TWU’s Dr. Katie Steeves awarded a federal grant to research women in leadership within religious institutions in Canada
Congratulations to Dr. Katie Steeves, Assistant Professor of Sociology, who won a 2021 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Development Grant for her project, "Religious and Gendered Selves on the Front Stage: Women clergy doing gender, religion and leadership." Her research results will have broad societal benefits.
The Government of Canada has recently indicated that the empowerment of Canadian women is a current priority for research investment, with Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) focusing on “building better lives across the gender spectrum” as part of their 2018-2021 Future Challenge Areas (Horizons 2018).
Dr. Katie Steeves, Assistant Professor of Sociology, believes that in order to ensure the flourishing of women both economically and in leadership positions in society, sociological research informed by recent feminist theorizing is needed.
This year, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded Dr. Steeves an Insight Development Grant, a federal grant to foster research excellence in the social sciences and humanities.
The grant will support Dr. Steeves’ work in investigating the experiences of women in leadership within religious institutions in Canada.
“This research will be of interest to both the academic community and the religious community ...(and) policy makers in a Canadian context who wish to gain a more in depth understanding of the diversity of women’s experiences in leadership.”
Her project focuses on women clergy in the Christian church and asks: How are these women fashioning a place for themselves as both women and pastors, and through that process, attempting to legitimate their role and promote the flourishing of other women and marginalized groups in Canada? Why do they choose to serve their communities in leadership in specifically religious organizations, instead of other work?
Two TWU research assistants, Lucy Smith and Jessica Milazzo, both Sociology majors, will be working on this research project under Dr. Steeves' mentorship. Both students are involved in many campus leadership initiatives in addition to their academic work. Lucy is a community facilitator at TWU's DeVries Centre, and Jessica is a TWU ambassador coordinator. Dr. Steeves hopes that their experiences in conducting qualitative research from start to finish will instill in them a passion for pursuing research in the future.
The changing landscape of faith, gender and leadership
Respected sociologist of religion Reginald Bibby has argued that religion is not disappearing in Canada, but it is changing. One change that Dr. Steeves has observed within evangelical churches is a growing number of women in leadership roles.
“There are over 30,000 religious congregations in Canada, some of which are led by women,” Dr. Steeves explains. “Since 1970, women have begun to enter clergy positions in several Christian denominations in greater numbers. There have been several investigations tracking churches’ changing ordination patterns, and some research assessing the feminizing of the pastoral profession.”
In her work, Dr. Steeves will guide interviews of a diverse sample of women clergy and analyze this data to better understand how they form gender, religious and leadership identities. As well, she will engage in a complex narrative literature review and generate data that will contribute to bridging the gap between the fields of feminist theorizing and sociology of religion.
In previous projects, Dr. Steeves was mentored by prominent Canadian symbolic interactionists Dorothy Pawluch, William Shaffir and Robert Prus at McMaster University. This earlier work presented a qualitative study of the lived experiences of female clergy within Christian denominations in Canada, with a particular emphasis on the ways in which women experience entering the pastoral role, as well as how they navigate dilemmas of pastoral and gendered self-presentations.
Through interviewing 43 women in church leadership, Dr. Steeves learned how they navigate different roles and situations in their everyday lives.
“(It was) particularly exciting to investigate, as there are few pre-existing social ‘scripts’ for them to follow as women leaders in this institution,” Dr. Steeves said of her earlier work.
Listening to the lived experiences of women leaders
Dr. Steeves’ current project builds on her previous work, which uncovered how women experience entering the pastoral role, as well as how they navigate dilemmas of pastoral and gendered self-presentations.
She anticipates that her current research will help “add nuance to the quantitative research in this area and provide sophisticated new insights into meaning making, allowing the lived experiences and stories of women leaders to shine through.”
The results will have broad societal benefits. “This research will be of interest to both the academic community and the religious community from which it originates, as well as the federal department of Women and Gender Equity Canada (WAGE) and other policy makers in a Canadian context who wish to gain a more in depth understanding of the diversity of women’s experiences in leadership,” Dr. Steeves said.
See also—TWU’s Dr. Matthew Etherington and alum Katie Robertson learn from the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples, jointly publish research:
About Trinity Western University
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has four campuses and locations: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, and Ottawa. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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