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08 April 2012

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Helen De Cruz
1.

When I joined SCP, I found it rather odd and a bit troubling that membership is restricted to Christians only. This is their wording "The Society is open to anyone interested in philosophy who considers himself or herself a Christian. Membership is not restricted to any particular “school” of philosophy or to any branch of Christianity, nor to professional philosophers."
So, interestingly, you can join SCP if you are someone who is merely interested in philosophy, but not if you are someone who is merely interested (as opposed to self-identifying) as a Christian. Not only does this exclude people who are interested in Christian philosophy but not Christians (think about the about 20% or so atheist philosophers of religion), it also marks any member of SCP as a Christian (e.g., by putting SCP on the CV one might be putting off potential employers?) While I agree the probability of SCP inducting Dennett et al are zero, it would be good if they could change their policy. I think this would be tremendously beneficial to Christian and non-Christian philosophers alike (for one thing, F&P is a nice journal that comes with the membership, and it's very hard to find an online version of the journal...)
My modified wording would be something like "The Society is open to anyone interested in philosophy and Christianity. Membership is not restricted to (professional) philosophers or Christians"

Jon Cogburn
2.

Helen,

Finding out that you are a member is one more reason I should have spent some ink celebrating what's great about the organization. Keith De Rose, Jonathan Kvanvig, and Trent Dougherty are also not only some of the best philosophers I know, but also some of the kindest people with whom I've ever had the pleasure to interact.

All this shows is how insidious Pride can be. I should have embedded this video as well - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QereR0CViMY . Those of us not in the SCP are all individuals! We are all different!

Best,

Jon

Helen De Cruz
3.

:) We're all individuals. That's a wonderful Easter message, Jon!

n
4.

Lucifer arms !? Can we be a philosopher and still use that kind of rethoric? I´m sorry, but for an European hear like mine your post is a little bit shocking, to say the least. But if that brings you closer to the truth and helps you to live your life who am I to raise any objections.

David Wallace
5.

It's not shocking to this European, for what it's worth. In fact, it's nicely multiply-interpretable: atheists like me can read it as straight metaphor; for Christians, it's going to be something between metaphor and something more literal, depending on the details of their faith. I don't see the problem.

Jeremy Pierce
6.

I think we have to keep in mind the state of the profession at the time the SCP was formed (a state that is still to some extent present). The narratives of some of the founders have appeared in such books as God and the Philosophers and Philosophers Who Believe, and some of those narratives make it clear just how hard it was to be a Christian and a philosopher in the middle of the 20th century, when most of the founders were working on their Ph.D.s. Partly through their work making Christianity much less unrespectable (but I would not say universally respectable in philosophy at this point, given the derision I still see pretty regularly for prominent Christian philosophers), the culture of philosophy has changed a good deal since then. But I could detail probably dozens of experiences that I've had or heard about that show at the very least an implicit bias against Christians in philosophy today, sometimes quite explicit and expressed outright in ways that I think would be much less likely if those in question knew there were Christians around (but there's often an assumption that philosophers aren't Christians, so such people often don't suspect a Christian is present unless they know one is). A lot of these experiences are similar enough to what I read at the What It's Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy site. Someone could produce a similar site about what it's like to be a Christian in philosophy.

There are people who think that forming solidarity groups of oppressed people or historically-oppressed people is bad. There are people who think that forming identity groups among those with shared goals is bad. I suspect that's not what's going on here. I suspect it's because Christianity has been the mainstream in the areas people who are resisting the SCP's membership policy come from. But groups that have more influence and hegemony in the culture at large may nonetheless be oppressed in a sub-culture, even to the point where epistemic privilege of the same sort that occurs with minority or oppressed groups can occur among this minority group in the sub-culture even though it has cultural hegemony in the larger culture. I think the reason the SCP has the membership policy they have is probably similar to why a society of black philosophers might expect their members to be black or why a society of women philosophers might expect their members to be women. Nothing precludes non-members from participating in SCP functions, contributing to the journal, and so on. It's not as if it's an exclusive club that refuses outsiders any role in participating in their activities. But they want to be an identity-based organization, and they have particular reasons for doing so, reasons that have to do with having been marginalized in the field of philosophy.

Now this doesn't mean they have to have this particular membership policy, and I suppose someone might still think they ought not to restrict their membership in this way, even taking into account all these factors, but my point is that this sort of membership policy is not like restrictive membership policies of culturally-dominant groups in general that prohibit outsiders from participating, both because it is a group that regularly features non-members' contributions at conferences and in the journal and because Christians in philosophy are quite definitively not the cultural mainstream.

I myself don't see as much point with such a broad, ecumenical Christian organization as the SCP as I would for more specific sub-sets of Christianity, where an identity based on a clearer statement of faith might form greater ability to work together on issues common to the group. A Catholic, evangelical, or Mormon philosophical organization would strike me as having much more grounds for restricting membership based on core commitments. But I'm not sure there's anything morally problematic about the SCP having this sort of policy.

Helen De Cruz
7.

Jeremy: these are interesting observations. I can perfectly well accept restrictions in the case of groups for women and groups for particular ethnic minorities. In how far is the analogy between them and Christians warranted? I do not know. Two years ago, I was at a conference where a paper was read by a sociologist (alas, I forgot his name) about exclusion of religious believers in academia. He did a self-report questionnaire where members of SCs were asked "Would you hire a candidate if you knew s/he was a ..." (inserted words were atheist, evangelical Christian, Roman Catholic, Muslim etc). Interestingly, for all Christian and non-Christian religious denominations, people self-reported they would hold this against the candidate. Especially evangelical Christians were mistrusted. Mormons were also regarded with suspicion.
The situation for Christians in philosophy and academia more general is considerably more complicated than, say, for blacks and women, because outside of academia the dominant culture is not unfavorable to them (especially in the USA, so I keep on hearing). Last year I was on a meeting of members of the Centre for Inquiry, and they provided strong testimony that it isn't fun being an atheist in small-town America (I can't play with the neighbor's children, because she thinks we're creepy atheists).
But I agree that within academia, being a Christian is probably a disadvantage. I know of several philosophy departments in Belgium where they are not welcome. So in that sense membership of SCP, if anything, can put one in a further disadvantage. If it were more open this would not be the case. And I think most atheists and agnostics who would join would at least be interested in Christianity (e.g., atheist philosophers of religion).
For what it's worth, my personal experience is that Christian philosophers get mainly criticized for this reason, namely that Christianity outside of academia is still intellectually respectable, and in some cases the social norm. Hence one is criticized for not taking into account other religious traditions, identified with ultra-conservative views with respect to social issues, minority groups, abortion etc (the fact that some Christian philosophers are indeed quite to the right side of the political spectrum complicates matters further!)

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