Representation in Scholarship #womenalsoknowbible #womenalsoknowreligion #readwomen

Representation in Scholarship #womenalsoknowbible #womenalsoknowreligion #readwomen June 14, 2018

Seeing the Inside Higher Ed piece about the Twitter hashtag  #womenalsoknowhistory, which then led me to the Chronicle of Higher Education article about the website by the same name, I found myself thinking about my own field, which includes many historians as well as scholars who use historical tools as part of a more diverse palette of methods. I think that some additional hashtags such as #womenalsoknowreligion and #womenalsoknowbible are called for. There is already a website highlighting the work of women biblical scholars, called – you guessed it – Women Biblical Scholars. And no one working in any of the fields that I work in should have difficulty thinking of female scholars who work on the Bible, or Gnosticism, or anything else. In the field of Gnostic studies, the key figures are women, and in the particular tradition that I work on – Mandaeism – the only scholar whose work has focused primarily on that tradition is Jorunn Buckley. The field was also pioneered by a woman, Ethel Drower. But more broadly the names of Elaine Pagels, April De Conick, Karen King, and Nicola Denzey Lewis do not merely come to mind, but are probably among the names that come to mind first when one thinks about scholarship in the field. In biblical studies, classics, late antique Christianity, Jewish studies, and any other area that intersects with religion, so many leading scholars spring immediately to mind who are women. And so how is it possible that panels and whole conferences are organized and yet female scholars are not invited or not prominent on the program? The short answer, of course, is that there is a historic underrepresentation of women in academia, and a natural propensity of human beings to gravitate towards and think first of people who are in the same category as themselves. But that is precisely why it is so crucially important to work in a deliberate manner to keep these historic biases from being perpetuated.

My main reason for writing this post is that it bothers me that it so often ends up being the underrepresented, the marginalized, and the discriminated against who have to call attention to their own situation. For that reason, I don’t want to wait until female colleagues in my field create these hashtags, #womenalsoknowreligion and #womenalsoknowbible – men should be emphasizing this too!

See also the post by Carmen Joy Imes about the effort of IVP to promote female authors using the hashtag #readwomen.

P.S. I resisted the temptation to try to start a hashtag #womenalsogno or something like that in relation to Gnosticism – but apparently couldn’t resist telling you about where my punny proclivity led my thoughts to go…


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  • John MacDonald

    Neurologically, women are hardwired to be better at multitasking than men are. And in shamanistic societies, women are more likely to be the holy person than men because they are more open to experiences of the numinous than men are.

  • Al Cruise

    “1 John 4:8 ” describes the very nature and core of God. Love. Suggesting that women cannot understand and teach about Love is ludicrous. Especially the love the of God. I don’t now how many male pastor’s and elders I’ve met that were completely clueless , often embarrassed, to talk about Love in any capacity, that was meaningful to anyone. Any talk of Love from them was delivered in such a stoic manner , awash in over the top Biblical head knowledge. Their sermons about Love are usually akin to talking about the importance of a having a bowel movement everyday, in the effect they have on the listeners . Some of the best Spiritual food on the Love of God I have heard, have come from female Pastors.

    • jh

      If there is one group in the world that understands the idea of sacrificial love to the point of suffering and death, it’s mothers. Men have a bit of fun and then, they get to go on with their lives. Women get to suffer for 9 months. They risk their lives. They accept physical complications and pain and suffering. They labor to give birth to us. They suffer when they breast feed us. They stay up at night when we cry or we’re ill. They give us the best portion and deprive themselves. Moms show a very personal sacrificial love. They are unarmed and defenseless.. like lambs to a slaughter. They don’t wear body armor or have guns. They endure and fight. At the end of the day, it’s them fighting in their pregnancy and their childbirth to give birth to us. (just look at TX maternal mortality rate or the studies of physical recovery for women. it’s not a “oh they popped out the baby” and it’s all rainbows and sunshine. Their conditions sometimes last weeks to months after childbirth.)

      I don’t equate working a job to bring home the bacon even close to the personal sacrifice that a mother makes. It’s not like that money didn’t benefit daddy to get his drunk on. Meanwhile, my momma would make the food that I loved even if it meant working after coming home from work. She would stay up at night to soothe my fever. She’s the rock in my family. (Even if she supports Trump, she’s my momma. She gets a pass that nobody else will ever get.)

      • John MacDonald

        When I was growing up, my mom stayed up all night in a terrible state of worry while I was out partying and drinking with my friends, just to make sure I got home safely. Love.

  • Nica

    I experienced a strange phenomenon about 20 years ago at an AAR/SBL convention in DC. Honestly, as a grad student I felt somewhat hesitant & humble to be in such an illustrious group of scholars from all around. So even though by habit I’m always early, I sat in the back row, choosing to be inconspicuous. Well, at some of these lectures, a group of men — men only — would arrive together just on time, but not sit in this row with me. Rather, they’d pull their chairs out of the row, to create a new row some feet behind me.

    Now, I didn’t take that personally; in fact, I didn’t feel it had anything to do with me in particular. But I did have the impression that they didn’t want to be “tainted” in some way by others too near them. It left me with an uneasy sense that they were signaling themselves as too superior, too above the crowd, to mingle among the hoi polloi.

    • Oh my gosh! That’s ridiculous! I can’t imagine what could motivate that behavior, or justify it. I’ve certainly seen instances where people arrive late to a session and, rather than squeeze into the last row by forcing their way past people, they pull a free chair back out of the row and sit in it. But nothing like what you described. It sounds appalling, and I’m so sorry that you had that kind of experience at AAR/SBL. I hope that the climate of the organizations has improved so that things like that would be less likely now. Do you still attend?

      • Nica

        Thank you for responding. No, my best friend had died that year, & I was so immersed in teaching as an adjunct that I stopped while ABD. I could see that achieving a PhD — at that time of fewer tenured positions — wouldn’t likely improve my chances of a post, & teaching for me had always been the ultimate goal. So I continued patching together a quasi full-time career using various semester contracts in the PA/DE/NJ area until around 2005 or so, when my scoliosis forced me to quit.

        More than anything, I’ve mostly puzzled over that scenario whenever I recall it. It felt … just “off” or wrong when it happened. Having seen my share of academic politics & some unnecessary arrogance, now as then I shy away from whatever I perceive as possible game-playing.

        • Wow, so sorry to hear that so many factors conspired to keep you from completing what you were hoping to. I appreciate your sharing your experience, and I hope that I will be even more watchful in the future of what may be happening around me, so that if I see insulting behavior from others at a conference I am attending, I can say something. These sorts of things shouldn’t have to wait until years later on a blog to be addressed! 🙂