What do Nietzsche and Religion have in common?

Answer:  Women aren’t interested in either.

That really a joke, sort of.  But judging from the invited speakers of  two conferences being held soon in Oxford, it’s altogether serious.  See:

Nietzsche Mind Conference

God and Morality

Should we mention why we are dismayed by the all-male invited speakers line up?  How about this quick summary:  Done intentionally or not, such selections of speakers help to perpetuate a gender hierarchy in philosophy that operates to the detriment of women’s philosophical and professional advancement.

Each conference does, by the way, have a cfp.  You might use the comment section below to share with us your thoughts about submitting a paper and/or going to the conferences.

43 thoughts on “What do Nietzsche and Religion have in common?

  1. Isn’t LMH the last surviving all women’s college?
    One could get sad about all this.

  2. Perhaps, young female philosophers should be advised to change their names to “Pat” while undergrads…

  3. I made it to the program for the Nietzsche conference. But this field of study is notoriously male. Fortunately, I know of a few young female philosophers ploughing their way through…

  4. Thanks, Christine. It does look male, but one certainly worries that it’s male by design, though not necessarilly conscious design. (The people in charge might instead be operating somewhat unconsciously with a very gendered model of the Nietzsche scholar.)

    There is excellent work done on Nietzsche by established female scholars, including Christine Swanton, Sheridan Hough and Kathleen Higgins Clark. (I hope I’m getting the spelling right!)

  5. (The people in charge might instead be operating somewhat unconsciously with a very gendered model of the Nietzsche scholar.)

    Perhaps. But it’s worth noting that Maudemarie Clark (UC Riverside) has, for at least a decade and a half, been widely recognized as a preeminent Nietzsche scholar. (She is co-author of a forthcoming book on Beyond Good and Evil that can most certainly be expected, like her previous book, to command interest among any serious Nietzsche scholars.)

    Her essay “Nietzsche’s Misogyny” may be of interest:

  6. As with some of the other posts in this series, the relevant question would be whether there are women who have done reputable work in the area circumscribed by the conference topic. As Rob notes, the preeminent senior figure in the field of Nietzsche studies is a woman (Maudemarie Clark). Some of her current interests fall within the scope of this conference, certainly more so than, say, Parkes or Reginster. Was she invited? I’ve no idea. Would it have been inappropriate to fail to invite her? No, not the way it would have been suspicious in the extreme if this were a conference mainly on perspectivism, or issues about truth and knowledge, or Nietzsche’s Genealogy or Beyond Good and Evil. But after Clark, there is not any senior woman in the field (or any woman as senior as any of the men actually giving keynote addresses) who has done work on the conference topics. Even putting to one side qualitative assessment, it is not the case that the women mentioned by “jj,” above, work on the themes of the conference.

    As Christine notes, Nietzsche studies is heavily male. Part of the explanation for that is NIetzsche’s bad reputation (partly deserved, partly not–see the Clark essay, linked above) for his views on women. Notwithstanding that, it actually seems to me that the situation for women in Nietzsche studies is better than in the case of, for example, Hegel or Marx, where it could not be said that the leading senior figure (or even one of the leading senior scholars in the area) is a woman, and where female scholars are also few and far between. Why is that? It’s a good question.

  7. At least one of the scholars on the list is NOT primarily, or arguably even secondarily, a Nietzsche scholar. Maybe more than one, I am unfamiliar. So, why do male non-Nietzsche specialists make it where female non specialists don’t? The argument that there aren’t enough high-powered female Nietzsche scholars is bunkum in light of the selection of male scholars whose primary focus isn’t Nietzsche but who are “big names”.

  8. Brian,

    Your remarks deserve a longer response than I can now give, but let me say a couple of things.

    1. What is the area circumscribed by the conference? It would be one thing to generalize from the interests of the speakers and another to look at the list provided by the organizers. Doing the first would reduce the explanatoriness of saying that no women are working on these topics. That is, if some women were added, the generalization from the speakers would be different, but perhaps not illegitimate in some way that it isn’t now.

    But what do the organizers say are topics of the conference (e.g., topics that papers can address)? It is very extensive:

    Nietzsche’s theory of subjectivity; Nietzsche and the body; Intentionality; Memory and self; Consciousness and self-consciousness; Nietzsche and biology; Epiphenomenalism; Nietzsche and psychology; Mind-body problem; Art, mind, nature; Awareness, emotion, cognition; Unconsciousness; Perspectivism and the self; Self and otherness; Self-awareness and self-knowledge; Mind as emergent phenomenon; Nietzsche and neuroscience; Nietzsche’s naturalism; Agency and freedom; Mind, world, brain; Intersubjectivity and value; Narrative / non-narrative self.

    No doubt there are plenty of other ways to get at “the area circumscribed by the conference.” Perhaps, for example, there’s an established discourse that includes these speakers and just about no women. If so, one might think that’s a problem.

    2. What are legitimate reasons for including speakers at a conference? There is a huge amount of evidence coming out of NSF’s study of many and various areas in science that fields that are and remain almost exclusively male are so because of sociological factors, and not content. So some of us at least think there’s an urgency to addressing these sociological issues and figuring out how to do so without compromising quality.

  9. Captiver, thanks. Your comment supports the direction of my #2 at least. One way to open up the field is to include a non-specialist. Given the spread of topics, that would be easy to do for this conference, one would have thought. One might now even have to sacrifce the “big names” idea.

  10. I assume “captiver’s” comment is a reference to Galen Strawson. In fact, he has written about Nietzsche in a number of contexts and, more to the point, his assimilation of Nietzsche to his kind of non-libertarian incompatibilism has been influential in the Nietzsche literature. If there is a female philosopher of comparable stature to G. Strawson whose work has had an impact on the discussion of Nietzsche’s views in philosophy of mind and action, I don’t know who that would be. Most philosophers of mind and action ignore Nietzsche, sad to say.

    JJ, given your comments earlier and on other threads where this issue has arisen, it is either the case that (1) you are not concerned with quality, or (2) you can not assess it. Can you acknowledge the possibility that there is a conference with only male keynote/plenary speakers because they are the only ones qualified? I’m not sure this is that conference, by the way, but I am trying to figure out whether we’re having an honest discussion, or whether any evidence adduced will be explained away.

  11. I should add that my original comments were presupposing that the areas circumscribed by the conference were those represented by the quote that “jj” posts. If someone can name female scholars who have done important work on these topics with respect to Nietzsche, I woudl welcome that information, since, among other things, I would like to read them!

  12. Rosalyn Diprose (UNSW) has done important work on Nietzsche and embodiment, which is one of the areas listed in the conference organisers’ list of suggested topics. It’s true that she’s already been a keynote for the FNS annual conference, but so has Brian Leiter, who is one the present keynotes.

    There’s also Judith Butler, re: Nietzsche and subjectivity. Obviously, Nietzsche is not her primary topic, but she has written on him in, for instance, The Psychic Life of Power.

    These examples are just off the top of my head — I’m sure there are more, and that a conference organiser cognisant of women’s participation could locate them. Including women of this calibre is surely not a question of compromising quality, and this is not necessary to satisfy the concerns jj is trying to address. Simply, the disadvantage of women in the discipline is endemic to the extent that so many are social blind to the work that women do, and even regard it as compromising quality to purposefully include women. Once there is a conscious effort to do this, women will be more visible, and it will be less an effort to name them.

  13. Brian, it is interesting that you think what I’ve said about the absence of women at various conferences shows I either do not care about quality or cannot discern it.

    I think that someone draws such a conclusion from my remarks is in fact important and unfortunate.

  14. In response to Brian on Hegel scholarship — I think Sally Sedgwick is in fact a leading Hegel scholar. She will be the next president of the Central APA and a keynote at the modern philosophy conference at NYU in November. There has also been published criticism regarding the lack of scholarship by able women philosophers in Beiser’s Cambridge Companion to Hegel.

  15. Just in case anyone is reading the comments, let me add something that we’ve said in a number of places. There is a lot of evidence that implicit biases lead to women’s academic work (among other things) being undervalued. Consequently, the idea that a simple and laudable concern for excellence leads to a male only conference has a huge problem. It is extremely likely that the absence of women is NOT based on some clear perception of excellence. What is likely is that we need to add in as a partial cause at least that implicit biases mean that men’s work, but not women’s, get noticed, encouraged, pulled into the discourse, etc.

    Now of course the biases may operate so early and so thoroughly that women don’t even get started. It’s like the banquet at the whites only country club. It isn’t at that people of color get excluded specifically from the banquet; they don’t get a look in anywhere.

    So what about the case where there are so few women that it’s hard to find any to speak? To continue the racial analogy: residents who can’t find any people of color to serve on any important community boards because so few non-white families have been allowed to buy into their neighborhood have a problem, not an excuse.

  16. Thanks, JT. The references are valuable. I’m hoping the one can search through the Cambridge Companion on Amazon.

  17. Professor Faulkner: thank you for your comments. I think there is some kind of philosophical culture gap here. On a conception of Nietzsche studies in which Maudemarie Clark is the leading senior figure in the field (which I, though not only I, believe to be the case), scholars like Butler and Diprose are simply not even on the map. I suspect Dries and Kail at Oxford have a conception of Nietzsche studies closer to mine, and most philosophers, than the alternative. But in this alternative scenario, then I would agree it would be strange indeed not to find Diprose and Butler among the keynote speakers.

    JT: I think Sally Sedgwick does very good work, and I have always profited from papers of hers that I have read. I suppose it’s open for debate whether her impact on Hegel studies is on a par with Beiser, Forster, Pinkard, Pippin, Stern, and Wood, the ones I was thinking of. (I think her work is actually better than some of these, but that’s a different matter.) It would still be the case that the representation of women in Hegel Studies is pretty thin, and I think worse than in Nietzsche studies. Hence my original puzzle: why should there be so few prominent women in Hegel and Marx studies? (Contrast this with Kant studies, or work in early modern philosophy.) In the case of Nietzsche, his perceived misogyny might explain the dearth of women. But what explains it in these other fields? This is a genuine question, I don’t know the answer.

  18. Wow, happy to see the interesting discussion thread since my last post… Since I share Brian’s conception of Nietzsche studies, I don’t have anything useful to add except to mention two women whose work I’ve enjoyed — Jessica Berry (Georgia State) and Tamsin Shaw (Princeton), and to recommend, for an appreciation of why Judith Butler is, as Brian aptly put it, “not even on the map”, the following essay by Clark’s co-author of their forthcoming book on Nietzsche (who, by the way, is on the Mind Conference schedule for a presentation on an exceedingly relevant Nietzsche text [GS 354):


  19. Hello all,

    Brian, your comment here:
    I think Sally Sedgwick does very good work, and I have always profited from papers of hers that I have read. I suppose it’s open for debate whether her impact on Hegel studies is on a par with Beiser, Forster, Pinkard, Pippin, Stern, and Wood, the ones I was thinking of. (I think her work is actually better than some of these, but that’s a different matter.)
    …is very pertinent to the discussion. This is exactly the sort of thing that JJ was talking about. A woman’s work has less impact than men’s, even though it is – you think – better than theirs. Why is this? Well, one plausible explanation is implicit bias. But once the thing has got started, it then spirals. Her work has had less impact, so she is less likely to be asked as a ‘big name’ to a conference, and so her work is less well-known, not so well-discussed, so it has less impact, so she is less likely to be asked as a ‘big name’ to a conference, and so on.

    Beatrice Han-Pile has done interesting work on Nietzsche which falls within the conference themes.

  20. Also, the fact that Rosalyn Diprose and Judith Butler aren’t on the map is part of the issue.

  21. Nice point, Monkey, about quality and impact. And I have sympathy for your comment at 21, too. But we’re dealing with the analytic/continental divide here (sort of). I think there’s great work on both sides, and tremendous value to efforts to break down the divide. But I think (not to say you don’t– it’s just that your comment got me thinking) it’s reasonable also for people to work exclusively within one tradition, and to have conferences exclusively within one tradition. And perhaps even to have separate maps for the two traditions… We’d need to know whether the maps are divided by tradition or by gender perhaps.

  22. Maybe also worth noting is the new (and, in my opinion, vastly improved) Editorial Review Board for Journal of Nietzsche Studies, whose editor and assistant editor are women:


    As for Butler, again I recommend this article by Clark’s co-author (in case the link above didn’t work) for an appreciation of why Butler is “not even on the map”:

    Dudrick, D. “Foucault, Butler, and the Body.” EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY. 13. 2 (2005): 226-246.

  23. Rob, I agree with you in 19. I don’t want to close off discussion, but I want to thank those so far for all the perspectives and names!

  24. This in reply to “Monkey’s” comment at #20:

    I do not think “implicit bias” is a remotely “plausible explanation” for why Professor Sedgwick’s work has had less impact than the work of the male Hegel scholars I named. The rather obvious explanation is that all the male scholars have published books on Hegel, sometimes more than one book, while Professor Sedgwick has not. In Hegel, Nietzsche, and Marx studies, books seem to be much more important than in some other areas of philosophy, where articles can be decisive. Given the quality of the work I have seen from Professor Sedgwick, I can easily imagine that if she collects some of this work in book form, the claim about relative impact on the literature will be dated quickly, which would be welcome.

    Professor Han-Pile’s main work has been on Foucault, as “Monkey” probably knows; indeed, I commissioned her a couple of years ago to write the volume on Foucault for the Routledge Philosophers series I edit, and I am optimistic it will be an important volume. She has also written a couple of articles on Nietzsche more recently, though I do not recall any on the themes of this conference.

    To repeat: given the facts about the conference themes, and given who has actually done work on these themes, I do not think any inference about gender bias, implicit or otherwise, can rationally be drawn. I think it undermines the credibility of this blog when the mere fact that a conference has no female speakers is adduced as evidence of bias–as has happened repeatedly–without any meaningful attention to the themes of the conferences in question or who has actually done good quality work on those themes.

  25. Brian,

    Thank for your concern about the credibility of the blog. Thanks also for the interesting alternative hypothesis about Sedgwick. Just to clarify: Our goal is NOT to insist that every time a conference fails to have a woman speaker this must be the result of bias, conscious or unconscious. Rather, our goal is to raise the issue for discussion. And, perhaps most importantly, to try to make people aware of the significant role that all-male conferences (whether or not they RESULT from bias) can play in perpetuating biases.

    But now, I’d like to gently suggest drawing this discussion to a close.

  26. A note on credibility. We are well aware that many philosophers (perhaps most) will disagree with us on a lot of this. And they may not find us very credible. But we’re OK with that; indeed we expect it. But, as I say, thanks for the concern.

  27. There are many, many feminist and women Aristotle scholars, and so misogyny alone cannot explain the paucity of women in any given field. And Nietzsche’s particular brand of misogyny is, like much of his her work, subtle, complex, and open to many kinds of interpretation (e.g. his use of pregnancy metaphors). I don’t have a good explanation for the relative diversity of females in any given field of historical scholarship. My own guess would be that it may have to do with who the leading scholars of those historical figures are and how willing they have been to work with and mentor female students. I also don’t understand the emphasis on having only senior, “big-name” scholars at important conferences. We already know their work. Why not bring in some new voices, some young whipper-snappers, mid-level scholars who are up and coming? Who wants to see all the old farts over and over again? (I am one myself so I hope this won’t be taken too personally, although it has a little bit of mean spirit to it, I admit.)

  28. Hi all: I think it is worth pointing out in response to Brian’s question about why there are so many more women doing Kant than Nietzsche or Hegel, that there is a tradition of women working on Kant: Margaret Wilson, and of course Chris Korsgaard, Barbara Herman, etc. Mentoring matters; numbers matter, role models matter. Of course there are some good mentors of women who aren’t themselves women, but there are a lot of complex issues to consider. For example, research in social psych shows that it is much harder to be a solo in a field (i.e., the only one of your social group) or even in a significant minority. The issue isn’t just how others view you, but the kind of anxiety and meta-cognition that leads to slower processing (because you are busy second-guessing yourself, your object level processing slows down). This effect is highly context sensitive. So, interestingly, having more women (and minorities) at a conference may make women’s (and minorities’) contributions a better reflection of their real talents. And in considering a genuine meritocracy, even if we are looking for the best and the brightest, it might be necessary to create a climate that will enable the best and brightest to perform at their full potential.

  29. Thanks, Sally. We certainly need to add to the effects of attending the almost exclusively male conferences the fact that a woman’s performance can too easily be degraded. I certainly recognize the well researched reason you’ve given. I’d add to it the fact that the argumentative position of someone who is there as the atypical female philosopher is very likely to be different from that of the men; the person who is different may well be accorded less initial credibility, so her burden of proof may be much heavier.

    Going on more anecdotal evidence, I’d suggest that she may not share a lot of the many small interests that help create a social group.

    Let me finally, with a passion for the obvious, also point out that the experience of being solo in philosophy is outside the experience of most of the people deciding things like conference line-up.

  30. I would like to add that
    1) plenary speakers were selected based on direct relevance of their published works to the ‘main’ topic of the conference, i.e. philosophy of mind and naturalism — the Call for Papers list of topics refers only to parallel session papers;
    2) of 130 submitted abstracts to the Call for Papers 28 were submitted by women;
    3) 14 of these were selected based on the quality and relevance of the abstracts;
    4) 13 parallel session papers will in fact be presented by female philosophers.

  31. Many thanks for these facts, Manuel. It’s actually very striking that 50% of the submitted abstracts by women were accepted. What was the percentage like for the men?

  32. Manuel, many thanks for sharing the figures!

    Jender, I just have my iphone & feel limited. The conference site lists 77 people. If only 13 are women, we might be concerned – and for a number of reasons.

  33. There are 48 parallel session speakers. The list you are referring to lists all participants.

  34. Just read a recently published paper by Dudrick, in which he explores the passages on love, sex and gender in The Gay Science, and which I trust would be of interest to anyone engaged by the topic of Nietzsche and women — not least because Dudrick reads Nietzsche as (some kind of) a naturalist (in contrast to a proto-postmodernist):

    The Shameful Wisdom. International Studies in Philosophy: 39 (3), 61.

  35. Thanks, Rob. Interesting.

    Manuel, I thought the 77 might include people not giving papers; hence, the “if” about the number of women.

    I decided not to analyze the list much, and it doesn’t seem fair to ask you to do so, but if you have the total number for women already, it would be interesting to see it.

    If there were just 13, then women would form a painfully small percentage – about 16%. I hope the end result is more than that, but it looks like women will be distinctly anomalous, despite the high acceptance rate.

    I’m not sure how well known the effects of being a member of a quite small minority are, but much of its results from the fact that such a presence makes a woman an anamoly. Of course, the effects get exaggerated when there are only men in the lead positions.

    In such cases, the assumption is that women are the outsiders with little of interest to say. It’s very difficult to conduct oneself well under such circumstances, and female students who see it get a major message about the place of women in philosophy, where this includes them.

  36. I think it’s important to note how well the women who DID send papers did. Were the papers refereed anonymously?

    But it’s also important to think about how to get more women sending papers. One thing that could really help with this is more women invited speakers. It can also be helpful to send CFPs to places like this blog and SWIP mailing lists as a way of making sure women feel more welcomed in a male-dominated field. Other thoughts?

  37. I thought you all might enjoy a delicious little amusing side point to this discussion. I post it simply because it tickled me and others. I am the co-organizer from this conference, and learned about this thread from a former student of mine. I fully appreciate the kinds of considerations that sparked the original post, and I agree that there is a key worry about such selections in general. But what readers of this blog may not know is that aside from being a former colleague of Rae Langton, whose work on pornography I have taught, and who rather gratifyingly uses my work on the concept on projection in her book Sexual Solipsism, this particular co-organizer also happens to be the devoted son-in-law of one Marilyn Pearsall, editor, or co-editor, of the now classic collections *Women and Values*, *Women, Knowledge and Reality*, and most recently, and quite deliciously the 1998 *Feminist Interpretations of Nietzsche*. Make of this what you will!

    All best


  38. Peter,

    Thanks for letting us know. I think that’s really helpful in helping us to emphasise that the problem isn’t always one of some deliberately sexist person deciding to exclude women. Rather, it can be a perfectly well-intentioned person who’s unaware of the research suggesting that all-male invited speakers can contribute to perpetuating difficulties for women in the field. Or who just doesn’t think of it at the moment of organising. And so on. As I’ve noted before, I myself once organised an all-male conference despite many years of work in feminist philosophy.

  39. Hi Peter,
    I think Jender makes an important point.
    There are some other issues that have been raised in the discussion here. Among them is the concern that there’s a considerable tension at least in some cases between including women and having an excellent discussion in a male-dominated area.
    I realized in thinking about this that I firmly believe a clever philosopher can always find a philosophically beneficial way to include diversity. The problem is we just don’t think about it enough.
    Any thoughts you have on this or other topics that have arisen would be most welcome.

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