By Helen De Cruz
Much has been written about Richard Swinburne's recent SCP keynote talk, among others excellent posts by Eric Steinhart, Eric Schliesser, J Edward Hackett and Clayton Littlejohn. I am not going to reiterate the points made in these posts, but I would like to dwell on a particular section of Michael Rea's public apology post (see here for the full post)
As President of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again.
Some commenters have interpreted this as a plan to silence unpopular--but in the Christian community (still) widely accepted--positions, but that is not how I see it. Rather, I think, straightforwardly, that Michael Rea says philosophy of religion has a diversity problem, that the SCP has fallen short, will surely fall short again, but that he, as the president of the SCP, is committed to diversity and inclusion.
If you open the main philosophy of religion journals, which I take to be Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, and International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, they are usually dominated by Christian philosophy, especially of the theist variety. Such homogeneity creates a degree of comfort, and perhaps, inevitably partisanship (hence Justin Weinberg coining the term "resonance conferences" for the SCP conference). There is also a sense of camaraderie and common purpose. Many academic philosophers regard philosophy of religion as silly, unserious, and not worthy of philosophical attention. While they may have arrived at these views through a careful consideration of the field of philosophy of religion and its merits and demerits, I suspect that many philosophers who look down upon philosophy of religion merely do so because of pervasive bias against religious views in academia. Sociologist George Yancey, for instance, found that sociologists and academics from other fields would be less likely to hire (by their own explicit admission) someone if they knew that person was religious, especially if that person was an evangelical or from another conservative denomination. The relatively high percentage of atheists in academia, and in philosophy in particular, may be explained by an association of class and religiosity, and by an implicit association of religiosity with lower intelligence, a stereotype that leads Christians to underperform in science tasks when they are primed with it.
Given how philosophy values cleverness, it is perhaps not surprising that, like other disciplines that value cleverness (such as physics), the percentage of theists is particularly low in comparison with other humanities, around 25%, whereas other humanities disciplines commonly have 40-50% theists. Thus, I think the concerns of philosophers of religion that traditional, orthodox Christian viewpoints are being marginalized (many such concerns were voiced following the debates about Swinburne's keynote) are not unreasonable.
However, it becomes problematic when viewpoints in that discipline are themselves exclusionary and hurtful. How many people who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or queer are philosophers of religion? That is difficult to say, but one way to get a sense of relative proportions is to go to the database of underrepresented philosophers, select those who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bi, trans or queer and then see how many philosophers of religion are in the database.
I found that of the 172 philosophers in that category, only 14 have as specialization philosophy of religion (i.e., 8%). By comparison, there are 50 epistemologists, 28 philosophers of mind, 37 philosophers of science in the same database. This does not take into account baseline rates of these specializations. The AOS that is most similar in terms of % of philosophers who do it is applied ethics, according to the PhilPapers survey. There are 32 LGBTQ philosophers who list applied ethics as an AOS. Since the list is self-selected and may not be an accurate representation of the field, this 8% may be an underestimation. Still, it would seem that LGBTQ philosophers are not flocking to philosophy of religion.
There may be several reasons for why this is the case, but one may well be the negative attitude towards LGBTQ persons in various Christian churches (even relatively progressive ones such as the Church of England have mixed attitudes), and these attitudes are expressed in philosophy of religion. As I said earlier, nothing in Michael Rea's public apology suggests that the SCP will henceforth police such speech. But by taking positive, inclusive actions, philosophers of religion could already go far in signalling that LGBTQ philosophers are welcome.