The topic selection for this paper is women and spirituality within culture diversity. Current research shows that there is a worldwide need for women to image themselves as spiritual beings. There are intellectual connections between visualizing, achievement and creativity. The media across the world also helps the image of the Goddess, which is an aesthetic and creative value to enrich lives. The Goddess has characteristics that women, from diverse faiths, cultures and background, honor. The global perspective of the Goddess emphasizes life affirming interconnections among women and other species. To know one self better is a universal human need. Women are caught between survival and achievement. Each person, to maximize his or her skills, needs to image the self as part of the divine, as resonating with life. As each person does, he or she increases creativity, achievement and generate beautiful evidence of own insights. These offerings enrich the person’s life and the world overall. Some people will make religions out of these possibilities, sounding like big and clever experts, in front of others.
Qualitative analysis found themes to describe spirituality: connection with a Higher Power, personal choice, connectedness with nature and people, healing, and support. Most women across the globe view spirituality and religion as separate, yet connected, entities. Benefits of women’s spirituality groups include the groups’ being therapeutic, providing valued relationships, and social support.
In comparing spirituality and religion, most world women generally believe that spirituality is nurturing and allows freedom, whereas religion meant restrictions, molding, and judgment. Women overall believe spirituality is more important than religion. There is a generalized belief that spirituality is much more significant. Women normally believe that there is a therapeutic benefit to belonging to own spiritual groups, and, typically, they feel that this benefit comes through emotional healing. Although women do not join spiritual groups with the intent of healing or strengthening existing relationships, generally they experience a positive effect on relationships outside of the group from being in the group. This can assist them in their daily living. Typically, women find that they have more awareness of other relationships because of their experiences in their spirituality groups. Women usually are open to joining or creating another group if their spiritual groups cease to exist. Women tend to discuss the element of what life means to them, and find a meaning in life. Also, women like to discuss the element of values in relation to their sense of self. The most typical value is their own personal growth and acceptance of themselves. Understanding the meaning in life affects a person’s values. Relation issues and finding meaning in life are part of women’s values. Women talk about their cosmology and their place in the universe, as being part of an ongoing process. They experience life as a journey, and the guiding principle for them is their connection to the higher power or Universe. The journey for these women includes becoming the person they believe they need, or are created, to be. This transition involves discarding old values that no longer work and integrating new values. Women consider spirituality as important as religion or more. Their spirituality or traditional religion includes a belief in something like God, freedom of personal choice, and a sense of mystery. Women describe spirituality as having significance in their daily lives. The concept that captures healing is safety or a place to safely express their way of being. Women also seek spirituality to relate to other women and to support them in their personal growth, much more than in a traditional church or in society. Counselors need to hear spiritual expressions between the clients’ lines. Reflection on spiritual issues can be a personal growth process for women in individual and group counseling. Considering the importance of relationships for women, a therapy group format for spiritual discussion could be helpful.
Counselors could help clients consider how transition in one area of life may need a change in values and spirituality. Long-term therapy is complete for women when they can integrate a belief system based on their own individual understanding. In addition, women with eating disorders usually struggle with spiritual conflicts that can impede their recovery and healing.
Research demonstrates that spirituality positively impact psychological and physiological outcomes. Yet, spirituality may also increase the impact of stressors. Increases in spirituality are positively related to PMS and stress endorsement. Spirituality serves as a partial mediator between stress and PMS. Strikingly, women with the highest levels of spiritual, existential and religious well-being have the highest levels of stress and the most severe premenstrual symptoms.
One plausible explanation for these results is that women of faith are taught that God will tell them monthly that they can bear a child. As a person with a high powered and time demanding career engages in self-care behaviors to manage stress, then so too should women of faith. Studies suggest that women associate their faith with these psycho-physiological aspects of self in a way that faith or spiritual well-being calls a person of faith to greater self-care.
Spiritual exploration often occurs after the loss of a significant other or with the imminent death of oneself. Many women across cultures want to understand their place in the order of things, but not through organized religion. Most women share the following: a need to feel connected, spiritual questioning, existential anguish, thoughts about death, and reliance on organized religion. Research suggests that spiritual questioning, outside of organized religion, significant loss, or imminent death, is a natural aspect of aging. Women undertake spiritual exploration extensively. Women also have a profound need to feel connected with something greater than them. Women are generally more inter-relational. This connection need includes recognizing and communicating with something outside or beyond the self, connecting with unity, and finding meaning on earth. In other words, an important component of spiritual exploration is the understanding of the connection within, with others, and with something beyond the self. A sense of connection provides order, stability, and meaning in a stressful, challenging, conflicting, and possibly isolating life. However, a sense of connection does not necessarily provide answers to spiritual questions, nor does it always alleviate existential angst. Most women become spiritually ready and experience an awakening to look beyond the mundane to grasp the bigger picture of which they are a part. Women who rely on organized religion for spiritual guidance are, for the most part, African American, Latina, and lower class. There is a need to differentiate spirituality from religion theoretically and practically. There are women who are profoundly spiritual and eschew connections with formalized religion. Most aging baby boomers claim to be non-religious and spiritual. The Black church has been of secular and spiritual sustenance for Blacks since slavery. This is a longstanding tradition. It provides structure and meaning in lives that are marginalized by other institutions in the US society. Similarly, the century-old Catholic Church’s presence in Latin America creates unconditional loyalty among Hispanic people. Spiritual questioning suggests a level of educational attainment. Many of the women who conduct spiritual quests are from middle and upper class. Christianity may not be the predominant religious influence in a multicultural society, the 2000 Census says. The women who focused on non-western and non-Christian practices speak of the interconnectedness of all living beings, the need for balance, and communion with nature. People know far more about the religious practices of church goers than they do about alternative practices. Some women allow time for reflection without an indelible crisis, impending death, or significant psychological imbalance, but as part of aging. They have the opportunity to ponder fundamental questions of existence that are thrust upon other people at less opportune times. Aging may prompt a search for meaning and a need for connection because death is closer than at earlier times in the life span. Women outlive men and often face old age alone. As life winds down, some women may embark on existential quests that reflect basic core values or new directions in their lives. There are countless ways older women cope with the unknowable. The relationship between spirituality and death fear, across race, class, and culture are normal in aging.
Women’s spiritual exploration and identity development requires a spiritually focused intervention or approach. There are benefits of groups for women and for mixed genders. The interest expressed in the women and spirituality groups on some university campuses and the positive outcomes of spiritual interventions suggest that a group focusing on spiritual exploration and identity development within the setting of a college counseling center may serve a need not being currently addressed by other services on college campuses.
Modern women in the US have high spiritual needs that are not met by mainstream religious traditions. Therefore, women are seeking elsewhere the spiritual truths that seem to be missing. Many women still practice the religion that they were raised in. Feeling disconnected from the familiar traditional spiritualists, however, they supplement them with spiritual practices from other faiths or spiritual gurus. This phenomenon could reflect a deepening of fundamental values rather than a rejection of traditional belief systems. Many ministers and theologians are surprised at the perceived inadequacy of mainline religions. Assuming that a male God is essentially neutral, many men are unaware of male religious power and how that power is held over and against women, denying them the right to preach or similar activities. It is difficult for many women to ground their beings in a male God that men have created in their own image. Most churchgoers are women, yet in most traditions the male hierarchy remains firmly in place at the top. This is especially the case when men are in the home and are spiritually/religiously connected. The Catholic Church that today advocates for preferential treatment of the poor still refers to its cardinals as the princes of the church. Moreover, in 2008, the pope set up a commission to study the orthodoxy of American women religious. When the Vatican first undertook such a project, in the 1980s, many religious women suggested that the authorities should study sexism in the church instead. That commission faded away in silence. At their best, religious images and rituals can carry transformative power and promote healing. When contemporary women cannot find such resources in mainstream traditions, many of them will seek out spiritual communities with more viable alternatives.
For many women the connection between sexuality and spirituality is frequently experienced in the context of their religious beliefs. Their faith privileges male pleasure and ignores what is important in women’s sexuality. The result is feelings of shame and disconnection from a vital source of their power (Daniluk & Browne, 2008). Women can be assisted to develop more positive and affirming sexual self-constructions and nurture a more empowering sense of spirituality in their lives, in the face of sometimes oppressive religious beliefs. Sexual script theory and feminist interactionism perspectives are useful theoretical frames from which to work on these complex issues. The goal of the therapist’s work is to first see the client’s sexual world through her eyes, to help her gain insight into the beliefs that construct her sexual self-perceptions and behaviors, and then to assist her in developing alternate meanings. For those women clients whose sexuality has been damaged by anti-woman religious doctrine, a first step is to have them identify the beliefs they hold about women’s sexuality and their own. It is necessary to explore the meanings clients hold related to their sexual self-perceptions, their bodies, and the way they feel about and express their sexualities. Therapists can then begin to assist clients in separating the positive beliefs they hold related to faith, ethics, and values, from the shame and guilt inducing messages they have incorporated related to their bodies and sexuality. In other words, in order to correct misbegotten notions regarding women’s sexuality, therapists must create more accurate accounts of female sexuality. Sexual pleasure can contribute much to a woman’s sense of self love, self-worth, and connection. Counselors have challenged the dualism inherent in Christian doctrine, and presented a holistic theology of women’s sexuality that honors the central role of embodied sexuality in women’s ability to know God. There are emerging feminist theologies that connect the body with personal power and self-determination. Sharing these positive feminist perspectives between religion, spirituality, and sexuality can be a powerful tool in helping women clients embraces more integrated views of their sexuality, within the moral, religious, and spiritual traditions that guide the other aspects of their lives. Many therapists reject the dualistic categories of sexual function and dysfunction, in favor of more holistic views of women’s sexuality that emphasize self-love, acceptance, connection, and diverse sexualities of women. Current feminist efforts to articulate more expansive, woman-positive, empowering connections between women’s sexuality and spirituality can also help clients articulate more affirming connections between their spiritual and sexual selves.
Oppressive beliefs related to sexuality and women’s sexuality have shaped the lives of all women. Therapists working with clients on issues related to their sexual self-perceptions must examine their own beliefs, regarding the sexual nature, needs, and rights of women. Therapists must also be aware of their comfort or discomfort in addressing these issues. Therapists must monitor their own reactions to hearing women’s narratives about sexuality, spirituality and religiosity, and must know what this triggers for them based on their own upbringing, while still honoring clients’ views, even if they conflict with their own. Therapists must acknowledge the challenges women face in turning off the negative messages that have played in their minds for years and shaped their understanding and experiences of their sexuality. For all women, it is an ongoing challenge to nurture and sustain a spirituality that celebrates women’s erotic potential of expression, within a social and cultural context that often disqualifies that potential. However, the rewards for doing so can be great in the form of healing, celebration, passion, intimacy, and connection with self, others, and the divine. Celebrating women’s sexuality is important to good sexual ethics. Such a celebration requires a complexity with many meanings that can rejoice in the fact that there are many women. Therapists can play an important role in this celebration, in their own lives, and in their work with clients.
Overall, women are more affirmative about their spirituality and feelings about community. Men identify with these experiences but not the terminology of spirituality. Men give more attention to work and to their struggles integrating work and religion. Women express excitement about learning whereas the men convey self-consciousness over their learning deficiencies. In religions like Judaism, there is a gendering of the terms spirituality and community and religious requirements. In addition, men experience a conflict between religion and their work role and feel driven to learn to remedy deficiencies in their knowledge. Women are less focused on work, experience less role conflict, and are more excited about learning. Both men and women talk about spirituality and community, but women embrace the terms whereas men endorse the concepts but are uncomfortable with the terms. Men dominate the public space of the synagogue or prayer groups, and women’s marital and maternal roles are considered central. Both in the writings of sacred texts and in the norms of their respective religious communities, men’s religious obligations are explicit. Because women are exempt from obligations, they can decide for themselves whether or not to observe certain Jewish religious practices. Women enthusiastically embrace the spaces that are available to them. Men identify more comfortably with Judaism but do not acknowledge their spirituality. There is also gendering of certain religious practices. Men emphasize some and women others. Some of the commandments are required of men. The gendering of religious practices may reflect such gendering in the non-Orthodox community. Women struggle with issues of covering their heads, refraining from singing in the presence of men, women not being counted in the religious obligations or prayer services, and the partition separating men and women in the synagogue. These facts are consistent with gender role expectations in the larger society, with men giving more prominence to their work identities than the women. Men seem conscious of social expectations that they support their families and achieve success at work. Women also try to integrate their religious and work roles and family roles. Men and women who work within religious communities are better able to avoid conflicts between their work and religious roles than those who work in secular contexts. During different phases of their careers, women give different emphases to being true to themselves, balancing family and career, and seeking challenges. Balancing family and career is salient for those working women who are married and have children at home. Only women speak about enjoying the social contexts in which their learning takes place. In contrast to men, women relish their educational activities. Women crave education and seek intellectual stimulation and growth. Women do not overtly find their gender roles limiting and they revel in community. Women are passionate for learning, men’s self-consciousness, and men’s and women’s deep spiritual strivings.
The spiritual practices that women offer open possibilities for society beyond short term concerns with self-interest and survival. In an increasingly threatened global environment and with a shrinking global future, women and women’s spirituality are crucial to imaging an alternative, which resists trends of male domination. The social justice work of these women is able to challenge the policies of established elites. In conclusion, the women spiritual perspectives open opportunities for society beyond short term concerns with profit, or money making, having and spending, and may be essential for a civil and humane society.
Daniluk, J. C. & Browne, N. (2008). Traditional Religious Doctrine and Women’s Sexuality — Reconciling the Contradictions. Women & Therapy, 31(1), 129-142.
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