Women in biblical studies

A while ago, there was a flurry of interest in why there are so few women biblibloggers (see my contributions, which link to others) and I suggested that part of  it is the way the church operates – that while women are present in the church in significant numbers, their voices are still under-represented. As I was going through my Endnote library, it occurred to me that there weren’t all that many women in my bibliography. Having done a lot of reading in psychological literature for my work on eyewitness testimony, I got the impression that this wasn’t so in psychology so I decided to see whether my feeling was justified. It was.

Of the roughly 400 authors represented in the biblical studies part of my Endnote library, 15 or 4% are women. Of the roughly 300 authors represented in the psychological part, 70  or 23% are women. It seems as though the proportion of women bibliobloggers is a reasonable mirror of the proportion of women who write in the area of biblical studies.

I have material dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century in both biblical studies and memory, although eyewitness testimony research only really got going in the early 1970s, whereas Gospel of  Thomas research got going about a decade earlier, which will bias the results somewhat. The reason that I have around 300 authors in the psych area (only a minor part of my research) and 400 in bib studs is that the majority of psychological literature has two or more authors while the majority of biblical studies material has only one. There are at over 550 bib studs items and only 162 psych ones.

So, for those of you who are interested, the women authors included in the biblical studies part of my Endnote library are:

  • Barbara (Ehlers) Aland
  • Kamila Blessing
  • Madeline Boucher
  • April DeConick
  • Majella Franzmann
  • Morna Hooker
  • Karen King
  • Eta Linnemann
  • Betsey Fordyce Miller
  • Elaine Pagels
  • Pheme Perkins
  • Ann Nyland
  • Susan Nidritch
  • Luise Schottroff
  • Mary Ann Tolbert

I am well aware that this is not an exhaustive or carefully controlled study and that I am working in a “fringe” area of biblical studies, which may not be an accurate reflection of the more mainstream. Given the difference in proportions between the two fields, though, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that biblical studies has lagged a long way behind psychology in enabling women to exercise their gifts as scholars.

Writing for the web vs writing for print

Tim Bulkeley over at SansBlogue has recently posted about writing differently for the web. I started posting a comment but it grew out of all proportion, so I decided to move it here instead. Tim talks about the need to write more simply on-line than for print and I agree. I think we need to think very carefully about the relationship between content and formatting and I offer the following observations:

  1. For some reason, it is more difficult to follow long, multiclause sentences on line than it is on paper. Shorter, more simple sentences are easier. I wonder if this is because we tend to think of the web as a more informal medium, so we expect less complex material?
  2. I am sure that extended argument is more difficult to follow on line because of the nature of the medium. I know that I tend to want to glance back at a previous part of most extended academic works and this is far more difficult to do on line than in print. I think this is how it works:
  3. Mostly, when people read an academic article, they read with a purpose in mind – to find out more about X. This means that they don’t pay as much attention to some parts of it as they do to other parts, because they really only pay careful attention to the bits than are informing their quest for information about X. The author almost certainly doesn’t have the same purpose in mind in writing as most readers do in reading. Thus, the reader reaches various places in the text where s/he goes “huh? I don’t remember her/him saying that!” and needs to backtrack. I don’t know about others, but some of the way I navigate around a paper text is visual – I know that the bit I want to re-read is on the top of a left-hand page and several pages back. On-line text doesn’t work like this, so there need to be other landmarks. Thus, just dumping a paper text into electronic format doesn’t make it on-line-friendly.
  4. It is also very much more difficult to skim-read effectively on line. We teach our students that in order to get the gist of an author’s argument they should read the abstract (if there is one), then the opening paragraph or two, then the first sentence of each paragraph and then the conclusion. This is reasonably easy to do with a paper text and very much more difficult to do on-line, where it involves constantly moving the text in front of your eyes, rather than working with a stationary text.
  5. I have been proof-reading an PhD thesis for an international student who is now producing his final draft back home and emailing chapters to me for final proofing. I am reading on-line and adding comments/suggested changes electronically and I find it most uncomfortable to read from the top to the bottom of a screen, then move the line at the bottom of the screen to the top. It takes time for me to relocate myself in the text before I can read on. This suggests to me that when writing for on-line rather than print, we need to try write in “chunks” that are no more than a screen long and to format so that each sense unit is easy to find.
  6. I have access to quite a large number of journal articles on line one way and another and I find that I need to print them out in order to be able to get the information that I need out of them. The on-line version is fine for seeing if it has enough information in it to make it worth printing, but not for reading. Some journals offer me the option of html or pdf format, but the html is invariably not formatted well for either on screen on paper reading!!
  7. Even with paper versions, formatting makes a huge difference. I read the manuscript version of April DeConick’s <i>The Thirteenth Apostle</i> while I was working with her at Rice University and then bought a copy of the book when it was published. The published version is much nicer to read because the publisher has paid significant attention to formatting.
  8. There are simple things about web vs print that people often ignore – like:
    • a serif font works better for blocks of print, while a sans serif font works better for blocks of on-screen material so just using the “save for web” option in your wordprocessor to turn your manuscript into html is not a good way to go.
    • two columns are quite nice to read in print, but if the columns are more than a screen long, they are the pits to read on-line because you have to scroll down and then up and then down. ( I wish my daughter’s school would understand this about formatting their newsletter, which is now distributed by email – I try to tell myself that it’s not too environmentally unfriendly to print it if I either use recycled paper or double side it.)
    • there is an optimum number of words per line for comfortable reading of large amounts of information and high resolution displays on large screens put far more than this on your screen, so on-line text needs to be formatted to control this somehow