Hirsch numbers for… err… various people

This post was originally going to be titled “Hirsch numbers for theologians,” but I got a little carried away checking Hirsch numbers for people in different fields and now it’s just “Hirsch numbers for various people.” The original intent, though, was to check something that’s been bugging me about chapter two of the book: are the theologians I was responding too really all that important in the theology world?

For example, I’ve heard Alister McGrath called “one of the world’s foremost Christian theologians,” but I just don’t know the theology world well-enough to be super-confident as to whether that’s true. In writing about philosophers of religion, I’d previously relied on a ranking of them by Hirsch number, so I thought I’d do something similar for theology. Except no one else has done the ranking, so I had to do it myself.

Unfortunately, I also don’t know enough about theology to even know whose Hirsch numbers to check. So for that, I went to this list and picked a few people who I’d heard of before, plus Stuart Hauerwas who apparently got named “America’s Best Theologian” by Time. It turns out that while McGrath’s Hirsch number isn’t as high as that of some theologians, it is comparable to that of other prominent theologians. Same goes for Karen Armstrong (though she’s a strange case, considered an academic but without a typical academic career path). That makes me feel good.

Also on the “fuzzy wuzzy critics of Dawkins” front, I had heard Terry Eagleton called a leading literary theorist, but was still somewhat surprised to see him coming out with a Hirsch number higher than that of Stanley Fish, who was the first and only other literary theorist I thought to check. John Haught, however, comes out significantly further down in the rankings. That makes me feel less good, but I’m still mostly dealing with plenty of people who are genuinely influential.

Some notes on methodology: here is the web browser plugin I used. I ran into the difficulty that some people share a name with other academics, at least for one noteworthy variation on their name. Would you believe, for example, that there’s a WL Craig who wrote a paper called, “Application of the Trading with the Enemy Act to Foreign Corporations Owned by Americans: Reflections on Fruehauf v. Massardy”?

Most of the time, that problem could be solved by picking the right version of the name (e.g. “William Lane Craig”), but in the case of Karen Armstrong and NT Wright, it seemed necessary to go through and manually exclude many search results. I may not have done that quite correctly, though, and it’s possible I missed a case somewhere where I should have gone through manually excluding some results but didn’t.

Finally, I discovered some interesting things in the data on philosophers. In the above-linked ranking of philosophers of religion, Richard Swinburne is at #5 and William Lane Craig is at #14, but that’s partly because there were a bunch of ties. According to the numbers I got, they’re actually only 3 points apart (26 vs. 23). I don’t think this is because Craig’s ranking has risen, because he’s still tied with Michael Tooley. I think this bolsters the case for saying Craig may be the current leading defender of arguments for the existence of God.

I also checked Dennett and Dawkins’ numbers out of curiosity, and was surprised to see Dennett (Hirsch number 58) do much better than Plantinga (34). Unlike Plantinga, who definitely is the world’s leading philosopher of religion, I hadn’t been under the impression that Dennett is the world’s leading philosopher of mind or anything like that. So I checked some other philosophers of mind, and sure enough, a number of them beat out even Dennett, the top one being Jerry Fodor with a Hirsch number of 70.

I wondered how much this says about philosophers of religion vs. how much it says about philosophers of mind, so I went and checked a couple of the top epistemologists for this post. The number for John McDowell was clearly wonky (lots of John McDowells in the world), and I didn’t want to take the trouble of manually fixing it, but the results for Burge and Dretske suggest that this is partly an issue of philosophers of religion having limited influence but mostly a matter of philosophers of mind having lots of influence. Which isn’t too surprising, since philosophers of mind get their work cited in the cognitive science literature as opposed to just the philosophy literature.

Anyway, here are the numbers for everyone I checked (excluding a couple like McDowell’s that were clearly wonky and which I didn’t want to take the trouble of fixing):

Jerry Fodor (philosopher of mind): 70

Hilary Putnam (philosopher of mind): 67

John Searle (philosopher of mind): 65

Daniel Dennett (philosopher of mind): 58

Terry Eagleton (literary critic): 54

David Chalmers (philosopher of mind): 52

Richard Dawkins (biologist): 48

Stanley Fish (literary critic): 48

Tyler Burge (epistemologist): 39

Fred Dretske (epistemologist): 35

Jürgen Moltmann (theologian): 35

Alvin Plantinga (philosopher of religion): 34

Hans Küng (theologian): 32

Peter Van Inwagen (philosopher of religion): 30

Stanley Hauerwas (theologian): 29

Alister McGrath (theologian): 27

Karen Armstrong (religion scholar): 26

Wolfhart Pannenberg (theologian): 26

Richard Swinburne (philosopher of religion): 26

William Lane Craig (philosopher of religion): 23

Michael Tooley (philosopher of religion): 23

NT Wright (Biblical scholar): 23

John Dominic Crossan (Biblical scholar): 22

Norman Geisler (philosopher of religion): 20

Bart Ehrman (Biblical scholar): 18

John Haught (theologian): 13

ETA: Ed “pay attention to me” Feser’s Hirsch number is a 7, and 6 of the relevant citations come from his work as a libertarian political philosopher (the other one comes from an intro work Feser wrote on philosophy of mind). For comparison, Keith Yandell, my undergrad philosophy of religion prof and the lowest-ranked philosopher of religion in the rankings I linked to, has a Hirsch number of 9. Just in case you were making the mistake of thinking Feser was a somebody in Aquinas scholarship or philosophy of religion.

  • MNb

    I checked a couple of Dutch theological sites for you plus two Dutch-reformed newspapers plus the site of the Dutch protestant university Vrije Universiteit. Only “Nederlands Dagblad” (means Dutch Daily News; they have an English version) seems to like McGrath; no sites bar one pay any attention to McGrath. The Katholiek Dagblad (Catholic Newspaper) only refers to Plantinga twice and neither to McGrath nor Swinburne.
    Craig seems to be less popular than Plantinga and Swinburne. I haven’t checked Armstrong and Van Inwagen though.
    Thought you’d like to know – after all The Netherlands have a theological tradition of more than 5 centuries.

  • Yvain

    This is really interesting and I am glad you put so much work into it. I just have to make extra sure not to let my sudden knowledge of people’s prestige influence my opinions of them more than is warranted.

    (also, more surprised by Ehrman than Feser; I had always gotten the impression that Ehrman was super-important, and he seems to deserve better than he gets, especially since some of the higher ranking Biblical scholars seem…kind of crazy?)

    • Chris Hallquist

      I was actually surprised Feser wasn’t lower, as a result of not being so aware of the political philosophy he’s done.

      As for Ehrman, he’s an amazing popularizer, but that’s generally all he’s doing, popularizing. Unlike most of his books, Misquoting Jesus was based to an extent on his most important scholarly work, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, but even then most of Misquoting Jesus is stuff already known to scholars when Ehrman was in grad school.

  • ildi

    Not that I’m an expert in this field, but I was surprised to see that Gary Habermas isn’t on your list. His wiki page says “He is a prolific author, lecturer, and debater on the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus. Habermas is considered to be one of the foremost experts on the resurrection.[citation needed]” He seemed to be Craig’s main source for “most scholars accept the facts of” the historical evidence for the resurrection.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Good point. Habermas has a Hirsch number of 13.

  • akrasia

    As long as you’re looking at epistemologists, you should check Richard Feldman (whose work does bear on religious belief), Linda Zagzebski (likewise), Ernie Sosa, and Robert Audi. I think at least the last two and arguably the first two as well would show up with higher Hirsch numbers than Dretske, for instance.


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