Reviewing Gender and Career Progression in Theology and Religious Studies by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

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Abstract from the Study:  The low proportion of women within the subject areas of Theology and Religious Studies has long been observed, and is increasingly recognised as a serious problem for staff and students. In this new study, Mathew Guest, Sonya Sharma and Robert Song chart patterns of gender imbalance among staff and students across UK Theology and Religious Studies departments, exploring why such patterns remain so persistent. Drawing on interviews with Theology and Religious Studies academics across the country, the report examines the professional life of female university staff, and makes recommendations for how universities might address the inequalities of opportunity and practice that emerge.

The Report can be found at this link:

While this report focused on UK institutions, it is an important study for this field of study and did garner feedback outside of the U.K.  Some of the findings that may be of interest:

  • Females outnumber males at the undergraduate level in theology and religious studies (60/40).  When moving to the taught post-graduate level, the proportion of female students drop to 42%, and at the post-graduate research level (Ph.D. program) another drop to 33%.
  • Women make up 29% of academic staff in the field of theology and religious studies.  37% amount early career academics and lecturers, 34% senior lecturers, and only 16% amount professors.
  • Comparing the field of theology and religious studies to other disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences reflect the same trajectory of gradual female withdrawal in tandem with academic progression.  The drop-out rate seems to be more dramatic in theology and religious studies, especially between the undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels.
  • Structural factors influencing this pattern include the tendency of theology and religious studies departments to recruit postgraduates from international contexts in which a form of Christianity that favors the authority of men is prominent.
  • Interviews with academics in the field reveal additional factors which include entrenched connections to Christianity and Christian churches, the gendered style of academic engagement in some of the sub-discipllines, and the up-hill struggle to develop the confidence to succeed in a male-dominated environment.
  • Generic issues include poor allowance for childcare and family responsibilities as well as bullying.
  • Advisors have a profound effect as well as interaction with the faculty.
  • Often, women are pressured to perform better than their male counterparts in order to stand out from the other female candidates.
  • Gender stereotypes that work against “women’s entrance and mobility” in academic jobs, especially those related to leadership positions.
  • Collegiality focused on “male sociability”whereby women’s ideas are suppressed or they find themselves on the margins within their departments.
  • Being the lone voice or scapegoat in the department for “women’s issues.”
  • Studying stereotypical topics and migrating away from traditional “male” disciplines.

Continue reading “Reviewing Gender and Career Progression in Theology and Religious Studies by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Making Our Way – Updating the Guide for Women in Religion by Kecia Ali

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Mary E. Hunt, Monique Moultrie, and I are updating the Guide for Women in Religion. The original version was edited by Mary with an impressive cast of contributors and first published ten years ago. Organized with entries from “A” (AAR) to “Z” (Zeitgeist), it was the successor to the 1992 Guide to the Perplexing, which billed itself as a “survival manual” and was team-written by a group that includes several now-legendary figures in the field, then junior folks trying to find their way in the sometimes hostile, often bewildering landscape of academic religious studies, particularly at the AAR and SBL.

With each iteration of the Guide, some important things have changed. (Others have not, but that’s another blog.)

One thing that has changed for the better:  There are now plenty of women in senior positions, women who have attained the rank of full professor (and retired as emerita), or direct major organizations, who are recognized as leaders in their scholarly fields. Women’s studies in religion has gained prominence as a serious subfield, and gender as a crucial category (or factor, or variable, or consideration, or analytic lens) appears in a great deal of scholarship and not a few job ads. Continue reading “Making Our Way – Updating the Guide for Women in Religion by Kecia Ali”

Sanctioned Ignorance and the Theological Academy By Egon Cohen

Namsoon Kang writes that dislocation can be a theologically transformative process of self-discovery, using the metaphor of the “homeless traveler . . . leaving home for Home.” Kang also states that one’s identity—one’s location as traveler—is necessarily influenced by one’s position along axes of identity such as race, religion, ethnicity, class, gender, ability, and sexuality. And it is at this interstice that I, and many other liberationist theologians, grapple with issues of privilege. We are committed to traveling with the marginalized, but our luggage is packed with advantages denied to our companions. Indeed, as individuals with the luxury of pursuing advanced theological studies, most academic theologians operate within a space of significant privilege.

In this regard, I have observed four main typologies of response: (1) denial, (2) guilt, (3) cataloguing, and (4) instrumentalizing. It is hard to constructively engage the first type of response within the present discussion—the existence of such institutionalized privileges is one of my implicit operating premises, so I will bracket this analysis for another occasion. Similarly, I believe that the constructive/transformational capacity of guilt for or detailed acknowledgment of privilege is quite limited. So the question becomes, how do white and/or male and/or heterosexual and/or “first world” theologians instrumentalize our privileges for and (more importantly) with our “fellow travelers”? Continue reading “Sanctioned Ignorance and the Theological Academy By Egon Cohen”

Forty Years and Counting: Women and Religion in the Academy By Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She teaches in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS and through Ariadne Institute offers Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.

The receipt of an invitation to the Fortieth Anniversary Celebration of the Women’s Caucus in the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature this week, takes me back to the summer of 1971.  At the first meeting of Women Theologians at Alverno College (which was followed up at Grailville in succeeding years), I proposed that we form a feminist caucus in the field of religion, as had already been done by feminists in several other fields.

Since I was one of the few women at Alverno who had attended the annual meetings in the field of religion, I was delegated to call Harry Buck, then director of the AAR, to ask for space on the program.  Harry, who continued to support the work of women in the field through lecture series at Wilson College and the magazine Anima which he founded, offered not only space at the meetings, but a print-out of the names and addresses of all of the members of the AAR who were not obviously male.  I invited all of them to come to a feminist meeting at the AAR in Atlanta. It is hard to imagine now, but before 1971, the women who attended the AAR in any given year could probably have been counted on one hand. Continue reading “Forty Years and Counting: Women and Religion in the Academy By Carol P. Christ”

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