men? What explains the appeal of Christianity to women? What does religious conversion mean for the negotiation of gender and ethnic identity? What role does religious conversion play as a tool for empowering women? In The Church of Women, Dorothy L. Hodgson looks at how gender has shaped the encounter between missionary priests and Maasai men and women in Tanzania. Building on her extensive experience with Maasai and the Spiritan missionaries, Hodgson explores how gendered change among Maasai has shaped women’s notions of religious faith, religious practice, and spiritual power. Hodgson explores the appeal of Catholicism among women in East Africa, the enmeshing of Catholic practice with Maasai spirituality, and the meaning of conversion to new Christians. This rich, engaging, and original book challenges notions about religious encounter and the role of ethnic identity, female authority, and power among Maasai.

Author Bio

Dorothy L. Hodgson teaches anthropology at Rutgers University, where she is affiliated with the Center for African Studies and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. She is author of Once Intrepid Warriors (IUP, 2001).


"A readable (often almost chatty) book, this valuable addition to recent analyses of missionary encounters in Africa focuses on the question of why, among the Maasai in Tanzania, Roman Catholic missionary priests, despite their conscious best efforts to convert men, managed to create a church made up almost entirely of women. . . . In addition to its contribution to anthropology, gender studies, and religious studies, this book should be required reading for students at divinity school. . . . Highly recommended." —Choice

"This superb book is one of the best studies written on conversion to Christianity in an African culture. . . . [A]n instant classic . . . A clearly written, interesting, and mature work of scholarship. The Church of Women is highly recommended for researchers in African studies, gender studies, and world Christianity." —International Journal of African Historical Studies

". . . [A]n engaging exploration of Maasai gender and religious adaptation over the last century. . ." —American Anthropologist

". . . Hodgson's subject is the ways that gender contributed to the shaping of the encounter between Maasai women, men, catechists, converts and missionaries particularly from the 1950s to the present. . . . [her] project extends beyond the colonial era and is based substantially in anthropological research as well as the history of religion. . . . Hodgson provides a sensitive analysis that takes account of broader social and cultural forces as well as the lived experience of individuals involved in this multivalent, multilayered encounter. . . . [she] provide[s] insight into the complex interweaving of power, ideology, identity, social and cultural mobility and the negotiation of meaning that occur[s] not only in colonial societies, though certainly most forcefully there, but in all societies." —Women May, 2006

". . . rich and important book . . . . Indeed, for many Maasai, Christianity provides an institutional door through which to claim the global citizenship promised but rarely fulfilled by modernism and development." —John G. Galaty, McGill University,
History of Religions , vol. 48.4 August 2009

The Church of Women makes a useful contribution to a number of current debates about gender, spirituality, ethnic identity, religious conversion and inculturation in Sub-Saharan Africa. . . . A major strength of the book is its treatment of the role of spiritual power in the lives of African women, and specifically, women's use of spiritual power to negotiate and challenge the socio-structural conditions of their lives." —Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

"Hodgson’s book pulls together insights from history, anthropology, and theology in a gender-sensitive inquiry about Maasai members of a Catholic Church. She begins by demolishing the generalization that the Maasai are nomadic people who do not mix with other tribes, stick to old customs, and refuse to modernize. . . . I highly recommend Hodgson’s book." —Journal of the American Academy of Religion

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Table of Contents

Note on Maasai Terms

Introduction: Gender, Power, and the Missionary Encounter
1. "Oh She Who Brings the Rain"
2. Men of the Church
3. Evangelizing "the Maasai"
4. The Church of Women
5. Being a Man in the Church of Women
6. Possessed by the Spirit
7. Toward a Maasai Catholicism?