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2. Feminist Critiques of ‘Science and Religion’

Feminist theology emerged in roughly the same periodEarly landmark publications of a systematic feminist theology include Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983). and Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza,...as the secular feminist views of science. A feminist critique of ‘science and religion’, though, is only just emerging. Clearly its philosophical roots lie in the earlier debates over critical realism that have been part of ‘science and religion’ since the 1960sInterestingly, Fiorenzo cites Kuhn’s idea of scientific paradigms and notes Barbour’s use of him in discussing religion and science. See Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, xxi and endnote #13, p. xxv...., and many feminist theologians draw explicitly on, and contribute to, the feminist critique of science. Ruether and CliffordC. S. J. Clifford, Anne M., "Feminist Perspectives on Science: Implications for an Ecological Theology of Creation," Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 8.2(Fall 1992). See also R. J. Clifford,...are two important examples whose writings show how the divisions between ‘theology and science’ and ‘ethics, the environment and technology’ can and are being surmounted through such concerns as ecofeminism.

Still, the femininst critique of ‘science and religion’ per se is relatively new. Again, on one level the issue is numbers. As Ann Pederson and Mary SolbergAnn Pederson and Mary Solberg, "CyberFlesh: An Embodied Feminist Pedagogy for Science and Religion" (Paper given to the science and religion group at the AAR Annual Meeting, 1999).stressed in 1997, even today very few women are active in “theology and science”, and the number of feminist women (or men) is even fewer.I think the claim that women have been "excluded" is inaccurate and misleading, but it does call for a more thorough understanding of why women have not participated in the ‘science and...However the more sobering issue lies, as it does in the feminist critique of science, in the claim that gender effects the content of the field. According to Pederson and Solberg, “the neat, tidy Cartesian world ... in which modern Western science has moved very comfortably indeed--is now up for grabs... Feminist epistemologies call attention to embodied, intersubjective, situated ways of knowing. We are asked to pay attention to the differences in the ways we know the world and construct the world.” Lisa StenmarkLisa L. Stenmark, "Seeing the Log in Our Own Eye: The Social Locationof the Science and Religion Discourse" (Paper given to the science and religion group at the AAR Annual Meeting, 1999)., too, points to numbers: Participants in science and religion are mostly “white, male, privileged” and thus they carry the same biases as the pool of scientists whose work they analyze.She is also very critical of feminists who overly focus on categories such as "white, male privilege" since it ignores the fact that women such as herself are part of the same social location...However the real problem is not social location but a commitment to the presuppositions of modernism. Stenmark urges scholars in science and religion to listen to the “voices from the margins” and to turn to postmodernist views of knowledge as the relationship of head, hand and heart, to honor the importance of diversity in community, and to adhere to participatory values.See also: Winnifred A. Tomm, "Sexuality, Rationality, and Spirituality," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 25.2(June 1990); Robert J. Deltete, "Hawking on God and Physical Theory,"...

Meanwhile, historical studies on gender bias in science should, in turn, lead to a clearer understanding of gender bias in ‘science and religion.’ In A World Without Women, David NobleDavid F. Noble, A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), Introduction.describes the clerical ascetic culture that first came to dominance in the High Middle Ages as “a world without women..., a society composed exclusively of men, forged in flight from women, and intent upon remaking the world in its own half-human image.” The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century in part represents a secular form of clerical authority. Though women finally entered the academic world in the nineteenth century, they were “only to be confronted by another clerical restoration, in the form of a male scientific professionalism that betrayed the same misogynistic and, indeed, monastic habits of the clerical culture it superseded.”

In Pythagoras’ Trousers,Margaret Wertheim, Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars (New York: Times Books, 1995); see also Margaret Wertheim, "Faith, Physics, and Feminism: The 1995-96 J. K. Russell Fellowship...Margaret Wertheim explores the relation between the marginalization of women in religion and the marginalization of women in physics. She first points to a subtle connection between mathematics and mystical religion, both in Greece (e.g., Pythagoras) and in medieval Europe (e.g., Christian Pythagoreanism). Today, though it purports to be fully ‘secularized’, physics is treated as a pseudoreligion not only by a culture which is largely dismissive of religion but even by its practitioners. Returning to history, Wertheim argues that women were excluded from European universities, and thus not only from holding office in the church but also from participating in the rise of scienceWertheim also claims that scientists in this period sided with the churches and the traditional aristocracies against those advocating for a greater role for women. Wertheim, Pythagoras' trousers, p. 11.... Today, women are still “chronically underrepresented in physics” even when their participation in the other sciences is now increasing. “The struggle women have faced to gain entry into science parallels the struggle they have faced to gain entry into the clergy... Physics is ... Mathematical Man ... as a religious being.” As a consequence, women are excluded from determining the directions and goals both of technologies coming from physics and of fundamental research in physics. Wertheim advocates instead “a culture of physics that would encourage both men and women to pursue different kinds of goals and ideals...more concerned with human beings and our needs...Mathematical Man’s problem is neither his math nor his maleness per se, but rather the pseudoreligious ideals and self-image with which he so easily becomes obsessed. He does not need a sex change, just a major personality realignment.”Wertheim, Pythagoras' trousers, 8-9, 15.

I believe that a sustained focus on issues of gender as a clue to how scientific and theological voices in the dialogue have influenced --- and distorted --- each other in the dialogue as well as the dialogue itself, will mark an important new development in ‘science and religion’. To the extent that the voices of women in religion have diversified more rapidly and more fully than in science, it make the lack of inclusion of womanist, mujerista, and other women’ voices in ‘science and religion’ all the more important. Finally, with the growing ecofeminist interaction between feminist and ecological concerns on the one hand,For a Teachers’ File see Nancy R. Howell, "Ecofeminism: What One Needs to Know," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 32.2(June 1997).and between ‘theology and science’ and ‘ethics and technology’ on the other, the need is all the more pressing for the inclusion of women’s voices in ‘science and religion.’

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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