Promising Practices: Women Volunteers in Contemporary Japanese Religious Civil Society


Based upon a survey of five faith-based volunteer groups, Promising Practices offers valuable insights and fresh perspectives into the ways women’s participation in religious civic organizations may work as a gateway toward participatory democracy. By approaching women’s faith-based volunteering as a social practice, the book engages with three of the most important dimensions of civil society: gender, religion, and democracy. Cavaliere teases out the complexity of interactions among these three dimensions of civic life through stories of individual women who volunteer for three different religious organizations. The volume examines how faith-based volunteering is experienced by women in contemporary Japan and how it becomes a site of empowering and disempowering practices through which women balance the benefits and the costs of personal shifts, socio-economic changes and democratic transformation.

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EUR €99.00USD $135.00

Biographical Note

Paola Cavaliere, Ph.D. (2012), The University of Sheffield, UK - Tohoku University, Japan, is an independent scholar investigating the role of women in contemporary Japanese religious civil society. She has published several articles on a gendered approach to Japanese faith-based volunteering.

Review Quote

'What we have here, then, is a fascinating extension of the accepted understanding of Japanese religions into the arena of volunteer activities. Rather than essentializing the religiosity of her interlocutors, the author shows us quite clearly that “religion,” in the Western understanding of the word, has little to do with their motivations. Rather than looking at how religion provides identity to these women, the author rightly shifts the question to what these women do with religion. Further, we see these women constructing and shifting their identities not only with religion, but with a host of other activities and strategies. Religion here is part of the story, but it is not the center of the story. Herein lies Cavaliere’s most welcome contribution to the field. Her exploration of the relationship between caring/altruism and religious identity provides some helpful hints for how one might approach religiosity in other arenas.'
Mark Rowe, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada, Journal of Religion in Japan (2015) 4: 2-3

'The strongest part of the book, in my view, is its exploration of social maps and how women volunteers transfer skills and resources within and beyond faith-based volunteer groups in interactions with different civil society networks, governmental institutions, and other actors. The topology of faith-based volunteer groups promises to be fruitful for future studies on religion-related volunteering. In order to demonstrate the broader relevance of her findings, Cavaliere furthermore draws on general theoretical concepts of practice. In so doing, the author makes her work accessible to scholars of different disciplines. (...) In sum, I enjoyed Promising Practice for three important reasons: First, for illuminating how women’s agency plays out on the ground and showing how women make use of religion strategically to empower themselves. Second, for challenging scholarly claims that religions in contemporary Japan merely work to perpetuate and solidify persistent gender stereotypes. And finally, because the book invites us to understand faith-based volunteer groups as embedded networks. Paola Cavaliere’s study is remarkable in many ways, but what made this book stand out for me most was to learn how women in Japan today collaborate in transferring knowledge and resources within and across different types of volunteer organizations, neighborhood associations, and public institutions to make their own and other people’s lives better.'
Tim Graf, University of Heidelberg, H-Net Reviews February, 2018.


The book will be of valuable contribution for those focusing on gender studies in Japan and for those working in the growing interdisciplinary field of religious civil society.


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