Saturday, April 16, 2011

God and Gaia in Academia

This is an interesting essay at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Apparently it's fairly common in academic circles to believe that humanity was matriarchal in prehistoric times, complete with goddess worship. Feminist Cynthia Eller countered this trend in her book The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future. It reminds me of the claims that witches were proto-feminist midwives and healers who were persecuted by the patriarchy.

By itself, that's pretty interesting and makes the essay well worth reading. But then comes this quote:

Why bring this up now? Because higher education’s relaxed attitude about appointing faculty members who not only believe but who actually teach this moonshine demonstrates the hypocrisy of those who say that faculty members are acting out of the need to protect the university from anti-scientific nonsense when they discriminate against conservative Christian candidates for academic appointment. The possibility that a candidate for a position in biology, anthropology, or, say, English literature might secretly harbor the idea that God created the universe or that the Bible is true, is a danger not to be brooked. But apparently, the possibility that a candidate believes that human society was “matriarchal” until about 5,000 years ago is perfectly within the range of respectable opinion appropriate for campus life.

And then it gets really interesting.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Joel said...

I hear sometimes about a big anti-Christian bias in academia, but I don't often see that much evidence to substantiate it. Of course a young-earth creationist can't get a position in most science departments, but that's different from someone being denied a position due to their Christianity in general.

If anything, it seems to me that the academy is more friendly to Christianity now than it has been for some time. Marxist history is falling out of favor, the center of biblical studies has shifted in a somewhat more conservative direction, Francis Collins is one of the best-known scientists alive today besides Hawking and Dawkins, the conflict thesis is dead, and Christian philosophy has made a resurgence. Of course, I am speaking as an outsider who doesn't really know what goes on within academic circles.

And what does an "evangelical" or "conservative" Christian mean here? "Evangelical" can mean so many different things, from a very specific set of scientific/theological/ethical views to just a broad definition of an orthodox Christian. I noticed in the comments of the article that people seem to be using different definitions.

Joel said...

To clarify, when I say Biblical studies has shifted in a more conservative direction, I simply mean that it's generally less radically skeptical then a few decades ago, not that a majority of biblical scholars are conservative Christians.

Jim S. said...

Well he gives some evidence in of anti-Christian bias in the article. Here's the main quote:

"A week ago I posted to the Chronicle an essay, Preferred Colleagues, commenting on a new book by a sociologist on his research into the admitted biases of academics. In Compromising Scholarship: Religious and Political Bias in American Higher Education, George Yancey offers some startling data on the willingness of professors to “weigh favorably” or to be “less likely to hire” candidates for academic position who possess various group affiliations. It turns out that a considerable percentages of sociologists—27.8 percent for example—“weigh favorably” a candidate’s membership in the Democratic Party. A similar percentage (28.7 percent) would disfavor hiring a Republican. Most startling, however, was the readiness of academics in a whole range of disciplines to be “less likely to hire” conservative Christians. According to Yancey’s data, Evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists face the stiffest barriers to academic appointment."

Of course this brings up your point about how one defines Christian fundamentalist or evangelical. The original Fundamentals were pretty standard Protestant theology of the time, but the name later got attached to young-earth creationists. I think a similar attempt to do the same thing with "evangelical" is underway.

Jim S. said...

I forgot the link to his prior essay going over some of the data:

claudio said...

It is probably true that many academics have a more pronounced bias against religion than against psychoanalysis or marxism, and that they will allow a communist colleague when they would protest a priest.
But maybe this knive also cuts both ways: sometimes religious connotations have granted a more favourable predisposition than, let's say, political ones. Hitohito vs Hitler could be a case. Had the nazi party been a german religion would it have been equally forbidden after the war?

David B Marshall said...

I have little doubt about the anti-Christian bias in academia. I've talked with too many academics who were themselves too bigoted against Christians. Read a few days worth of blogs at Pharyngula, or Jerry Coyne's site, if you doubt it. I'm not into paranoia, but since writing The Truth Behind the New Atheism 4 years ago, my interactions with academic atheists has greatly increased my impression of strong bias to the point of knee-jerk bigotry on the part of a sizeable minority of academics.

On the other hand, many who were persecuted as witches WERE healers.

Excavations of Holocene campsites suggest that women were often treated with fair respect, compared to later early agricultural periods. I doubt matriarchy, too, though.

Evan said...

All academic fields have their fads and preferred ways of viewing the world. I think the dislike of conservative christians is probably diminishing as their power fades. How I wish neo-liberalism would be roundly challenged.

The problem with the evidence for matriarchy, and that matriarchy is less hierarchical is interesting. For instance, if we have cave whose opening is painted red and inside contains only female statues - this would indicate probably some goddess worship. But does the exclusion of male figures mean that the matriarchy is hierarchical to the extent of excluding males? Interpreting this kind of evidence can lead to especially twisted difficulties.

Sue said...

What could be more "moonshine" in 2011 than believing in the "resurrection-of-jesus",and that the Bible is the "word of god" (and even inerrant), and the mommy-daddy "creator"-god idea (which by the way is completely godless because it places "God" entirely apart from and separate from "creation" - such IS a terrifying idea).

Sue said...

Of course both the implicit and explicit presumption of this posting is that Christianity (especially the kind that you promote) is the only source of Truth in the world.

Never mind that if you really do your home work by thoroughly considering the modern intellectual and philosophical critiques of conventional Christian religiosity you will find that there is no basis in Truth for any of the usual Christian propositions.

Speaking of the Nazis, they were quite popular in right-wing Christian circles in Germany - because they were prepared to do something about the "problem" of the Jews, the socialists, the bolsheviks, and all of the other "deviants".

Right-wing "catholics" were very active in rounding up the Jews in France.

Sue said...

This is of course a classic example of the Christian straw-man argument to "prove" that there is some great conspiracy against dim-witted Christian simpletons.

Jim S. said...

Goodness, we're having quite an outbreak of trolls lately.

Anonymous said...

Sue, since life has no purpose and everything in it is false hope and a delusion, why live? No doubt I'll get an a delusion as an answer. Consistency lacks in atheist internet trolls.