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Gender Role Experimentation in New Religious Movements: Clarification of the Brahma Kumari Case

Julia Day Howell
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 37, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 453-461
DOI: 10.2307/1388052
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1388052
Page Count: 9
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Gender Role Experimentation in New Religious Movements: Clarification of the Brahma Kumari Case
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Abstract

In a recent challenge to the view that New Religious Movements (NRMs) are uniformly patriarchal, Palmer (1993, 1994) has brought forward the Brahma Kumaris (BKs) as an extreme countercase. Research presented here confirms her characterization of the BK gender ideology as one of "reverse sex polarity" (casting females as spiritually superior to males) and thereby partially validates her "unsuspected gender role variety" thesis, but shows that this is not associated in Western contexts with an "overwhelmingly female" leadership, as she claimed. Further, Palmer's thesis that groups with "reverse sex polarity" models will necessarily have predominantly female memberships is invalidated by findings on Western BKs. Nonetheless, data on attrition rates of Australian BKs in this study show that Palmer need not have taken the Brahma Kumaris as exceptions to her characterization of Western NRMs as settings for gender role experimentation.

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