September 2, 2008

Mary Hunt - Public Voice

Originally Posted November 2007

I read two major U.S. East Coast newspapers every day, two daily digests of progressive and conservative religion and politics news, and several weekly news journals. Admittedly, I watch little television, though I do keep an ear on National Public Radio and Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now!" Rarely do I read, see, or hear women scholars in religion.
Several years ago Marie Wilson of the White House project reported that only 14% of the influential Sunday morning talk shows guests are women. While that has improved some, I daresay when it comes to religion the numbers are even lower. An egregious offender in this regard is Tim Russert's "Meet the Press." Mr. Russert is famous for his large panels on an issue, for example religion, with a lone woman among a group of suits. I notice that when a Catholic woman is included she is usually a nun and not necessarily a theologian.

The exception to the rule is a public radio program entitled "Interfaith Voices" (, hosted by Maureen Fiedler which I recommend highly. It features women as experts on myriad topics. Of course even this show could use more women, but it is a good start. The show's reach is widening by the week. Yet compared with the big media outlets it is still a drop in the bucket.

My conclusion is that women scholars in religion are rarely cited as experts. When we are, it is on topics supposedly specific to women, like reproductive justice. When it comes to bringing a religious perspective, whether conservative or progressive, to an issue like war or economics the religious voices are deep and booming.

This is not just a problem in the media. One of the major complaints of some of my Washington religious lobbyist friends is that they have to put up with the same white, male, clergymen as self-appointed leaders on issues because it is alleged that members of Congress will respond best to them. This is a tough dynamic to change. Careful strategizing and good networking with colleagues in the policy arena will take us a long way toward changing it, and in so doing put new faces on religion.

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