2. Feminist Critiques of Science and Religion
Feminist theology emerged in roughly the same periodas 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 1960s,
and many feminist theologians draw explicitly on, and contribute to, the
feminist critique of science. Ruether and Cliffordare 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 Solbergstressed in 1997, even today very few women are active in theology and science,
and the number of feminist women (or men) is even fewer.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 Stenmark,
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.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.
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 Nobledescribes 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 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 science.
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 Mans
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.
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,and between theology and science and ethics and technology on the other,
the need is all the more pressing for the inclusion of womens voices in
science and religion.
Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell