Religious Awakening and the Women Participation in Labor Movement

It was on May 2, 2011 that Dr. Teresa Murphy came to CRCS GMU to be the speaker of the weekly Wednesday Forum. Under the title ‘The Importance of Religion in the US Labor Movement in the Early Nineteenth Century’ Dr. Murphy, a professor from George Washington University, tried to demonstrate the relation between religious change and the labor movement in the 1840s. In this presentation, Dr. Murphy also stressed the women’s important role in the labor movement. At first, Murphy described the Christian revival in the early 19th century in the United States, known as the Second Great Awakening. The number of conversions escalated greatly during this period, and participation in religious institutions exploded, leading to contestation of the traditional church hierarchy due to the more open concept of religious leadership. Religious services were no longer held solely in churches, but also in open encamps where women and the slaves could participate.


Judging from rates of participation, the majority of those affected by this religious awakening were women. Participation in religious activities that kept women away from their homes and families emerged as an issue. Another problem that arose was the advent of female clergy, something that had not previously occurred. Anyone had right to preach according to the ethos of the Awakening, which led to becoming preachers. Some female preachers like Nancy Towle and Salome Lincoln traveled throughout the USA alone, causing great controversy.


In the field of industry, religious revival affected policies surrounding legal work hours Workers asked for the abolition of scheduled work on Sundays due to religious activity. This new era of women’s participation in religious life impacted the role of women in labor movement. Previously, women were restricted to helping their husbands to prepare for the strikes. However, with the religious awakening factory girl’s participation in the labor movement was no longer rejected.


During the question and answer session, a participant asked about the role of the bourgeois women after the religious awakening. Murphy answered that bourgeois women were not actively engaged with the movement and continued to remain tied to the home environment. Their political activism was limited to the prohibition movement, the Sabbath movement or the anti-slavery movement, and usually occurred on a small scale. The greatest changes occurred through the involvement of females in the labor movement.


Participants of discussion also brought up the issue of female preachers, and the recent use of religious language in the labor movement. According to Murphy, the status of female preachers is still controversial. And religious language is no longer in use, and even difficult to employ in the era of religious freedom. The Awakening brought the freedom new forms of freedom to religious life which can be seen in the birth of different denominations at that time.


In regards to Indonesia, Murphy stated that the situation is not same in Indonesia as in the United States.. Religion is considered a private affair in the United States, but it is nit in Indonesia. The result is that the use of religious language is not particularly effective nowadays United States. Murphy noted that this presentation is only describing the labor movement related to the religious movement in the context of certain time period in US history. [MoU]

This post is also available in: Indonesian


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