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Religion and Intimate Partner Violence

Understanding the Challenges and Proposing Solutions

Nancy Nason-Clark, Barbara Fisher-Townsend, Catherine Holtmann, and Stephen McMullin

Publication Date - 22 November 2017

ISBN: 9780190607210

240 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

Religion and Intimate Partner Violence examines how lived religion both helps and hinders the journey towards justice, accountability, healing, and wholeness for women and men caught in the web of abuse.


Intimate partner violence is a complex, ugly, fear-inducing reality for large numbers of women around the world. When violence exists in a relationship, safety is compromised, shame abounds, and peace evaporates. Violence is learned behavior and it flourishes most when it is ignored, minimized, or misunderstood. When it strikes the homes of deeply religious women, they are: more vulnerable; more likely to believe that their abusive partners can, and will, change; less likely to leave a violent home, temporarily or forever; often reluctant to seek outside sources of assistance; and frequently disappointed by the response of the religious leader to their call for help. These women often believe they are called by God to endure the suffering, to forgive (and to keep on forgiving) their abuser, and to fulfill their marital vows until death do us part. Concurrently, many batterers employ explicitly religious language to justify the violence towards their partners, and sometime they manipulate spiritual leaders who try to offer them help.

Religion and Intimate Partner Violence seeks to navigate the relatively unchartered waters of intimate partner violence in families of deep faith. The program of research on which it is based spans over twenty-five years, and includes a wide variety of specific studies involving religious leaders, congregations, battered women, men in batterer intervention programs, and the army of workers who assist families impacted by abuse, including criminal justice workers, therapeutic staff, advocacy workers, and religious leaders. The authors provide a rich and colorful portrayal of the intersection of intimate partner violence and religious beliefs and practices that inform and interweave throughout daily life. Such a focus on lived religion enables readers to isolate, examine, and evaluate ways in which religion both augments and thwarts the journey towards justice, accountability, healing and wholeness for women and men caught in the web of intimate partner violence.


  • Offers practical solutions for religious leaders and professionals to facilitate safety and healing of religious survivors of IPV based on empirical evidence.
  • Features empirical research on the challenges and potential solutions of holding religious men who are abusive in relationships accountable to stop their violent behavior.
  • Identifies how various professionals can be part of the solution or be part of the problem in the work of a coordinated community response to IPV in religious clients.
  • Provides concrete recommendations for how IPV training can occur in various secular and religious contexts.
  • Integrates resources with RAVE [Religion and Violence e-Learning] website (www.theraveproject.org).

About the Author(s)

Nancy Nason-Clark, PhD, is a Professor of Sociology at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. She is the author of many books, including Men Who Batter (with Barbara Fisher-Townsend; Oxford University Press), No Place for Abuse and Refuge from Abuse (both with Catherine Clark Kroeger), and The Battered Wife. She is President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Barbara Fisher-Townsend, PhD, is a retired contract academic instructor who now teaches online at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. She has co-edited (with Nancy Nason-Clark and others) several collections including Beyond Abuse in the Christian Home, Responding to Abuse in Christian Homes, and Strengthening Families and Ending Abuse and co-authored Men Who Batter (Oxford University Press).

Catherine Holtmann, PhD, is the director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. The author of many articles and book chapters, she is currently completing a text on teaching religious diversity in the classroom and an edited collection (with Nancy Nason-Clark) on Religion, Gender and Family Violence.

Stephen McMullin, PhD, is the Sheldon and Marjorie Fountain Associate Professor at Acadia Divinity College, in Canada, where he currently serves as Academic Dean. An ordained Baptist minister and author of many publications on abuse, he is currently completing research on two topics: women's lived experience in declining congregations and religious identity in a digital age.


"As a clinician and researcher who has worked with IPV in the United States, Jordan, and Latin America, I can attest to the void of professional publications that consider the immense role that religion, dogma, beliefs, and religious communities have in determining the potential survival of victims and the recovery of abusers. This book offers concrete tools and information with which to better understand and work with the dual presence of IPV and religion in our work." -- Yamile M. Marti Haidar, Affilia

"The central argument of this book is that religious organizations and secular domestic violence agencies need each other to respond effectively to intimate partner violence among people of faith...This book could also help secular academics and domestic violence advocates reframe the connection between religion and domestic violence as a cultural competency that they should understand to be successful in their work. A deep concern about the harms of abuse shines through this book, which should be read by people who care about what Traci West calls The Wounds of the Spirit." -- Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

"No one has done more to study domestic abuse, particularly among those in North American religious communities, than Nancy Nason-Clark. She and a team of expert colleagues here present the fruit of decades of wide-ranging, fair-minded, clear-eyed, and warm-hearted research. This book offers far more, however, in that it provides tested wisdom about what can be done, practically and realistically, to help everyone struggling within the awful matrices of intimate partner violence. It thus offers the best gift of all: hope-hope grounded in both empirical data and real-world activism...and, indeed, religious faith." - John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies, Crandall University

"This work is more than just a report of excellent quantitative and qualitative longitudinal research. The compelling writings explore the issue of intimate partner violence through the lens of religion - an area where there is much silent suffering. The text is layered with competent solutions, based on the research, for active work by professionals healing of persons and communities. A must-have for the classroom and all people in the helping professions." - Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, Ambassador and General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church

"Ministering in a women's prison reinforces the realities and consequences of IPV for women and communities. The IPV crimes committed against women prior to prison are, for the most part, far more severe and serious than the crimes they themselves have committed. In this book, people of faith working and serving in this area of global pain will be inspired to continue. They will find invitations and resources to have awareness, to respond well, and to invest in prevention." - Daphne Marsden, ThM, Ministry Leader, Project Esther Trust, New Zealand

"Complex problems demand comprehensive responses. Religion and Intimate Partner Violence neither minimizes the challenges of this endemic problem nor overlooks the multiple parties who must be engaged to address it: congregations and shelters, pastors and police, seminary professors and advocates. All involved would benefit from reading this book - ideally together." - David A. Currie, PhD, MDiv, Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program & the Ockenga Institute; Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

"Based on a research program extending over twenty-five years, Nancy Nason-Clark and her team offer a rich and empathetic analysis of the experiences of women of deep faith in abusive relationships, their abusers, and the people - both religious leaders and secular transition house and shelter workers - who help them. This remarkable book combines a commitment to presenting the best evidence with a passion for improving the collective response to domestic violence." - Mary Jo Neitz, PhD, Professor, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Missouri

"The compassionate and nonjudgmental tone of these stories and their analysis is the real strength of this book. Religion can create problems for preventing and fighting IPV. That may be most obvious in conservative congregations whose endorsement of patriarchy or sacrifice can be misused to offer excuses for IPV. But, as the authors repeatedly point out, it is no less prevalent in more liberal congregations-and the population at large. They show that religion can be a potentially powerful tool to address IPV if pastors and congregations can be engaged in that process." -Sociology of Religion

Table of Contents

    Chapter 1: Introduction
    Chapter 2: Victims/Survivors
    Chapter 3: Abusers
    Chapter 4: Congregations
    Chapter 5: Training Religious Leaders and Faith-Based Resources
    Chapter 6: Collaborative Community Responses
    Appendix A: Research Projects and Methodology
    Appendix B: Publications of our Team

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