Women, Secularism and Belief

A Sociology of Belief in the Jewish-Israeli Secular Landscape


Hagar Lahav

Publisher Van Leer Institute Press and Hakibbutz Hameuchad
Language Hebrew
Year of Publication 2021
Series Theory and Criticism in Context Series

A few years ago a surveyor of the Central Bureau of Statistics came to my home for an interview in which I was asked a long list of questions. When the surveyor came to the question of religiosity, he looked around, gazed at the house and the objects in it and said, “Well, I don’t have to ask. You’re secular.” “Not exactly,” I responded, “I’m a secular believer.” “What do you mean?” the surveyor asked, and I answered, “I’m a secular woman who believes in God.” “There’s no such option on the questionnaire,” the surveyor said, “but I can offer you the categories of Reform or Conservative.” “No,” I replied, “those are religious streams. I’m a secular woman who believes in God.” The discussion was terminated by the joint decision to mark the option of “other” on the questionnaire.

Women, Secularism and Belief is an original and groundbreaking book that traces the supposed “anomaly” of secular believers by combining the knowledge areas of sociology, Jewish and Christian theology, religion studies, and feminist thought. The book points out the relatively large extent of the phenomenon (according to a rough estimate, about one-quarter of the Jewish population in Israel consists of secular believers), identifies new feminist voices of women secular believers, and brings their stories to the fore. It demonstrates convincingly that secular belief is not a social anomaly. Instead, it is a component of identity that is quite common in Israel but has not been studied until now because of the uncritical clinging to the customary epistemic assumptions, primarily the assumption that religion and secularism, or belief and secularism, are contrary categories.

Beyond the richness of the narrative, the book offers a new theoretical framework that combines sociology and secularism (in which secularism is not a default or an empty category) and the sociology of belief (in which belief is not only a religious phenomenon) and emphasizes the gendered aspects of the phenomenon and their implications. All these delineate a nascent possibility of Jewish postsecular and feminist theological thought in Israel.

Dr. Hagar Lahav is a senior lecturer in the Department of Communications at Sapir Academic College. Her research deals with the sociology of belief, focusing on the interface between gender, Judaism, and communications in Israel. Her work combines post-secular observation and Jewish and feminist theological thought. Lahav was a pioneer in academic research on media coverage of sexual and gender violence in Israel. Now she is participating in a broad international study of manifestations of belief, religion, and secularism in the social media. In the past she was a journalist at Haaretz, where she served as head of the news desk and deputy head of the news department.

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