Carrie Miles on Religion, Gender, and Missionaries
Date: May 31st, 2015

What is the relationship between religion, economics, and gender?  Dr. Carrie Miles — senior scholar in residence at Chapman University and non-resident scholar at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion — discusses her path-breaking work on this topic, as well as her work as executive director of Empower International Ministries.  Our conversation winds through Mormon theology, Genesis, the industrial revolution, and countries in Africa to explore how both economic production and theology can shape gender roles throughout history.

The podcast begins with Carrie reminiscing on how she started in such an interesting, and underexplored, topic.  She recounts her Mormon roots and curiosity about the reshaping of gender roles in the LDS Church during the 1970s when she was working on her dissertation in organizational psychology at the University of Chicago.  This discussion takes us on a path of examining how agrarian production in the household defined gender roles and how the industrial revolution, which took more and more production away from the home, impacted these traditional roles.  We talk about everything from the work of Gary Becker to the transformative effect of the plow.

We next turn to some theology of gender, focusing on the first three chapters of Genesis.  Carrie describes how the development of economic scarcity that arises when humans leave the Garden of Eden had an impact on shaping our understanding of the economic positions of men and women.  She contrasts this with more egalitarian gender roles noted in the first two chapters of Genesis.  Emphasis is placed upon the notion of “The Curse” in Genesis 3, as this will become important in our later discussion of Christian missionaries and their impact in Africa.  We then do move on to a discussion of missionaries and how their biblical translations affected the economic and cultural structure of various African nations.  Given that agriculture in Africa was still largely viewed as women’s work during the 19th and 20th centuries, whereas the plow had made it more of man’s work in Europe, missionaries preaching the Book of Genesis had the unintended effect of reinforcing agrarian gender roles at a time when household production was changing.  Dr. Miles recounts a number of stories from her own personal work in Africa as to how such interpretations were seen.

We finish with a discussion of the work Carrie does with Empower International Ministries, which places a focus on gender issues as part of its general missionary strategy, and also what she has learned via the course of her studies.  Recorded: May 20, 2015.


Carrie Miles’ personal website and bio at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World, by Carrie Miles.

Empower International Ministries.


Proselytism, Humanitarianism, and Development: A Panel Discussion.

Rebecca Shah on Religion and the Enterprising Poor in India.

Robert Woodberry on Missionaries and Democracy.

Terry Olsen on Faith-Based Humanitarianism and World Vision.

Allison Pond on Being a Mormon Missionary.

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