Graduate Program

Political Science

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion

Fall 2020

Thesis Director

Ryan P. Burge

Thesis Committee Member

Kevin R. Anderson

Thesis Committee Member

Melinda A. Mueller


The 2012 National Congregations Study found that only 11.4% of the total clergy in the United States were women (ARDA 2012). As the congregation size grows, that number declines further, with data indicating only 3.4% of congregations with 1,000 or more members have a female leader. The number of women religious leaders increased by less than one percent between 1998 and 2012. These statistics work well to outline a phenomenon for female religious leaders, their inability to break the stained-glass ceiling. Many religious groups in the United States allow women to become ordained leaders. However, some of the largest religious denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptists, Mormons (Latter Day Saints), and the Orthodox Church do not allow women to become ordained or lead congregations (Masci 2020). If women are ordained, they often face subordinate positions and lead smaller, more rural congregations where they are paid less (Zikmund, Lummis, and Chang 1998). For example, the Orthodox Church does allow women to be ordained as maharats, or leaders of Jewish law but they are not allowed to be rabbis (Masci 2020). The purpose of this research is to examine how respondents feel about female religious leaders in the United States, and what factors determine more or less support.