I have an easy New Year’s resolution for you, if you would like to support the future of Christian scholarship, and evangelical scholarship in particular: read more women. And (this is important!) be sure to include among the women you read some stay-at-home/homemaker/whatever-you-want-to-call-them mom writers.
Yes, I have a personal investment in this issue—after all, I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom who writes in the margins, and I just published a book in November and have another book coming later this year. But there is more to consider here, as I tried to do a few months ago in outlining the changing nature of evangelical scholarship. Increasingly more evangelical (and other Christian) scholars are writing outside the traditional academic circles, and this has important implications for all who care about Christian scholarship. As it happens, there is a gendered dimension to this development, as many (maybe even most, from my anecdotal experience!) of these scholars are women. But while there is widespread acceptance of popular women writers who specifically write for women and only on women’s issues (e.g., “mommy bloggers” or writers for women’s magazines), general audiences who read evangelical scholarship may not be as aware of women scholars outside of academia, and (more alarming) are at times not clear as to what to do with them. Here is an example.
When I first announced a few months ago that I was leaving academia, the editor of one outlet where I have written told me in an attempt to reassure me of his support (and I paraphrase here, condensing the point), “another editor might have said that allowing you to continue writing here is lowering the profile of this publication, but I’m okay with you continuing.” This comment was not intended in ill will. And yet, it was striking. It made me stop and reflect on the assumptions that we all bring to the question of whose writing we should read and support–and the kind of writing I’m talking about here involves especially Tiers 2-3 of Brad East’s helpful classification of the four tiers of Christian publishing.
What makes a writer’s work respectable and worth reading, especially (but not exclusively) in fields like history and theology? For too long, the answer to this question has been: the writer’s professional affiliations. This includes both the individual’s academic institution of employment and the professional organizations to which the scholar belongs–and whose conferences the scholar attends. These criteria are not bad: academic affiliations mean something. But they shouldn’t mean everything in this day and age, where Karen Swallow Prior, a leading evangelical scholar of literature, is now unaffiliated with an academic institution. And so, if you want to read more scholarship by thoughtful Christian women, we have reached a point where you will have to break that rule and read some independent scholars and (*gasp*) stay-at-home moms, for instance. This means individuals like me, who have no academic university affiliation and also probably do not belong to any professional organizations or regularly attend conferences.
This moment is filled with turmoil in American higher education. Academic humanities are not well—we know it. Many colleges are struggling–including Christian institutions. The scarcity of academic jobs means that there are increasingly more talented scholars who are not ending up in traditional academia at all or who leave academia. Furthermore, the Covid pandemic made many families re-evaluate priorities, and rightly so. The result? An increase in the number of professional moms with all the fancy letter combinations attached to their names—M.A., Ph.D., J.D., M.D., etc.—who choose to rebel against the industrial treadmill and make their central task the raising of their children. This decision means that there are more of us who are homemakers/stay-at-home moms/homeschool moms first, but who also read a lot and maybe even write in the margins of our days, because we have ideas that we want to share. God calls all of us to love Him with all our minds, don’t forget! A recent panel that Public Discourse ran interviewing women who are flourishing both at home and in creative endeavors, including writing, is very well worth reading in this regard.
To be fair, many academic moms I know, whether on a tenure track or contingent faculty, also often fit into a variety of this mold, as they do everything expected at work, in addition to investing significant hours each day into their children and the home. They too, then, write in tiny snippets, whenever they can fit this in—early in the morning before anyone is awake, during Taekwondo or ballet or children’s choir practice, at the playground while the kids run around, at night after everyone is asleep. Women, furthermore, tend to bear the disproportionate weight of caretaking responsibilities for others—ailing spouses, aging relatives—even if not taking care of children.
The above list is not meant as a lament, to be clear. These are beautiful responsibilities—we should put the people in our lives first, because image-bearers are priceless in God’s sight. Our writing, no matter how beautiful, is not. And yet, the weight of responsibilities we bear makes the writing that emerges from such circumstances worth so much more to those of us who produce it. Sometimes, dare I say it, without glorifying the extreme stress that some endure, the result is writing that is all the more beautiful.
But perhaps none of this matters. Rather, most important if you are considering whether to read a book or not should be the quality of the book. And a book by someone outside of academia, once it has passed the requisite editorial review and possibly peer review to boot, is just as solid as that of scholars employed in more traditional academic positions or ones who do not have extreme responsibilities at home. And so, if you see an intriguing book announcement this year, and then see in the bio of the writer that she is, well, just a stay-at-home mom, I hope that your reaction will not be to pass on the book, just because the writer doesn’t have the credentials you expected.
Nadya Williams is the author of Cultural Christians in the Early Church (Zondervan Academic, 2023) and Mothers, Children, and the Body Politic: Ancient Christianity and the Recovery of Human Dignity (IVP Academic, 2024). She is Book Review Editor for Current, and the editor of the Arena.