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Putting a stake through the NY Post’s Buffy and religion theory

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August 28th, 2008

By Guest Blogger Mara Einstein
Mara einstein

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Post, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer “is the reason an estimated 50,000 women a year are quitting the church.” This information is based on a new report by Dr Kristin Aune, a sociologist at the University of Derby.

According to this work, Buffy introduces young women to Wicca, which holds a particular appeal to this group because of the empowerment messages for women within this belief system. This message is more appealing for this demographic than those provided by traditional religious institutions.

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Surprise, surprise, the Post article is a bit misleading. Dr. Aune’s work is contained in an edited booked called Women and Religion in the West: Challenging Secularization.

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This title suggests that similar to my own thinking, this work attempts to evaluate how faith is being practiced in new ways and not necessarily that there is horror at the decline in traditional church attendance (a fundamental aspect of secularization theory). Much as I argue that faith has not disappeared, but rather is found and practiced in new ways, Dr. Aune seems to be suggesting the same ideas.

    “Today’s modern woman sees more relevance in TV icons who promote female empowerment such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, than in church and traditional religion” (University of Derby web site)

In digging a bit further, I found that Buffy is just one element in what Dr. Aune believes has contributed to the decline in church attendance. Others are:

    * Fertility levels – women have fewer children and are not having enough children to replace the older generation lost from the church.
    * Feminist values – feminist values began influencing women in the 1960s and 1970s. Feminism challenged traditional Christian views about women’s roles and raised women’s aspirations.
    * Paid employment – At the beginning of the 1900s, a third of women were in paid work, now two thirds are in the labour market. Juggling employment with childcare and housework causes time pressures and attending church is one activity to suffer.
    * Family diversity – compared to wider society, churches include fewer non-traditional families. Family forms which are growing such as singleness, lone-parent families and cohabitation are under-provided for and even discouraged by churches.
    * Sexuality – The church’s silence about sexuality is driving women to leave, feeling that the church requires them to deny or be silent about sexual desire and activity.

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When I first read the Post article, it didn’t make sense to me because the research seemed to fly in the face of other media and religion scholars, notably Lynn Schofield Clark’s From Angels to Aliens. Rather, this research furthers existing work, including my own.

I guess it should not surprise us that the Post went for the sensational rather than the informational.

Guest Blogger Mara Einstein, an associate professor of media studies at Queens College, has been working in or writing about the media for the past 20 years. Her most recent book is Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age (Routledge, 2008). This piece is cross-posted at brandsoffaith.com

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