Women working in Philosophy of Religion
January 13, 2012 — 16:37

Author: Kevin Timpe  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: ,   Comments: 13

It’s pretty well known that philosophy, as a discipline, suffers from a gender imbalance. (That’s actually a significant understatement….) I think everyone, despite their views on how problematic the imbalance is, can agree with that. And for a few years it’s struck me that many of the most male-dominated conferences I’ve been at have been in philosophy of religion. I don’t presently have any data for this (though I hope to soon). 

Recently, other sub-disciplines (history of philosophy and epistemology–perhaps there are others?) have started to make lists of women working in that area. Andrew Bailey has set up a publicly editable document to help compose a similar list for women in philosophy of religion. Please help us make it more exhaustive here:




On a related issue, let me plug a session I’m chairing at the Pacific APA (which has what may be my favorite paper title in the history of the APA):

Addressing the Dearth of Women in Philosophy of Religion

Chair: Kevin L. Timpe

Speaker: Christina Van Dyke, “Don’t Get Your Panties in a Bunch: The Dilemma of Drawing Attention to the Absence of Women”

Speaker: Victoria Harrison: “Is Philosophy of Religion Relevant to Women?”

Commentator: Kristen Irwin

If there’s interest, I can start a separate thread here at the blog on why PoR seems to be worse than other sub-fields in this way, what can be done about it, how problematic it is, etc….

  • Kenny Pearce

    I’d be interested in information on what sub-sub-field of phil religion these people work on. When I was preparing my IEP article, I didn’t find a single article on omnipotence by a woman in any of the major phil religion venues (F&P, RelSt, IJPR). I didn’t find them in the database and I didn’t see them cited in the works I read. I have the impression that the dearth of women is even worse on the metaphysical side of philosophy of religion (divine attributes, that sort of thing) than it is on the value side (problem of evil, etc.). (Of course, some of Eleonore Stump’s work is quite metaphysical, and is very important and widely cited.) This is just a general impression I have, and is not based on any kind of systematic survey, which is why I’d be interested in more information.
    On a related note, I count one unambiguously female name and two ambiguous (to me) names on the list of Prosblogion contributors. Perhaps some invitations should be sent out!

    January 13, 2012 — 22:10
  • Kevin

    Good point, Kenny. I suspect you are right. And you point out a serious lacuna here at PB. I think there is only one female listed contributor, and from what I can tell she’s never actually posted.

    January 14, 2012 — 1:02
  • Helen De Cruz

    It would be interesting to see a discussion of this on prosblogion.
    I have recently blogged about this issue here as well http://www.newappsblog.com/2012/01/is-the-field-of-philosophy-of-religion-more-gender-imbalanced-than-other-fields.html#more
    The blogpost contains some figures on women in phil of religion editorial boards, anthologies, and the Philpaper survey, which should help us to decide whether or not PoR is more gender-imbalanced than other fields.

    January 14, 2012 — 9:29
  • Matthew Mullins

    The way the Prosblogion contributors list works is such that an individual’s name doesn’t appear on the list until they post an entry. So…
    1. There are more women who have accounts to post to Prosblogion that those that appear on the contributors list.
    2. I’ve invited more women than those that have accounts to post to Prosblogion. (If you know me, you know I’m not shy about asking.)
    3. Our About page has a clear instructions for anyone who wants to contribute to Prosblogion.

    January 14, 2012 — 12:45
  • I’ve posted similar spreadsheets for Metaphysics and Epistemology. Anyone can view and edit; corrections and additions welcome!

    January 14, 2012 — 13:11
  • Kenny Pearce

    Hi Matt,
    I didn’t mean to criticize, I just meant that as long as the list was being compiled, it might be worthwhile to see if there are some people on the list who haven’t been invited yet.

    January 14, 2012 — 13:19
  • Kevin Wong
    January 16, 2012 — 9:36
  • Thinker

    I think everyone, despite their views on how problematic the imbalance is, can agree with that
    By “gender imbalance”, do you merely mean that there are more men than woman in the field? Or were you suggesting something more normative: that this is a problem, though we may disagree how severe? I worry that by making lists of woman, we may perpetuate what some would argue to be the injustice of discrimination against males. Cohen (2003) puts it this ways: “it is wrong, always and everywhere, to give special advantage to any group simply on the basis of physical characteristics that have no relevance to the award given or the burden imposed.” I’m not sure I’d go to that extreme, but it is evident to me (from cv checking and paying attention to invited/non-invited publications) that woman are actually overly represented in the various fields of philosophy. Others may have a different view, of course. (These are not simple matters.)

    January 16, 2012 — 21:39
  • Helen De Cruz

    Thinker: are you seriously suggesting that women are overly represented in various areas of philosophy, including philosophy of religion? Let me just reiterate some figures I also put in the NewApps blog:
    In the Philpapers survey, 2.3% of women list PoR as an AOS vs 5.8% of males. Since 83.4 % of respondents to the survey are men (and assuming that this is a good representation of the general philosophy population, an assumption that is not too far of, as far as I know) we can say that out of about 1000 philosophers, about 4 are women philosophers who specialize in philosophy of religion, and about 48 are men who specialize in philosophy of religion. Thus, according to PhilPapers – unfortunately the only source I’m aware of that has these figures – the ratio men to women is about 1 in 12. This is surely not an over representation of women, however we define it (since we should expect at baseline that the ratio would be roughly 1 in 2)!
    Let’s now look at the number of women invited to some recent anthologies:
    • The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of religion: 1/14 
    • The Oxford handbook of the philosophy of religion: 3/20 
    • The Routledge companion to philosophy of religion: 6/64
    Here are some figures for editorial boards of the leading journals in philosophy of religion:
    • Faith & Philosophy: 3/38
    • Religious Studies: 5/31
    • International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion: 2/20
    These are not out of line with the 1/12 ratio.

    January 18, 2012 — 5:28
  • David

    I would like to point out part of the problem of finding women in philosophy of religion is where are you looking. As John “Jack” Caputo points out on the “pale blue dot” podcast philosophy departments in the US are typically dominated by analytical folk, so to find those interested Continental Philosophy one should look in rhetoric departments,language departments, and religion departments. I would argue this is most especially true with philosophy of religion.
    Many philosophy of religion, Philosophy and religion folk are in religion departments, go to meetings like SPEP and the AAR. In addition feminists who are located along the axis of philosophy and religion aren’t necessarily interested in the categories like “omnipotence” as they are traditionally conceived, and the resist disciplinary boundaries especially the sub-discipline, of a sub-disciplinary boundary.
    it is important to look for women in the boundary spaces and at the limits of “philosophy” because the center is occupied by men (myself) included.
    Catherine Keller (Drew) has done extensive work on via negativa and philosophy, and in her book “faces of the deep” takes on and is highly critical of omnipotence and makes a whiteheadian push towards divinity as a becoming.
    Amy Hollywood (Harvard) takes up the philosophical nature of embodiment in Medieval Mystics and then their employment by French philosophers on the nature of embodiment, bodies, souls, and religion
    Patrica Cox Miller (Syracuse) her book “The Corporeal Imagination: Signifying the Holy in Late Ancient Christianity” takes up early Christian philosophers and the body.

    January 18, 2012 — 9:41
  • Thinker

    Thanks for pressing me, and I surely might well be mistaken. But I don’t see much force to the arguments you gave. The numbers given suggest that while 1/12 philosophers who specialize in PR are woman, 1/9.8 are invited to contribute to anthologies (and about 1/9 to be on editorial boards). I agree that’s not exactly out of line, but those numbers are compatible with slight over-representation, I think.
    Your other–main?–argument seemed to be that 1/12 is less than 1/2, and anything less than one half is incompatible with over-representation. Here, perhaps the issue is over the meaning of “over-representation”. This is why I wondered if there’s a normative component, such that over or under representation should be considered a problem. I’m just not sure there’s a problem here (if less than 1/2 automatically implies under-representation), because I’m not sure that the ratio doesn’t reflect non-problematic differences in interest tendencies.
    But I’m certainly open to other data.

    January 20, 2012 — 14:29
  • Helen De Cruz

    Thinker, thanks for getting back to me about this. The main problem as I see it is the 1/12 ratio, which I find unacceptably low. While 1/9 might be better, it’s still very low – I really don’t see at all how that can be regarded as an overrepresentation (except if you think 1/12 is OK as a baseline, and so everything above that baseline is an overrepresentation).
    It’s hard to explain why we have this gender imbalance in PR: it’s not because women are less interested in religion (if anything, sociological studies indicate that women are typically more involved in religion, score higher on individual religiosity, involvement in religious organizations etc.). It’s partly due to the fact that women are underrepresented in philosophy (I think it’s been about 20 % for years now, and as far as I can see the admissions of graduate programs don’t show any improvement). But even there, 1/12 is worse than the overall philosophy baseline 1/5.
    I think PR can certainly benefit from a better female/male ratio – suppose, as continental philosophers do, that your background, upbringing, etc. has an impact on your outlook and development. Then wouldn’t it be valuable for PR that there is a diversity of backgrounds (gender, but also sexual orientation, religious background [now there are still overwhelmingly many Christians] etc)? Addressing the gender imbalance may be one way, but not the only way, to make PR more diverse.
    Even if you assume that background makes no difference to one’s philosophical outlook. Then, assuming men and women are roughly equal in cognitive ability, we are missing out on a lot of qualified philosophers – who somehow, because of their gender, do not feel welcome in PR for reasons we don’t fully comprehend yet.

    January 23, 2012 — 13:14
  • Thinker

    Thanks for those good thoughts. Let me first say that I’m happy you work in PR. 🙂
    This is a sensitive topic, and I don’t want to in any way inadvertently stand against the promotion of woman in philosophy. So, I think I’ll leave it there and perhaps just write you an e-mail was some additional considerations.

    January 25, 2012 — 10:55