Monday, June 11, 2018

#readwomen: Taking the Challenge

Last month, InterVarsity Press launched a new campaign that piqued my interest: #readwomen.

IVP (and its parent organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) has long been a champion of women authors. So why did this campaign grab my attention?

Two reasons:

(1) Because I was about to submit a book proposal to IVP. Here was a publisher that not only seemed interested in my work, but was making a concerted effort to market books by women authors.

(2) Because I know from experience that books by women in the areas of Bible and Theology are few and far between. Don't believe me?

My Personal Biblical Studies Library. Books with their spines showing
were written (all or in part) by women. (Photo: C Imes)
Here is a photo of my personal library in Biblical Studies and Theology. After I heard about #readwomen I wanted a visual illustration of how few women publish books on the Bible and Christian Theology. I turned backwards every book written by men so that only the spines of those written by women are showing.

During my doctoral studies at Wheaton College, we were required to read and write reviews on 35 key books in the field of Old Testament. None of these were written by women. We were also to become familiar with the contents of another 193 books in preparation for our comprehensive exam. Only 9 were written, co-written, or edited by women. I did the math for you. That's under 4%.

My dissertation is published by Eisenbrauns in the Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement Series. Though it is the 19th volume in the series, mine is the first written by a woman. That's 5%.

My (mostly) New Testament shelves
with books by women showing.
(Photo: C Imes)
After a tour of my office, a colleague asked why I think so few books in Bible and Theology have been written by women. The answer is undoubtedly complex, but I suspect that the primary reason is the decades-long prohibition in many denominations of the ordination of women. Ministry roles open to women have not typically required seminary education, so women have often not been encouraged to pursue learning. This has resulted in very few female role models for women who feel drawn to biblical and theological studies. Without the training to write academic works, these women have invested their many talents elsewhere. 

It should be clear from this photo that I owe most of what I know about the Bible to men. I am immensely grateful for all the men who have trained me through their writings. I do not for a moment wish that these men would stop writing. Keep on, brothers!

Nor do I wish for any of these books by men to disappear. Now that I've taken photos for you, all the books by men are turned back in their rightful direction, where I can continue to refer to them often. Still, I'm thankful for the #readwomen campaign because if we only read books by men, we're not getting the full picture of what there is to know. If we only read books by white authors, or by North Americans, our view of things is still partial.

According to PhD research by IVP senior editor Al Hsu, "women read fairly evenly between male and female authors (54% / 46%), but . . . men read 90% male authors and only 10% female authors. That’s why the #ReadWomen campaign is needed, to highlight how we all benefit from reading women’s voices and hearing perspectives from the whole body of Christ."

Men and women are different. God made us different. And for that reason, we need to listen to one another. We bring unique perspectives and life experiences to the table.

Two summers ago I wrote about my compulsion to write (it's okay to laugh at the redundancy). Every one of us has something we must do. Something without which we feel out of sorts. Writing is one of those things for me. Seeing my bookshelves with so few spines showing was a powerful motivation to get busy. I've had a sign on my office door since school got out: 

Summer Schedule
Please email with anything urgent.

It's working.
Every day, writing comes first.

And I have good news -- 

InterVarsity Press has just offered me a contract for my new book!

This one will unpack the research from my MA thesis and PhD dissertation for a wider audience. I discovered so many things that every Christian should know, but at the moment all that learning is hiding behind a lot of academic jargon and other languages. Most people would find it a frustrating read. In the words of my grandma, who kindly bought a copy of my published dissertation and attempted to read it, "It's not just the Hebrew that's a problem. I can't even understand the English." In contrast, my new book is written like a series of blog posts in plain English so anyone can read it.

Meanwhile, what's on your summer reading list?
Here are a few of my absolute favorite books by women:

Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership
and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
Sandra Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament
Karen H. Jobes, Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the Catholic Epistles
Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recovering God's Global Vision for Women
Lynn Cohick (co-author), The New Testament in Antiquity
And if you haven't read the Sensible Shoes series yet by Sharon Garlough Brown, don't waste another minute. Brown blends fiction and Christian formation in a captivating way!

Will you take the challenge? Which one will you read?

Or maybe, like me, you'll take up the challenge to write a book this summer. 
What have you learned that others could benefit from hearing?

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